Sunday, April 15, 2018

"Faith that Makes Us Strong" - Sermon, April 15, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy

“In the Name of Jesus Christ: Faith…that Makes Us Strong”
Pastor Andrew Davis
April 15, 2018
Acts 3: 12-19
Luke 24: 36b-48

How many of you remember the children’s story “The Little Engine that Could?” If the story is new to you, it was written in 1930 by Watty Piper and is about a train carrying toys and other fun stuff “for good little girls and boys,” when their engine up and breaks down.  The clowns, dolls, and animals on the train try in earnest to find an engine that could haul the train over the mountain to its destination before the children awake, but with little success.[i]  After being passed over by several other locomotives who felt they were too good, too busy, or too tired, a little blue engine stops, shows empathy to everyone on the stranded train, and is willing to help take the toys, dolls, and good things to eat for good little girls and boys over the mountain, even though she had never been over the mountain before.[ii] She does so anyway, with her mantra being “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” all the way over the mountain to the delight of all the dolls and clowns on the train and to her own delight.[iii]
            Faith that makes us strong oftentimes feels like “The Little Engine that Could,” as there are many times that all we can really do is say in our minds, “I Think I can, I think I can, I think I can…”  As we continue along our Easter series, “In the Name of Jesus Christ,” we began last week by talking about how the early community of believers shared their wealth and all that they owned equally among the community, as we do have some little tidbits we can glean in our today’s context in how we help people, much like the little engine did for the stalled train.  So much can be said about faith in general, yet it takes faith to make us strong while we have opportunities for refreshment and redemption when we have faith. 
In today’s text that we heard Scott read for us, we go backwards a little bit in the Book of Acts into chapter 3, as Peter and John have just healed a crippled beggar who had been crippled all his life and sat outside the Beautiful Gate of the temple asking people for loose change as they entered the temple.  When Peter and John encountered this man, they restored him to wholeness in the name of Jesus Christ, then saw him leap for joy and praise God, which made the crowd that gathered around curious to know more.[iv]  As Peter addresses the crowd, he claims that “through faith in the name of Jesus, this man was healed—and you know how crippled he was before. Faith in Jesus’ name has healed him before your very eyes” (Acts 3: 16, NLT).  At the same time, Peter and John were acting in faith too, as Peter and John didn’t pass the crippled beggar by like the other engines did with the stalled train in “The Little Engine that Could.”
Instead of passing this man by at the gate of the temple, “Peter stopped and spoke to the man, [proclaiming] the power of the name of Jesus [when he] ordered the man to stand up and walk.”[v]  Following this man’s healing, Peter begins talking to the crowd
and began to proclaim the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the power of his name to make believers strong, and the power of God to heal not just [the crippled man begging at the gate], but everyone who repents and turns to God.”[vi]

            When we read the text the first time, it may feel like Peter is putting blame on the people for crucifying Jesus by rejecting him, which could also be seen as blaming us for taking part in Jesus’s death because of our own sins too, as his message can sound a little bit on the harsh side and even put us on the defensive a little bit.  Yet in the same breath, Peter is offering the people and us a chance to repent or turn around and experience refreshment, or a new beginning by putting our faith in Jesus Christ, which can make us strong.  Even in Luke’s gospel this morning, the disciples are redeemed for running away in fear and doubting when Jesus appears following his resurrection and eats with them, while instructing them to go out and proclaim the Good News of the resurrection and offering people forgiveness everywhere. 
When we repent by confessing, acknowledging, and turning away from our sins by turning to faith in God through Jesus Christ,
God’s redemptive intention is to liberate people from whatever debilitates them and prevents them from enjoying the good things created for them.  The interpreter of Acts sometimes makes the distinction between spiritual sickness (=sin), from which one is healed by the salve of divine forgiveness, and physical sickness (=lameness), from which one is healed by God’s miracle-working power.  The one is more public and spectacular but no more exceptional than the other.  They are two sides of a common coin, minted by grace and received in faith.[vii]

            This opportunity at redemption and receiving God’s grace in faith sounds a lot like what Methodism’s founder, John Wesley refers to as ‘justifying grace.’ I’ve mentioned prevenient grace before, which is grace that is there before we first believed.  When we do come to believe and move towards ‘justified grace,’ we take the next step by responding in faith by accepting God’s grace that is available for EVERYONE and freely given to us, repenting of our sins, and actively engaging with our faith through prayer, study of scripture, regular worship, works of love and mercy, and the sacraments which include baptism and Holy Communion.  Like Wesley’s notion of grace being available to EVERYONE, “Peter’s message is that salvation, healing, and refreshment can come to anyone who has ears to hear the Good News, just as it did to the [crippled] man [begging at the temple]” and is available to each of us as well.[viii] But, that’s where faith comes into play.  Peter’s message to repent and have faith in Jesus “is not an ancient world version of self-help” and
does not point us to some magic words that we can say to feel better about our guilt.  It is recognizing that at the very heart of our humanity, we are all in the same boat…it is like a sinking ship that we built and we can’t get out of it.  We keep building it.  We won’t stop building it unless we are forced to.  And yet, refreshment is still available to us.

