Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Adventures with Pastor Andrew
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart
(Here I am, Lord; United Methodist Hymnal, 593)
Where has the summer gone? I think it’s a question many of us ask, as here we are in September and already at the end of summer. But amidst the summer ending, September marks another time of new beginnings as kids go back to school, the nights begin cooling down more, the days become even shorter, and we start seeing some semblances of Fall starting to take place, especially with the influx of pumpkin-spice everything and Halloween candy making its appearance in the stores. Although visit one of the “big-box” stores in Reno or Chico and you’ll likely see some Christmas things up already!! During my four years in Washington, DC for seminary, I looked forward to September because the humidity usually broke around the middle of the month and the weather became comfortable once again. Thankfully, I haven’t had to worry much about that since moving back to CA.
September is always a month in which things begin ramping up as summer gives way to Fall, whether it is in our church or community. Of course being in California, we won’t be feeling the effects of Fall until later this month at the earliest, yet it seems like there is a change in the air as soon as September rolls around. As summer has been slower and more laid back, the Fall heralds the return of regular programming. In the church, we’ll be seeing the return of the choir and bell choir, Bible studies, and many other possibilities that await, as there are ideas brewing too!!
Along with new beginnings in the Fall, this also means we are in the process of nominations. Is God calling you to serve? Our lay leader, Marty Byrne and I are working on seeing what the leadership opportunities of our church are at the time of writing this and would like you to consider serving. We have opportunities to serve in worship, trustees, staff-parish relations, mission/outreach, hospitality, finance, Christian education…the list can go on and on. Do you have a gift where you could serve in any of these areas? I invite you to think and pray about it. Serving the church is a wonderful opportunity to get to know one another, but it is also a part of mission and vital work of the church. Sometimes, it is easy to cast off serving in a ministry as yet another aspect of church politics through committee work, but it does not have to be that way or seen that way. When we remember why we do what we do and the purpose for why we are serving, serving the church through one of the ministry areas should be a joy and honor, even when it can be challenging at times. You might be hearing from Marty and I in the coming days, but please do not hesitate to contact us if God may be calling you to serve.
Along with mission, discipleship plays a crucial part of our journey in serving the body of Christ. Like our bodies, and the various trees and plants around us, our souls also need nourishment and food. What are you doing to feed your soul lately? Do you study scripture often? Do you pray regularly? Do you have a regular devotional practice? For example, one of my favorite devotions is Rev. Steve Garnaas Holmes’s “Unfolding Light” or Father Richard Rohr’s daily meditations for daily devotionals. But, I also treat the way I live and my daily walk as a constant prayer and devotion to God, especially living around so much natural beauty!! Do you have prayer partners or “holy friends,” the kind who hold you accountable to your faith out of their love for you? They are valuable to have!! In fact, the time I offer for coffee and conversation each Friday is one of those times we can ask each other the question that John Wesley would often ask, “how is it with your soul?” and a time for accountability and prayer partnering.
Small groups are also another essential item for discipleship and spiritual growth, and there are plenty of possibilities for small group study/accountability/devotion out there, so if God may be calling you to put something together, let me know!! I would LOVE to see us develop small groups in this congregation, as it is a way of meeting each other in a smaller setting and getting to know one another. In fact, during John Wesley’s time, they called these groups “bands” or “holy clubs” that met regularly at Oxford for prayer, study of scripture, and checking in with one another. Hearkening back to our Wesleyan heritage, a number of churches have revived this practice too. Ginghamsburg UMC in Tipp City, OH does something like this called “cell groups” while The Table at Central UMC in Sacramento calls these groups “Kitchen Tables,” many of them taking place in people’s homes, or even out in the community at some of the local cafes/coffeehouses.
One thing that does stand out for small group involvement in some churches is that being a part of a small groups is a requirement for all members. Even though small group involvement is not a requirement for membership here at Community UMC, I do want to encourage EVERYONE to engage together in some sort of small group, whether it’s two or three that are gathered. This can also work for ALL ages too, because it is NEVER too early to teach our young people and mentor them in discipleship. We have an even greater need to reach out with the love of God and neighbor to our children, youth, and college students too!! Having said that, I would like to invite you to take part in a small group study on Adam Hamilton’s book, Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It for six weeks and will have more information in the Sunday Bulletin and on the church’s Facebook page for times and places.
As we go into this Fall and time of new opportunities, I look forward to dreaming together with you and seeing what possibilities we have to go deeper in our discipleship and devotion by serving as the hands and feet of Christ in our church and community.
