Strength of Faith

A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him

As mentioned last week, over the months of Ordinary Time ahead, a time dedicated to growth, we will focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk in Strength of Faith. Remember, we are focusing on our Strength of Faith.

The disciples are in the boat, we all know the story, they are afraid in the storm and Jesus wakes up, calms the storm, and asks them about the strength of their faith.

Obviously, Jesus, perfect God and man had faith, He was sleeping through the storm. He was confident that amid the storm, faith, and His Father, would see Him through. He had the same faith confronting torture, the cross, death, and the grave.

It does not really surprise us does it? Jesus lived in strength of faith, the disciples questioned and feared, they were at least, at that time, weak in their faith. 

But, what about us now? How does this storm experience relate to us, here in the 21st Century, not crossing many lakes or rivers in a boat? How about us in secure homes with GFI plugs and grounded electrical systems, and other safety and security measures?

Perhaps we do not fear storms, but the analogy of storms works because is speaks about all the other stresses we face. We can go to Jesus about those. We can say, Lord, don’t You care that I am perishing? But, that is not really the point Jesus is making in His gospel. It is not the lesson the Lord is impressing on us. Rather, bottom line, it is about strength of faith. It is Jesus asking us: Where’s your faith. “Why are you terrified?”

The question before us is whether we have the strength of faith to stand in the storm, to be the leader when others are running and hiding, to live the gospel in the face of evil and persecution. To hope when all is hopeless.

We have examples around us. Those men in the boat went on profess Jesus with strength and power across the world. We have the examples of our own fathers, godfathers, grandfathers, uncles, and the other special men in our lives who not only protected us but longed for us to learn the lessons necessary to be strong.

We have the example of all those who with strong faith fought the evil of slavery, who prayed in watch parties for freedom and who with us continue to this very day to stand up to inequality, the endemic sin of prejudice, and the inherent inequality still plaguing us.

We are called upon this very day to come forward, to walk through those doors, to appear here in this church, to say no to fear and raise up the holy and awesome name of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We are called to grow in faith, hope, and love so that fear may be removed from us and so we may stand in strength of faith! With strong faith, the power of our Father will see us through.

Witnessing to Jesus
without fear.

When the captain and the court officers had brought the apostles in and made them stand before the Sanhedrin, the high priest questioned them, “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name? Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching.” The Sanhedrin ordered the apostles to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, and dismissed them.

Last week we heard of John’s witness. His witness to new life in Jesus was recorded near the very end of the apostolic era. Today we see a glimpse into the beginning of that era.

The apostles had recently experienced the infusion of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. They never asked – What was that? The first thing they did was to stand on a balcony and proclaim the coming, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. They spent the weeks and months ahead preaching, not to gather followers, but to share the saving work of Jesus. They wanted everyone to know about God’s wonderful gift of freedom and Jesus’s glorious gift of friendship, the very same friendship He offered to them at the seashore. The apostles did not preach themselves as some sort of new leadership. They did not point to themselves as having anything to offer – they offered what they had – their witness to Jesus Christ crucified, raised, and ascended.

Today we will welcome Vincent John into the family of Christ. What we hope and pray is that in his life he will see each of us witness strongly to Jesus crucified, raised, and ascended. Hopefully, he will never see any one of us putting ourselves before the proclamation of Jesus. Hopefully, he will see and find in the Church his new and eternal family. Hopefully, he too will take up the mantle of witness so that his children and his children’s children will know Jesus as friend and savior – the One Who offers complete freedom.

Together with Vincent we have this great opportunity, but it comes with what might be seen as a problem… Jesus’ witnesses will not go without worldly assault. There is a cost to accepting Jesus. This arrest marks the third time they had been apprehended. Soon Stephen would be chosen, would proclaim and witness, would be arrested and would be martyred. The apostles’ greatest witness is that opportunity in Jesus is greater than any challenge. It is why they lived fearless lives.

