We sang “Hymn of Promise” this morning in church and I think everyone smiled when they sang the line, “In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.” Even though it is snowing AGAIN, I believe that we are all learning things about ourselves throughout this winter season and God is working through us in ways that will be revealed in time. As much as I am looking forward to a spring thaw, the time to rest has been nice as well.
Here is my sermon from this morning!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
March 1, 2015
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Faith Before Belief
Have you ever felt like you were out wandering in the desert?
In the church year, we are currently experiencing the season of Lent, a 40-day penitential season before Easter where we reflect on Jesus’ 40 days spent out in the desert and wilderness. We read this passage last week (unfortunately many of you were home stranded due to snow and ice!) and talked about the ways that God was with Jesus during that time – and how it eventually that time came to an end and Jesus was ready to begin his ministry.
The summer before my senior year of college I fund myself literally wandering through the desert. I was driving cross-country with a friend of mine and we had spent the day driving across Arizona on interstate 40. We were just east of Flagstaff when we heard a loud “BANG!” and the car started to veer off in different directions. My friend Kari – who was driving at the time – managed to cross four lanes of traffic and pull off to the shoulder and when we got out of the car we realized that not only did we have a flat tire, but we had just experienced what is known as a tire blowout.
Since neither one of us knew how to change a tire, we did the sensible thing and called AAA. Great, right? The only problem was the fact that – other than “on I-40 somewhere east of Flagstaff” we really had no clue where we actually were. And when I told that to the woman from AAA on the phone she asked, “Are their any landmarks around? We need to know where to send the truck.”
Which is how I found myself wandering down I-40 at dusk as the traffic whizzed by so I could find the most recent mile marker.
Somehow I do not think my experience wandering in the dessert was quite like Jesus’.
I do not think that it takes a blown out tire in the middle of Arizona for any of us to feel as though we are wandering in the desert or wilderness. We all have times when we feel lost, when we feel alone and when we are not really sure which path we are supposed to take on our journey. Tragedies have struck our lives, illnesses have devastated us and awful things have happened that we just were not expecting. We have had moments in our lives where we have cried out, wondering if God was actually listening. We have doubted the existence of God and the goodness in the world. We have had moments where we doubted our beliefs, asked questions that were never answered and literally did not know what we were supposed to do next.
Some of us may even be experiencing some of these things right now.
And that is okay. The Christian faith never promised us an easy life. But it does promise us an everlasting covenant with a God who loves us, who is on our side, who wants us to thrive and succeed and who desperately wants us to have an intimate relationship with him.
I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenants, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
God spoke these words to Abraham, an old man with a barren wife. God spoke these words to Abraham, a man who would be blessed with a son and who would be known throughout the generations as the father of all nations. God spoke these words to Abraham, a man whose life and legacy was proof of the fact that through God nothing is impossible. God spoke these words and 2,000 years later, the Easter story gave us further proof of this everlasting covenant.
So this is a great story, right? A nice anecdote that we learn as children that describes a miracle that happened 4,000 years ago? But how is this relevant in our lives today? What happens when we are waiting for that miracle and it does not come? What happens when our faith is challenged in real and scary ways? How do we believe in this God who loves us, who is on our side, who wants us to thrive and succeed and who desperately wants us to have an intimate relationship with him in those moments when we have no tangible proof to stand on?
This is when we are called to have faith.
In this morning’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul writes:
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
The biggest thing that Paul was addressing here was the importance of faith over law – and of submitting to God’s grace through the resurrection of Christ rather than through Jewish laws and customs. But let’s take law out of the equation for a second and just focus on faith: Paul reminded the Roman people – a community of people who experienced their own troubles, just like we all do – that God’s promises came to Abraham through faith.
And in doing so, Paul was assuring the Roman people that God’s promises would come to them through faith.
And in reading this text today, we are assured that God’s promises will come to us through faith.
There will be moments in our lives where we are out wandering in the wilderness; where we are scared, where we are confused, where we are angry and where are not actually sure that we believe in God’s promises.
But I believe in these moments that we still have faith.
I do not think that faith something that you necessarily have or experience. I think faith is something that you do; something that you actively choose to participate in every day. I think that faith is a way of life – the way that we should live our lives, so that we can believe in God’s promises. I believe that faith comes before belief; that we need to live out our faith, that we need to live with faith in order to truly see – and believe in – God’s promises.
Okay, this is all well and good in theory, but how do we actually live in out?
Paul told the Roman people that, “[Abraham] grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.”
So that must be where we start.
I think that if we are struggling in our lives and in our faith – if we are lost and wandering in the wilderness – then this is where we need to start. We need to – like Abraham – give glory to God.
It may feel weird at first, but when we are facing life’s greatest challenges and feel completely lost in the world that we are living in, I think we need to give glory to God, so that – even in the midst of chaos and heartache – we are practicing faith, we are living our lives grounded in faith. When we are wandering in the wilderness, we need to rise up our heads, stand tall and proclaim to the world the immeasurable and unmovable love of God in our lives so that we can feel that love. When we do not necessarily believe in the promises of God’s grace, then we need to start by living them out. Our tear-stained faces need to proclaim to the world God’s goodness just as much as our joy-filled ones.
How we live our lives can transform how we believe in God, I truly believe that.
I think we start by giving glory to God – then we strengthen our faith – and then we feel ourselves starting to believe.
It is okay if we do not always believe this stuff; it is okay if we doubt, if we feel lost and if we are unsure of where God fits into the chaos of our lives. It is okay to be out wandering in the wilderness (heck, Jesus did it!). It is okay because this is where we defy the odds of our earthly lives and practice our faith anyway.
Having faith does not always mean believing in God when everything around us is falling apart. Sometimes having faith means living our lives as a tangible expression of God’s love that we can believe in God when everything around us is falling apart.
Like Abraham, God’s promises will come to us through faith.
So whether you are running down the interstate looking for a mile marker or you are simply experiencing one of life’s challenges, I implore you to keep living out your faith.
I promise that your life will be changed.
So, my friends, go out and live your lives with faith. Proclaim God’s love to the people around you. Show the world what it means to be a child of God, created in his image and saved by the living waters of baptism. Live out your faith so that, hoping against hope, you, too, can believe that you are capable of living the life and ministry that God is calling you into.
Thanks be to God!