Peace & Blessings,
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Community UMC, Quincy
“What Faithful Living Looks Like: Worship with Reverence and Awe”
Pastor Andrew Davis
August 21, 2016
Hebrews 12: 18-29
I love a good thunderstorm!! A couple days this week while working in the office, I would look out the front door of the church house and comment to Linda how the clouds were sure building and hoping for a good thunderstorm out here. But instead, the Chester and Susanville areas got to have it and the brief rain while we stayed high and dry here in Quincy. Might see some this week, as they are in the forecast. Although with the dry conditions around us, we probably don’t readily want to wish for a thunderstorm necessarily, as lightning is one of the many ways wildfires begin and we already have enough fires burning in the state, along with resources being stretched thin.
However, eight years ago when my family and I traveled to Chicago, then up to Wisconsin for a family reunion, I got a good lesson of showing reverence and awe when it came to thunderstorms, as our thunderstorms in the Sacramento Valley are more on the mild side. My mom was hoping while in Illinois or Wisconsin, we’d get a real thunderstorm and sure enough, on my second day in Chicago we did and that evening, we sat out on my cousin’s front porch watching the lightning light up the clouds like a strobe-light. But then all of a sudden, there was one streak that completely lit everything up and left us with a sense of awe and wonder, and reverence to the power of that lightning strike. Nature was definitely giving us a spectacular light show. I would experience another spectacular thunderstorm in Colorado Springs in 2011, then experience a number of thunderstorms in Washington, DC during my four years there. In fact, on a nighttime monument tour with Wesley Fellowship during my first couple weeks at Wesley, we had to duck under the roof of one of the bathroom houses between the WWII Memorial and Lincoln Memorial when the lightning and thunder got quite intense, including one streak that was a little too close for comfort!! Talk about being in awe and wonder, but also a valuable bonding experience that those of us there still recall when we chat here and there. On the other hand, while thinking about the power of nature, I also keep thinking about the people of Louisiana this week who are dealing with the flooding and all the rain that they have received in a short period of time. While reading the news this week, it was observed that Louisiana received in four days, the equivalent of Sacramento’s yearly rainfall average in a year. It's a testament to the destructive power that nature can have as well, as floods, tornadoes, fires, and windstorms can leave us in awe and wonder, but in a fearful way. It certainly puts a different perspective on awe and reverence towards nature and the power of nature. Like the power of nature, we too encounter a very powerful God, in which sometimes we have nothing else in us but to worship God with reverence and awe, even in the face of Disaster. And today, many of our churches are finding ways to still worship in Louisiana, or in Lakeport where our church there was destroyed. Our worship of God still goes on and still happens.
When it comes to encountering God in a powerful way as we just heard in Exodus and Hebrews, let’s think for a minute about the Israelite community when they encountered God at Mt. Sinai with Moses and Aaron in the lead. God gives Moses specific instructions to tell the people not to touch the mountain while Moses had the distinct honor and privilege of being the one to actually go up the mountain. Now if we’ve grown up in the world of pop culture, we would expect to see something like the late Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Moses from Cecil B. DeMille’s film, “The Ten Commandments,” in which Moses is portrayed as heroic, confident, and unflinching as he approaches the mountain in the film. But then again, Mt. Sinai is not any ordinary mountain to be approached, for the Israelite community, the voice of God through the thunder and trumpet sound was “a voice so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking” (Ex. 19: 19, NLT).
It’s not always the vision of how we expect to encounter God in this day in age because we oftentimes expect God to be gentle and loving, which is a place where I too struggle in my faith journey when I hear and approach a text like this morning's where God is portrayed as demanding and vindictive. My colleague Dawn Chesser at Discipleship Ministries in Nashville explains that “many of us prefer not to think of God as powerful, demanding, and vindictive. Maybe we would rather imagine God mostly as an over-indulgent grandparent figure with only good intentions for us. We’d rather remember that ‘(t)he Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love’ (Psalm 145:8, NRSV).”[i] However, this is also the instance where we see the complex nature of God.
However, the powerful, demanding, and vindictive God is the portrayal of God that we get in our text today, as verses 18-21 of Hebrews recalls the scene at Mt. Sinai from Exodus 19: 10-25 to evoke a sense of fear of God, in which “even Moses was terrified,” definitely not the case in the movie “The Ten Commandments.” Even while this encounter with God produces fear, it was still a spectacular sight that produced awe, but more so a fearful awe in which the community had no other choice but to worship God with reverence and awe. We hear another version of Exodus 19: 18-20 which reads,
Mount Sinai was all smoke because God had come down on it as fire. Smoke poured from it like smoke from a furnace. The whole mountain shuddered in huge spasms. The trumpet blasts grew louder and louder. Moses spoke and God answered in thunder. God descended to the peak of Mount Sinai. God called Moses up to the peak and Moses climbed up (MSG).