            Even amidst where humanity goes wrong, where disagreements and differences abound, and even when hope might seem dim, or mistakes pile up, we can experience this grace and refreshment when we respond in faith.   Despite mistakes we may make, times where we have failed to love our neighbor or ourselves, said the wrong thing to someone we love, or let a disagreement get in the way, showing grace with ourselves is just as important too, because we all make mistakes and we will all mess up at one time or another. 
I know in ministry, I’ve failed in some places, have said the wrong things in pastoral care situations from failing to pause and reflect, have made people upset by unintentionally putting words in their mouths and being called on it, yet I’ve also been forgiven and redeemed by most of the people I have upset, although am still working on showing grace with myself whenever make mistakes in ministry or life. 
Yet mistakes are learning opportunities and along with showing grace with ourselves, keeping the faith even in the midst of our mistakes is highly important, especially when we are going through times where we just want to say the heck with it all and give up.  I know in this journey of working on my physical health which is constant, I do have my days where I’ve not done my best, but have the opportunity to start again the next day and have to keep saying ‘I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…’ The same goes for all us on the journey of faith. 
There will even be times when our faith will be tested and we will be tempted along the journey of faith, even acting impulsively on faith which is where things can get a little tricky.  Taking ‘a leap of faith’ is one of those instances that might work out, or may not.  During our Lenten study, Gifts of the Dark Wood by Rev. Dr. Eric Elnes, Eric talks about how he equates ‘a leap of faith’ to junk food.  Like pizza, ice cream, or the gum and candy that’s strategically placed next to the checkout counters in grocery stores, these foods might satisfy us in the short-term, but not necessarily in the long-term.[ix] Eric shares that throughout his ministry, he has counseled people
Who have hit dead ends and even stumbled into significant danger by taking what they call ‘a leap of faith…’in response to a fleeting sensation of well-being that they associate with God or the universe commanding them to leap off some figurative cliff and fly.  When the sensation goes away and (appropriate) doubt creeps in, they associate this doubt with backsliding or failing to “trust the revelation.” Having leapt and discovered that the air beneath their feet was too thin to support their weight, they come into my office feeling hurt and betrayed by God or the universe, vowing never to listen to the divine again.[x]

            On the other hand, taking a leap of faith has worked for some, so I don’t want anyone to feel discouraged or discredited by such a statement when a leap of faith has indeed worked out, although there are people who have done so and it hasn’t worked out, such as what I talked about last week in trying to help people and not having it work out in the long-run.  If anything, don’t give up faith and know that we too can be refreshed and redeemed, even though things may not happen overnight or when we’d like them to.  Although I had returned to the church after eight months away eleven years ago, my faith would once again be tested and I would be tempted to make an unwise decision when the recession hit ten years ago. 
A little after returning to the church and experiencing a refreshed and renewed faith after time away from the church, I began feeling frustrated with my job and feeling like I was at a dead-end and felt caught up in a tension between wanting to serve God and the fact that the bills don’t stop and that I still needed to eat.  Before going to seminary, the constant reminders that I was still working while many others weren’t were a little annoying at times, except had I taken a leap of faith and just walked away from my job because I was unhappy and not having it work out, I probably would have felt betrayed by God and hurt and certainly would not be doing what I am today.  Faith can make us strong, but that sometimes means staying put where we are for the time being and looking back, I’m glad I stayed put even if it didn’t feel like it was worth it in the short-run of things.   
Even amidst mistakes we will make, or times where our faith may be tested, or when we feel like we’ve royally messed up and feel unworthy of God’s grace, mercy, and redemption, the good news is that the same message of faith, healing, refreshment, and redemption that “Peter proclaims to those gathered outside the Beautiful Gate all those millennia ago is for us too!  The same refreshing, the same salvation that is offered to them is also offered to us” on the other side of the resurrection.[xi]
It is “in Christ [that] God offers us mercy and grace, no matter the magnitude of our sin,” it takes faith, as our faith can make us strong by accepting God’s grace and mercy. 
While the crippled beggar at the gate of the temple had been there for many years, it wasn’t until Peter and John saw him, and spoke to him by offering him healing and refreshment in the name of Jesus Christ, then followed by offering the crowd a chance at redemption for their part in Jesus’s crucifixion, which is ironic that Peter is saying this since he denied knowing Jesus, and the disciples ran away in fear.  Yet, when they encountered the risen Christ, they received redemption and in turn, are now offering that same redemption for anyone who puts their faith in God through Jesus Christ.  As we go into this new week, think of moments along your journey of faith where your faith has made you strong.  Where have you been challenged?  Or if you’re just beginning the journey, where do you feel a need for redemption and refreshment in your life, or what barriers might be getting in the way of your faith?  And, where have you had to be like The Little Engine that Could and keep saying “I think I can…I think I can…I think I can?”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say AMEN! 

[i] Sedelmaier, J. 2012. "Watty Piper's 1930 “The Little Engine That Could” - Print Magazine". Print Magazine. Accessed April 14 2018.

[ii] Ibid. 
[iii] Ibid. 

[iv]Ministries, Discipleship. 2018. "Third Sunday Of Easter 2018 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed April 14 2018.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid. 
[vii] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 85.
[viii] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018
[ix] Eric Elnes, Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), 71. 
[x] Ibid., 71-72.
[xi] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018

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