Vincent, as we have all done, takes on the opportunity and challenge. His is the call to witness to the promise of God’s friendship and freedom, which is greater than any fear. That is the real glory isn’t it? The reward is that all of us have complete power and assurance in Christ. No fear in us because of Him. Ours is fearless life forever!

faith and worry

Sometimes the test
is almost impossible.

God put Abraham to the test. He called to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am!” he replied. Then God said: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.”

Over recent weeks it seems that the number of troubles among those I know have increased greatly. These aren’t little problems, but those deep, life-shattering types of troubles that some may never experience. How life-shattering it must have been for Abraham, to face having to sacrifice his son.

A preacher was delivering a sermon before a large congregation. He pointed out that believers aren’t exempt from trouble. In fact, some Christians are surrounded by trouble — trouble to the right, trouble to the left, trouble in front, and trouble behind. At this, a man stood up and shouted, ‘Glory to God, it’s always open at the top!’

God’s test of Abraham’s faith was exactly about that. We can imagine that in walking to Mount Moriah, with his son carrying the wood that he would be sacrificed on, Abraham was in tears. His heart was breaking, the knife at his side weighed heavy, and his soul was crying out to God. He climbed the hills where Jerusalem would later stand, where the sacrificial fires of the Temple would be built, the place where Jesus would take up the wood of the cross (as Isaac carried the wood for his sacrifice). He was surrounded on every side, front and back, and could not help but look up.

What happened when Abraham and Isaac arrived at God’s designated site of sacrifice? …the LORD’s messenger called to him from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham!” “Here I am!” he answered. “Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the messenger. “Do not do the least thing to him. I know now how devoted you are to God.” The response to Abraham’s troubles came from on high, from the top, from heaven.

Here’s the real test. Can we trust God enough to look up when those life-shattering troubles come? Can we place our reliance on Him? St. James noted: Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Troubles will either break us down, seem impossible, and cause us to look down or they will teach us to persevere and look up to heaven. The promise is that our perseverance, our looking up, will be rewarded and that we will lack for nothing particularly in eternity. We should repeat with the Psalmist: From whence does my help come? and answer: My help comes from the LORD.

Reflection for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014

We Have a BIG God

We have a big
God

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We are called to recognize and live the power of God.

Reading the Old Testament we see the multitude of tremendous things God did for His people. When they were threatened He gave them victory. When they were small like David He blessed them and gave them the power to slay giants. He led them from slavery and captivity. He caused them to pass through the sea, and He fed them and gave them drink when there appeared to be none.

Reading those accounts we see the power of our God – able to create from nothing, to protect, to lead, to save; Who as Isaiah says feeds us and sustains us, even though we have nothing to offer in return.

All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!

This big and powerful image of God was ever before the people of Israel. Even so, the people of Israel turned away from God over and over. They sought after the things they thought would give them power, success, and happiness and forgot that He was the only One who could deliver all that and so much more.

Finally, in His greatest and most powerful act ever, the New Testament reveals and witnesses to the fact that God emptied Himself of everything, became man, taught us, healed the sick, raised the dead, and …taking the five loaves and the two fish… gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied…

He then picked up all our sinfulness, fears, and our very deaths and offered them in His body on the cross. In doing that we now enjoy freedom and security in His power and promises.

Our God is big, powerful, almighty, and yet people still turn away, and pull into themselves. They try to find a way to fill the voids in their lives, to solve the problems they encounter, and to seek joy without Him. We must be different!

Our bulletin art says it well: Don’t tell God how big your storm is; tell your storm how big your God is. In God we have the ability to triumph, to overcome, and to succeed. This does not mean earthly success or freedom from life’s strains and pressures. It does mean that when we encounter these things we can stare into them and confidently say – my God is bigger than you and His promises are more important than you. We are called to recognize exactly how big our God is and to place our trust in Him. Take this huge leap of faith and trust. It is very much worth taking!