Now if that’s not enough to produce a sense of awe, who knows what else could, except maybe a massive storm or act of nature, whether it’s something wonderful or fearful. And it’s hard to say what had to be going through Moses’s mind, as Moses was typically a hesitant and fearful person as portrayed in the greater narrative of Exodus unlike the heroic and confident figure that he’s sometimes portrayed as.
Now when we come to the text from Hebrews, the author of Hebrews is explaining to new converts in the very early days of Christianity how their ancestors, the Israelite people we so afraid and nearly rejected the messages from God. The author is using this rhetorical force to link Mt. Sinai, Mt. Zion, and Jesus’s death to these later generations as a warning not to ignore God’s word, in which the author implores these new converts from verses 25-27 of Hebrews not to
turn a deaf ear to these gracious words [from God in having Jesus’s death be the mediator of the covenant]. If those who ignored earthly warnings didn’t get away with it, what will happen to us if we turn our backs on heavenly warnings? His voice that time shook the earth to its foundations; this time—he’s told us this quite plainly—he’ll also rock the heavens: “One last shaking, from top to bottom, stem to stern.” The phrase “one last shaking” means a thorough housecleaning, getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand clear and uncluttered (MSG).
At the same time Dawn Chesser further explains that
we must own that the God we see in the Hebrew Scriptures is the very same God whose grace we who call ourselves Christians have come to know in Jesus Christ. Therefore, we would be wise to remember that just because God has had mercy on us in sending Jesus Christ to save us doesn't mean that God must always, in every circumstance, have mercy on us. We would be wise to remember that we should not expect God to be merciful to us over and over again, without any accountability on our part. We would be wise not to take God’s mercy for granted.[ii]
By recalling the scene at Mt. Sinai, the author of Hebrews uses some powerful imagery to show the people, and even us today why it is important to worship God in order to show why God must be approached in worship with reverence and awe, but not take God's mercy for granted. We also see a contrast between how we encounter God at Mt. Sinai and Encountering God through Jesus in Hebrews, as “this contrast (12:18-24) underscores the advantages we gain from the new covenant Jesus makes possible: a new access to God and communion with others in a vibrant city of joy” which in this case is the “heavenly” Jerusalem.[iii] As the author of Hebrews contrasts Mt. Sinai with Mt. Zion, it is “from the community’s perspective the access to God already available is lived out in their worship and worship that pleases God is marked by gratitude, reverence, and awe."[iv] While God was viewed from a distance in Exodus, it’s ultimately through Jesus Christ in which we as Christians access God and approach God. Furthermore when it comes to Jesus and the new covenant, “this new covenant in Jesus requires not sacrifices of blood, but, according to the next chapter of Hebrews, sacrifices of “praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name” and to “not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:15-16, NRSV).”[v] Even with a new covenant through Jesus Christ, we do not want to underestimate God’s power or mercy, which is why it is necessary to worship God with a sense of sense of reverence and awe.
So how do we worship God with a sense of reverence and awe today? Do we approach God through worship with fear and trembling like the Israelite community in Exodus? OR, do we approach God through worship by showing respect, reverence, and awe? Or, do we approach God with all of the above? A lot of what is said in our lesson from Hebrews this morning says a lot about giving God worship that is filled with reverence and awe, whether it is fearful awe or joyful awe. Now anytime that I mention the word worship, it can easily open up a can of worms because many of us have different ideas about what worship of God with reverence and awe looks like. As I always like to say, ask five different people what kind of worship is pleasing to God and you will get five different answers. However, we do see two different contrasts in this passage from Hebrews of what worshiping God with reverence and awe looks like. On the other hand, Taylor Burton-Edwards of Discipleship Ministries explains that
The primary point of this week’s reading is not to contrast the “awe-filled” worship on Mount Sinai (see Exodus 19:10-25) with Christian worship, but rather to say Christian worship is the real fulfillment of all those things. The only contrast is the response we are called to have. In Exodus, the intention was to provoke fear and keep folks away through these symbolic actions. For Christians, God’s call and our response is to enter into direct encounter with the very realities those symbols at once pointed to and protected from, and to do so with thanksgiving, reverence, and awe![vi]
Our worship today is definitely a far cry from that scene on Sinai, in which we don’t necessarily approach God with fear the way the Israelite community did. But regardless of how we approach God, we do need to have that sense of awe and reverence regardless of the setting we are in and how we encounter God. And when it comes to encountering God through worship, if I was to ask five different people how they encounter God through worship, I will get five different responses. No two people encounter God the same. As Taylor explained, we saw God keeping the people away from the mountain and encountering God with fear and trembling in Exodus and verses 18-21 of Hebrews. But then as the author of Hebrews writes from verse 22 on, we encounter God through Jesus Christ, particularly through his death on the cross, another means of showing reverence and awe towards God in God not intervening in Jesus’s crucifixion. Even today, our worship is one way we can encounter God with reverence and awe when we gather together as the body of Christ on Sunday morning, but also one where we can continue encouraging others to approach God with a sense of reverence and awe.
