October 7, 2018/20th Sunday After Pentecost /Richard E. Holmer
First Lesson: Genesis 2:18-24 /Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-4/Gospel: Mark 10:2-17
Faith is not something we have – it’s like faith has us. In his letter to the Corinthians St. Paul speaks of how faith is not a rational decision: “the love of Christ COMPELS us.” (2 Cor 5:14) Theologian Frederick Buechner observes that: “Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process rather than as a possession. Faith is not being sure where you’re going, but going anyway.” So it is that the experience of faith is often described as taking a leap. Faith is not a deliberate and logical progression from A to B to C, and so on. Faith is a daring leap from A all the way to Z. Faith leaps to believe in a God we cannot see. And so the writer of our Psalm today, Psalm 8, is moved to a passionate exclamation- “O Lord our Lord, how exalted is your name in all the world!” -without ever having laid eyes on the God he praises. Living in a scientific age where concrete evidence and proof are the order of the day, faith nevertheless embraces what cannot be proved. Peter took an audacious leap when he declared to his human friend Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” 2,000 years later, you and I gladly make that same leap of faith each time we say the Creed. Faith takes a further leap to trust that this God we cannot see loves us and cares for us with great compassion. Listen again to what the psalmist says: “What is man that you should be mindful of him, the son of man that you should seek him out? [Yet] You have made him but little lower than the angels; you adorn him with glory and honor.” (Ps 8:5-6) By faith we embrace the notion that not only is there a God who is almighty and creator of all that is – this same God knows each of us personally, and upholds us with abiding grace. Although each of us is but one person among billions, living on a planet that is but a small marble in the vast universe, we believe we are cherished and remembered by God. This entails no small leap on our part! Faith leaps yet again to take on responsibility for the stewardship of God’s creation. Notice how Psalm 8 moves from acknowledging God’s blessings to accepting the obligation to manage all that God has made: “You give him mastery over the works of your hands; you put all things under his feet: all sheep and oxen, even the wild beasts of the field; the birds of the air, the fish of the see, and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.” (I like that last part.) Stewardship is the wise management of the resources placed in our care. In the broadest sense, we are stewards of the whole earth and the fullness thereof. In a personal sense, you and I are stewards of our lives, our time, our wealth. Faith eagerly leaps to respond in gratitude to God for all the goodness God freely bestows. Psalm 8 begins and ends in wonder and praise: “O Lord our Lord, how exalted is your name in all the world! Out of the mouths of infants and children your majesty is praised above the heavens.” (Ps 8:1,2,10) It is said that imitation is the highest form of praise – so in order to praise God, we not only sing God’s praises, we try to imitate Jesus as best we can: trying to be compassionate, gracious and generous. This, too, requires a great leap: setting none other than Jesus as our role model to emulate. Faith isn’t about admiring Jesus – it’s about following Jesus, a joy and a challenge.
From beginning to end, the lives of the persons we meet in the Bible demonstrate that faith in God is passionate, not passive; faith is ambitious, not cautious – for faith is the conviction that with God, nothing will be impossible. Faith believes great things are possible, and faith endeavors to bring them to fruition. Consider Abraham and Sarah setting out for a new land in their old age, trusting that they will have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. Consider Moses accepting the mission to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. Picture the twelve apostles taking on Christ’s assignment to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. To paraphrase a prayer: Faith goes boldly forward, not knowing where we go, but only that God’s hand is leading us, and God’s love supporting us. Faith doesn’t stand pat, doesn’t stand still. Faith keeps leaping in new directions. The fact is, you and I would not be here today, gathered in this beautiful sanctuary, if not for the significant leaps of faith made by those who came before us. As John Webster shared with us earlier, there was a time when a congregation known as St. James was only a dream, a hoped-for possibility. Back in 1962, a small group of believers dared to envision a new church in this community. Together they made leaps of commitment, sacrifice and generosity. Faith and God’s grace brought this congregation into being. And many more leaps along the way brought us to where we are today. It took faith to acquire this property and build the first unit in 1964. Adding the Sunday School wing was another leap in 1980 – followed by the momentous leap to construct this worship space. Just last year we celebrated finally paying off the mortgage on this building. Many of you took leaps in giving to make that possible. By faith we have come this far.
Does anyone think that we have arrived? Is there no longer any need for leaping? After all, the building and grounds are renovated and paid for. We have a million dollars in the bank. Things are pretty good! After we made the final payment on our mortgage last year, our council president made an astute observation: “Right now,” he said, “the greatest danger we face is complacency.” You see, faith can rest in the Lord – but faith can never be complacent! Faith goes boldly forward – it keeps on leaping! What leaps are in store for us as a faithful congregation? Your church council will be pondering this question next weekend as we gather for an overnight retreat. Your insights and visions are certainly welcome. Please share with me or any council member your thoughts about what leaps we might undertake together. Our Evangelism Committee has recently challenged us to take a leap in the direction of becoming a more inviting congregation. Can you step beyond your comfort zone and extend an invitation to a friend or neighbor, or a fellow member? Social Ministry Committee is always encouraging members to take a leap into serving. What if each of us found a new opportunity to be involved with PADS or Habitat for Humanity, or Waukegan to College, or COOL, or North Chicago Community Partners, or Lutheran Social Services? The Christian Education Committee would welcome any and all willing to take a fresh leap into learning – whether as a teacher or as a student. The Worship and Music Committee would love to see you leap into the Adult Choir, the Handbells, Damascus Road, the Children’s Choir and Brass – and/or getting involved on Sunday as a Worship Servant. The Stewardship Team is encouraging all of us to take a leap in generosity. All our giving is a leap beyond self-interest to care and support for others. Generous, sacrificial giving is a leap beyond trying to provide for your own security to trusting God for your security. Faithful stewards trust that the Lord will provide. Common sense asks: how can you afford to give generously? Faith asks: how can I afford not to be generous with all that God gives to me? A goal for each of us is to grow in our giving. A helpful way to do this is to consider your offering as a percentage of your income. To increase your giving by 1% of your income is a leap in the right direction! Our offerings are not dues, they are an expression of our faith in God. Caution can cause us to hold back, to hold on to what we’ve got. Faith gives boldly and generously, trusting that God is good and God will provide. Corrie Ten Boom succinctly summarizes the confidence of faith: “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future in a KNOWN God.” Faith leaps – trusting that our future is in God’s hands.
Thanks be to God!