Readings for the day (Lectionary 27 – Sunday, October 2, 2016):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
In 2009, a movie called “Angels and Demons” was released, starring Tom Hanks. This movie is based on a book written by Dan Brown; the same one who wrote the Da Vinci Code. The premise of the story is that there is a group in Rome that has threatened the Vatican with killing their priests, except they have left clues behind. So Robert Langdon, a symbologist, played by Tom Hanks, is called in to give his interpretation of the clues. Langdon is a scientist who doesn’t practice any sort of religion. At one point in the movie, a priest asks him, “Do you believe in God?” Langdon responds, “I’m an academic. My mind tells me I will never understand God.” The priest asks, “And your heart?” Langdon replies, “Tells me I’m not meant to. Faith is a gift that I have yet to receive.”
“Faith is a gift that I have yet to receive.” Surprisingly, that’s some pretty good theology coming from Hollywood! Faith, a gift. Something that can’t be earned, can’t be bought, can’t be traded – only received. And received is exactly how we all came to this faith of believing and trusting in God alone. If you think back to when you first remember believing that God existed, I’m going to guess that for most of you, that belief came from the influence of a parent or grandparent; maybe an aunt or uncle. For many of us, this is exactly how we have received our faith in God; from our parents, who likewise received their faith from their parents. And this is how the church has continued to be in existence for nearly 2,000 years, because people have been passing the faith on to the next generation.
That’s even noticeable all the way back to Paul’s letter to Timothy, where Paul reminds Timothy of where his faith came from. His faith, Paul says, began with his grandmother Lois, and she passed it on to his mother Eunice, and then she passed it on to him.
Of course that is the ideal scenario: the older generations passing on the faith to the younger generations (grandparents to parents to children). Just like the ideal scenario in life is that one gets married, lives together, and then has children. But we don’t need to look far to realize that this life is anything but perfect. Rarely does life follow an ideal scenario. Parents don’t always do a good job of passing on the faith to their children. Babies don’t always come when we want them to. Because of this sinful world, things come up that mess with our ideal scenario. Sin also messes up God’s ideal scenario for us.
The story of Noah and the flood is a perfect example of that. God had an idea on how His creation was going to look, but the sinfulness of humanity changed that, which led God to flood the world and start over. In life, we don’t have an undo button like we do on our computers. So that means we have had to learn to adapt and change to what comes our way. As the seasons change, we have to adapt. We already are preparing ourselves for changing to winter. As the features on our vehicles and machinery change, we have to learn and adapt. As the faith practices of our community change, we as a church have to learn and adapt.
I’ve had to adapt. With many now in our communities, both children and adults, who have not been raised in the faith, I have had to adapt in how I teach confirmation. For some students, their first confirmation class is their first real exposure to Christianity. Each year we continue to have students that enter confirmation without knowing the Lord’s Prayer, or what the Apostles’ Creed is, or how to look up a verse in the Bible.
So if we are going to continue passing on the faith, we need to be willing to adapt. I met someone this past week who recently moved into one of our communities. This individual I believe is unmarried with a couple kids and has a few piercings and some colored hair. This individual doesn’t look like most of us – are you ready for that? Are you ready for something other than the “ideal scenario”? Because that’s what is waiting for us. In our community, we have people who have fallen away from the church because of various disagreements with the church. There are also people who have never been to church, except maybe for a wedding or funeral. Are you ready to learn and adapt?
When His disciples ask for Jesus to “increase their faith,” or to “add to their faith,” His response is that faith is something that can’t be quantified. It’s not like a bank account where you can deposit or withdraw a certain amount of faith. Faith is not about how much you have or don’t have. It’s about in whom you have faith. So we cannot say that those who go to church more often or spend more time giving of their time to the church means that they have more faith than someone who has never been to church or who has fallen away from the church.
Faith is a gift. And you either have it or you don’t. In the movie, Robert Langdon said that faith is a gift that he has yet to receive. But now, faith is a gift that is received at baptism. So all of those who are baptized have the same amount of faith. Those that faithfully come to church every week have the same amount of faith as those who haven’t been to church in years. Those who go to Sunday School and Bible studies week after week have the same amount of faith as those who haven’t been raised in the church. No matter if you have a piercing, tattoo, or colored hair – looks do not affect how much faith someone has. Jesus says that, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to a mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” A small amount of faith is all that is needed.
We all are called to take this mustard seed sized faith and pass that on to the next generations. So maybe that is leading or participating in a Bible study. Maybe that is teaching Sunday School or being a confirmation mentor. Maybe that is reaching out to your neighbors that you know who are not active followers of Jesus. Remember, all it takes is faith the size of a mustard seed, and you could command a mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea.
Faith is a gift that you all have received at your baptism. You already have everything that you need to be a faithful follower of Christ. Or should I say, a faithful servant (or slave) of Christ. Jesus asks the question, that if you had a servant who was working in your field and just came in the house, what would you say? Would you tell your servant to sit down at the table? Or to make you something first? This gift that you have received is that Jesus invites you to come and rest; come sit at the table and dine with your Lord. Our God loves us so much that He doesn’t treat us like slaves or servants, but as His own children.
No matter who walks through our doors or what their history with or without the church has been, God sees us all as His children; called to pass on the faith to the best of our abilities and adapt as we go. Amen.
© 2016 Anthony Christoffels. Used with permission.