So how do WE encounter God through worship with a sense of reverence and awe? I know as we shared memories of John Ellison’s ministry two weeks ago, the time during the prelude is one of those times where some encounter God with reverence and awe, with people sitting quietly and meditating to the music or praying privately before the service, kind of like the notion of “before the service, speak to God; during the service, let God speak to you; after the service, speak to others.” For several of my colleagues, they encounter God in worship with a sense of reverence and awe through extended silence or when the sanctuary is empty before church or during the week. I can definitely attest to that, as I encounter God during the week whenever I step into this sacred space, or in the hour before everyone arrives as I do my walking and breathing prayer while preparing my heart and mind for our service.
For many, music is a very important means, and for some of my friends, they are moved into a sense of reverence and awe through the more contemporary music, receiving the music with such a high energy, while we have others who are moved to reverence and awe though the words and melodies of the great hymns of our faith that tell us a rich story. Some also encounter God with reverence and awe when we take part in Holy Communion, as Holy Communion is one of the ways we intimately encounter God through the means of grace when we remember Jesus each time we partake. Or, some encounter God through the confession and pardon, in which we ask God for forgiveness for our sins as one body, in which we are then granted forgiveness, assurance, and pardon through that confession.
Sometimes it is through nature and the power that nature has on us where we can encounter God, just like I do when I encounter a thunderstorm. One of my favorite examples of encountering God through nature is in chapter seven of The Wind and the Willows in which two of the main characters, Rat and Mole are in a rowboat and encounter a sunrise and the powerful experience they share with tears in Rat’s eyes and Mole's bowed in reverence and awe.[vii] No matter how you encounter God, it can be powerful in which we give thanks to God while encountering God with a sense of reverence and awe, even if it is through a storm, through our weekly services, through walking through the neighborhood or trails, music, or silence.
As we go into this new week and look for ways to encounter God and perhaps lead others to encounter God with reverence and awe, how do you encounter God with a sense of reverence and awe? What are times in your life, good or bad, in which you have encountered God and had no choice but to give God thanks, reverence, and awe? How can we encourage others to approach God with a sense of reverence and awe?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
[i] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Lectionary Calendar’. 2016. Accessed August 19, 2016. http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/fourteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-2016.
[iii] Lose, David. ‘Commentary on Hebrews 12: 18-29 by Bryan J. Whitfield’. August 22, 2010. Accessed August 18, 2016. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=659.
[iv] New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on Hebrews, Vol. XII (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 159.
[v] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Lectionary Calendar’. 2016. Accessed August 19, 2016. http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/fourteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-2016.
[vi] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Lectionary Calendar’. 2016. Accessed August 17, 2016. http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/fourteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-2016.
[vii] Kenneth Grahame, The Wind and the Willows (Digireads.com, 2011), Kindle page 91.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
Community UMC, Quincy
“What Faithful Living Looks Like: Faithfulness, Everywhere, Under ALL Conditions”
Pastor Andrew Davis
August 14, 2016
Hebrews 11: 29-12: 3
How many of you have been watching the Olympics this last week? Every two years, I can never get enough of the Olympics, as I find myself glued to the TV or watching online on my iPad, whether it’s the Winter or Summer Games. With the summer games happening in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil right now, I’ve been watching the diving, swimming, gymnastics and basketball whenever I can, but I’ll also watch some of the other events as well, such as track and field, sailing, or archery. Although I do tend to watch the Winter Games a little more, regardless of which Olympic Games are being held each even numbered year, I am always amazed at the agility and dedication of the athletes who spend countless hours training, making sacrifices in order to devote their life to the sport they love, and even the sacrifices their families have had to make in order to help them achieve their dream of qualifying, entering that stadium behind their country’s flag bearer, then hopefully, standing on the platform with a gold medal around their neck as their national anthem plays and country’s flag is raised.
Similar to what we have just heard from our reading from Hebrews, the dedication of these athletes says a lot about faith and endurance, especially when some of these athletes have had to overcome extraordinary odds to get to the Olympics in the first place. I don’t know if you remember the 1992 Disney movie, “Cool Runnings” which is loosely based on the true story of the Jamaican bobsled team, but I think about everything the team went through, particularly red tape and not training in snow or cold weather before making their debut at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Or, I think about American swimmer Michael Phelps and his story of turning to God after enduring a great many personal difficulties since the first time we saw him in in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. I reflect on the stories of divers David Boudia and Steele Johnson sharing their story of faith and how both endured personal struggles, including a near death experience in their respective lives. Or I think of Yusra Mardini, the 18-year old Syrian swimmer who swam for over three hours to push a boat of 20 people to safety while escaping war, a strong test of endurance in a dangerous situation.[i] Or Simone Biles who had a tough life growing up before being adopted and going on to win gold medals in gymnastics this week. Regardless of the backstories that we get in quite heavy doses from NBC’s coverage, each of these athletes participating in the Olympics have endured in their respective disciplines by showing faithfulness to their sports everywhere, under ALL conditions.
Like the athletes competing in the Olympics right now, with many of them considered heroes in some of their countries, our text from Hebrews shows examples of faithfulness to God under all conditions. Our lesson from Hebrews reads a lot like a tale of the heroes of our faith, particularly in verses 29-38, which is like a broad stroke of a paintbrush of characters who have lived faithfully under various conditions. In our exploration of Hebrews 11: 8-16 last week, we read about how Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac lived faithfully without seeing God while continually seeking the unseen. This week, the author of Hebrews covers even more ground from the Hebrew Bible, starting with Exodus while also flying through Judges, and 1 and 2 Samuel. But when the author of Hebrews gets into chapter 12, we arrive at Jesus and his ultimate example of faithful living in this broad story of what faithful living looks like. But the overall theme is that none of these people had it easy. All of them had different conditions and hardships to face. While some of these stories ultimately ended in victory, some of them also resulted in death.
So what does it mean to show faithfulness everywhere, under ALL conditions? As we just heard in our lesson from Hebrews, it ultimately comes down to the phrase “by faith” and “through faith,” as we hear these words several different times in this passage. Yet when we get to verses 36-38, the story becomes quite morbid, kind of almost like reading Fox’s Book of Martyrs which was a required reading during the second semester of church history. Yet, each person highlighted in these stories of the Hebrew Bible showed faithfulness everywhere under all conditions, whether the story ended in victory or death. The Israelites crossed the dry land to escape Egypt by faith. Joshua crumbled the walls of Jericho by faith. Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and ultimately Jesus ALL stayed steadfast to their faith under ALL conditions, regardless of the outcome. However, like last week when Abraham and Sarah died before God’s promises were realized, the author of Hebrews says that all of these people whose story ended in death, “though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect” (Heb. 11: 49-40, NRSV). And even if we don’t get to see God’s promises revealed or become perfect, we “gotta have faith-a, faith-a, faith, we gotta have faith-a, faith, a-faith.”
Faith is definitely something that can sustain us, even when it means having to endure hardships and adverse conditions such as the people mentioned in the stories of the Hebrew Bible. Even Jesus had to go through betrayal, torture, and suffering upon that cross!! Taylor Burton-Edwards and Dawn Chesser at Discipleship Ministries describe the long and short of faithfulness under ALL conditions by explaining that
people of faith are not exempt from suffering in this world. Followers of Jesus Christ are subject to persecution, oppression, destitution, and torment like every other human being. Following Jesus does not protect us from worldly harm. In fact, it does the opposite of that. Following Jesus calls us to risk our own security in order to stand with those who suffer persecution, oppression, destitution, and torment.[ii]
Just like some of the Olympic athletes who have had to endure hardships in life to get to where they are, we as people of faith and followers of Christ will no doubt face adverse conditions at one time or another. It’s something that’s inevitable in our earthly lives. But in matters of faithfulness, the adverse conditions and challenges to our faith that we could face could range from a health diagnosis for us or a family member, a change in jobs or being laid off, an economic hardship, an accident, a broken relationship, a natural disaster, or something else. While it is easier to question our faith in these situations, situations like these is when we need to cling to our faith through the difficult spots, just as the various characters of the stories in the Hebrew Bible did. Sometimes, our faith may be all that we have even when the road is rough.
In looking back at some of the rough roads I have experienced in my own journey, I think one of the most difficult times for all of us was the Great Recession starting about eight years ago, and something that we still feel the effects of today, especially in our small towns and rural areas here in Northern California. While I managed to keep my job at Raley’s during the recession, it was not a pleasant time to say the least. You could definitely feel the tension and anxiety in the air. Many of us were being asked to take on twice the amount of work, basically being able to do two people’s jobs at once, schedules were always in flux, hours were cut to the bare minimum, and many of us were not sure we would still be employed at the end of the day or not. It caused a lot of stress for everyone, from management on down. But looking back and reflecting on that time, I also found it to be a great lesson in showing faithfulness in ALL conditions and enduring the hardships. While I would get very annoyed at times with hearing people from church, school, or customers say “but you have a job!” whenever I would start complaining about the difficulties at work, it became a lesson of “letting go and letting God,” trusting in God and God’s promises of a better day.
Besides the constant reminders of still having a job and still working while others weren’t, trusting God became a mantra instead. Trusting God and showing faithfulness through the difficulties did not make all troubles go away and it definitely won’t make any present day problems go away, but it does make them more manageable and will help us endure in the long run.
During the recession, there were times that I wasn’t sure if I would make my car payment, make my bills, or rent. But somehow, I still made ends meet even if it was tight. However, it also meant relying on what I readily had and not worrying about what I didn’t have. I just had to remind myself and be reminded by others to stay faithful and trust God, that this was only temporary, and that things would work out in the long-run. Enduring these difficult times through faith was probably the only way I made it through the recession, especially when it came to resisting the temptation to drive into the river, even if it took a long time to see a new life that was possible.
Like the experience with the recession and learning to be grateful for what I had and endure a highly stressful time in life, all of us have a lot to endure and many different conditions that will try to shake our faith to the core at different times in our lives. Like we talked about last week, we believe in God and we seek God, even though we can’t see God. And while we have faith in what we do not see, we still persist and endure just like these athletes in the Olympics and the various characters in the stories of the Bible. I remember during those difficult days of the recession, the security guard at the bank inside the store I worked at and I would often have some interesting conversations, sometimes quite animated. While he and I had different convictions and ideas about how the world should be, I told him that my faith would get me through and held onto hope, even though he asked if faith could put food on the table and claimed that hope was nothing more than a fantasy. Well, when we do work together as people of faith, helping each other endure some of the hardships that life throws at us, yes faith can help put food on the table or a roof over our heads!! Showing faithfulness in all conditions does require each other's support and that special connection with each other as people of faith, so that we can then encourage each other on and help each other out when the need arises.
As we as a people of faith show faithfulness under all conditions and how faith can sustain us, it is necessary to look back to where we have been in order to look forward to where we can go in faithful living. The Message translation of Hebrews 12: 1-3 may say it best when it says,
Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
In order to sustain our faithfulness through all conditions, we need those veterans and pioneers of faith with us that we heard about in the earlier stories of the Bible. We need those who built our foundation of faith in both our family and our church family. But we also need each other and to keep our eyes towards Jesus. It’s like the Olympic motto, “citius, altius, fortius/faster, higher, stronger,” as we continue along our journey of faith. At the same time, we also need to cheer those on who are new to the faith and be encouragers too, as we are all in this race together. We need to show that we can help others out when we accompany our faith with works of love and put our faith into action.
Earlier this week, I spent some time in our heritage room and came across the scrapbook that covered the Christmas Eve fire of 1984. I also learned that there have been other fires in this church in 1927 and 1928. But I also read some of the history of our church in the “Gold Book.” It was “by faith” and through the faith of the people who began gathering here in Quincy in 1858 and those who came after that have helped bring our congregation to where we are today. Those who established this faith community no doubt faced hardships and challenges, but if it wasn’t for remaining faithful to God and trusting God through all of the challenges that Quincy has faced through the years, we would likely not be gathered here this morning. It’s like the bridge of the contemporary song, “Shout to the North,” which says “we’ve been through fire, we’ve been through rain, we’ve been refined by the power of his name. We’ve fallen deeper in love with you. You’ve burned the truth on our lips.”
As I also explored some of the church pictorial directories from the past, seeing the many who have been a part of this church, and you who are still a part of this church today also shows how we have lived by faith and through faith, showing faithfulness under all conditions.
So why do we need to look back in our life of faith and at stories from both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament? Professor Brian Whitfield at Mercer University explains that
the writer of Hebrews is [helping] us look at our family snapshots in the gallery of faith [in chapter 11]: Remember those who crossed over the Red Sea. Remember Rahab, who welcomed the scouts. Remember those who marched around Jericho. Remember Sampson and Daniel, who shut the mouths of lions. Remember those who won strength out of weakness like Gideon and Esther. Remember those who were tortured, mocked, scourged, and tormented.
Why should we look at this photo album of faith and faithfulness? Because in looking, we learn who we are. We learn that we are not alone and that we are part of a family with particular traits and characteristics.[iii]
Faith is what binds these traits and characteristics together. It was by faith that this church was built and has endured under all conditions, from snowfall, to rain, to fire, drought, and even through economic hardships that still even linger into today with our small business climate being stagnant. All of these people in the Bible, the people in our own history, and all of us today have shown and need to continue to show what faithful living looks like when demonstrating faithfulness everywhere, under all conditions. Even our Olympic athletes have also shown us what it means to be faithful under all conditions, whether it is conditions in their own lives, or conditions in Rio that pose a challenge.
As we embark on a new week and reflect on faithfulness everywhere, under ALL conditions, I invite you to reflect on these questions this week so that we can find ways to put these words into action:
• Where are times in our own life that was a test, but still endured through faith?
• How does your faith sustain you in everyday life?
• What are ways we can encourage others in faithful living and discipleship under all conditions?
[i] Saul, Heather. ‘Yusra Mardini: Olympic Syrian Refugee Who Swam for Three Hours in Sea to Push Sinking Boat Carrying 20 to Safety’. The Independent - People(Independent), August 5, 2016. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/yusra-mardini-rio-2016-olympics-womens-swimming-the-syrian-refugee-competing-in-the-olympics-who-a7173546.html.
[ii] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Lectionary Calendar’. 2016. Accessed August 10, 2016. http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/thirteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-2016.
[iii] Lose, David. ‘Commentary on Hebrews 11: 29-12: 2 by Bryan J. Whitfield’. August 15, 2010. Accessed August 11, 2016. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=657.
Sunday, August 7, 2016
Community UMC, Quincy
“What Faithful Living Looks Like: Seeking the Unseen”
Pastor Andrew Davis
August 7, 2016
Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16
Luke 12: 32-40
11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith[a] our ancestors received approval.3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.[b]
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised.[a] 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
Luke 12: 32-40
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he[a] would not have let his house be broken into.40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it!” How many of you have said or heard this phrase before? I think when it comes to things, like, let’s say sports, you’ll often hear it said. For instance, the Sacramento Kings will make the playoffs this year…I’ll believe it when I see it. The San Francisco 49ers will win another Super Bowl in the next five years…I’ll believe it when I see it. The San Francisco Giants will make the World Series this year…well, based on the way they’ve been playing as of late, I’ll believe it when I see it. You get the gist. Same goes for fish stories too, especially when there isn’t proof in pictures. So often I’ll read the fishing reports from Western Outdoor News and get out to one of our lakes only to catch a sunburn instead of any fish. I’ll believe those reports when I catch something. Or some days, I feel like Tom Cruise’s character in the 1996 movie, “Jerry Maguire” shouts, “SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!” from his office.
It sometimes feels like we need to have proof and empirical evidence, or want to demand “show me the money” in order to believe. In other words, seeing is believing. There also seems to be a need for certainty in our world today, only because we live in a time where uncertainty abounds. But, some things are just not meant to be seen. That’s where faith and faithful living come into play, as today we embark on this new miniseries “What Faithful Living Looks Like.” These next few weeks, we will be exploring what it means to deepen our faith and life of discipleship as we explore chapters 11 to 13 in the Book of Hebrews. We’ll be exploring what believing without seeing looks like, having faith in ALL situations, and showing faith towards God with reverence and awe. However, we must first ask what exactly faith is? The author of Hebrews gives a good answer right off the bat by saying that “faith is the assurance of all things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11: 1, NRSV). It also stems from the Greek word, hypostasis which means substance, support, or foundation.[i] This assurance and conviction of the things we don’t see serves as a foundation to what faithful living looks like, but also leads us into how we can seek the unseen as we deepen our faith. It is one of the ways that we experience the nature of faith.
Seeking the unseen is definitely a challenge because of that yearning for proof and certainty in order to believe. However, the author of Hebrews gives some concrete examples of faithful living through seeking the unseen by linking the us to the story of Abraham and Sarah found in Genesis chapters 12, 15-18, 21-22, and 24-25. I think we know the gist of the story of Abraham and Sarah, but if it’s been awhile, I’ll give you an abridged version: God calls Abraham to leave his land and promises Abraham and Sarah that they will be parents of many new generations even though they are in their nineties. While on their journey to the promised land, Isaac is born to Sarah despite her age, then later on, Abraham is told to sacrifice Isaac when Isaac is an adolescent only to see God halt Abraham, in which Isaac then grows up and marries Rebekah, receiving the same blessings and promises from God that Abraham did.
Amidst the vast ground covered that the author of Hebrews links with Genesis, the one thing that stands out in the example of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac is how they still believed and were still faithful to God, even though they could not see God, nor what was ahead for them. They didn’t say “I’ll believe it when we see it, God,” or “show me the money,” but instead followed God and listened to God each step of their journey. The same went for other characters in these stories through the rest of Genesis, particularly in Isaac and Jacob, in which the author of Hebrews says in verse 13, “all of these died in faith without having received the promises” (Heb. 11: 13, NRSV). While God promised each person in the story a new land and a whole new city, all of them died before reaching it.
How true is that in our own lifetime and journey? We do our best to be faithful to God and listening for God’s promises, even though we cannot see God and that we may not see God’s promises fulfilled in our lifetime. Even in our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus even points that we do not know when God’s timing will pan out, particularly in Jesus’s return, even though we believe that it will happen at some point (Lk. 12: 40). We just don’t know when. And in this era of the desire for certainty and proof, it sometimes feels like we are under pressure to be more faithful and likewise, there are times that we may not feel faithful enough. I know there I times where I wrestle with this.
However, my colleagues at Discipleship Ministries, Taylor Burton-Edwards and Dawn Chesser explain that when it comes to faithful living,
faith is something that happens in the world, in the real world of our actual lives. It also means that faith is not something that happens the way “the world” typically depicts it—as some rash, “heroic” decision that changes everything from that time forward. Faithful living pursues the promises of God consistently over a lifetime.[ii]
In other words, it’s a lot simpler and we should not have to feel that pressure by simply being ourselves in how we live our faith, as well as showing encouragement for those who are new to the faith or seeking that relationship in faith. Faith is something that is active, not passive. We too participate in these same stories of faithful living centuries later as we pursue the promises of God when living a life filled with hope and in turn, sharing that hope with others and encouraging others in hope and faith. We live faithfully by being the hands and feet of Jesus in our world, as Jesus demonstrated to us how to serve God, even though Jesus himself could not see his heavenly father. We live faithfully by letting our actions speak louder than our words when faith is simply lived out in our everyday lives.
However, as St. Augustine puts it, “Christians want to understand what they believe, what they can hope for, and what they ought to love.”[iii] And so, the author of Hebrews states that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” we want to understand what the nature of faith in God is and what we can hope for, even though we cannot see God. Dan Migliorie, who is professor of theology at Princeton has a very good way to describe faith in God, even though we cannot see God by saying “faith is knowledge of and trust in the living God who ever remains a mystery beyond human comprehension”[iv] Faith is being able to seek and believe in the unseen by trusting in those promises that God gives to us. It’s also trusting in God’s grace.
God indeed is a mystery and God is much bigger than we can ever comprehend or even imagine, but that is where faith comes into play and where faith necessary for us. Sometimes we just have to go out on a leap of faith into something unknown and trust and believe that God is going to take care of it, even when we cannot see God. I remember when I struggled with faith in my early 20’s, I had a conversation with someone about not being able to see God and wanting proof and certainty in which I was told, “that’s what faith is for.” That’s where faith indeed comes into play. And moving forward in faith and moving towards God’s promises, even when they’re not readily seen or whether they even happen in our lifetime is what hopefully keeps us moving and keeps us on the journey.[v]
Faithful living by seeking the unseen is “forward looking, oriented toward the future, trusting that God will keep promises made to those who believe. In other words, faith and hope are one, and life is pilgrimage.”[vi] Life indeed is a journey and my hope for you this week is to think about where you trust God in looking ahead and think about people in your own life and even people in our church through the years who have lived and served God faithfully, even amidst seeking the unseen and who still do so today. In listening to a couple stories this last week, I think of John Ellison, our former organist who passed away last week who was faithful and generous with his time and presence. I think of some of the homebound members that I used to visit with in their retirement home while interning in the Presbyterian Church, seeing them loving God and living faithfully even though they could not see God, just in the same way that Abraham and Sarah lived faithfully amidst not seeing God, all while trusting in God’s promises.
The author of Hebrews says it best by saying that “by faith, we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible” (Heb. 11: 3, NRSV). We don’t see God, but we definitely see signs of where God is active in the world and community, particularly in good deeds that people do and in God’s handiwork around us here in Plumas County, aka “God’s Country.” We also show others what faithful living looks like when we take up good attitudes and show good deeds by living out our own faith in God for others to see and encouraging others in their journey of faith. So perhaps, we can get past the whole notion of “I’ll believe it when I see it” because although we cannot see God directly, we can certainly see signs and actions by God, even through the people we encounter each day. That’s how Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Enoch were able to live out their lives, as they believed God without seeing God, and continually went seeking the unseen, as faithful living is not a race, but a journey. As we go into our new week,
· What does faithful living look like, even in the face of adversity?
· What does it mean to you when we go by faith without seeing what we believe in?
· And where has your faith been challenged, yet you remained steadfast in faith?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
[i] New Interpreters Study Bible Notes (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 2165.
[ii] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Lectionary Calendar’. 2016. Accessed August 3, 2016. http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/twelfth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-2016.
[iii] Daniel L. Migliorie, Faith Seeking Understanding, 3rd. Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 2.
[iv] Ibid., 3.
[v] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Lectionary Calendar’. 2016. Accessed August 3, 2016. http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/twelfth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-2016.
[vi] “Commentary on Hebrews 11: 8-22” in The New Interpreters Bible Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 135.
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