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In today’s parable, Jesus is in the middle of teaching his disciples one last time.  He is only days away from his crucifixion in Jerusalem, days away from leaving them, days away from his death.  Jesus wants to make sure they are prepared for life after he is gone.

He is asking these people to live out their discipleship – to follow him, to become like him, to take care of each other and to carry on his ministry in the world

Much like the master in this parable who is going on a long trip, Jesus is trying to put his affairs in order so that his ministry is taken care of while he is gone.

The master, like Jesus, is entrusting an extravagant gift in the hands of his servants.

One single talent was a gigantic weight of money. It equaled 6,000 denarii. One denarii was roughly equal to a day’s wages… so if you do the math, each one of these talents was about twenty YEARS worth of pay.

In today’s terms a talent might be thought of as nearly a million dollars.

Now… this is the kind of money that most people never saw. Especially not at once.

But the Lord and master in this story has eight times this much to divvy up among his servants. One hundred and sixty years’ worth of pay… and he is leaving it in their hands.

This is a lifetime’s worth of money. It is costly. And being given all at once, you wonder what the Lord and master could possibly have left. This could very well be everything that he has.

And we know that in reality, the gift of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection was costly.

And this talent, this incredible gift, is placed into your hands.

The gift of discipleship… the gift of a lifetime of following Jesus has been given to you…

What are YOU going to do with it?

 

One of the fascinating features of this story is that not everyone is given the same amount of talents.  The master in this story looks over the skills and abilities of those who are standing in front of them and recognizes they are not the same.

As William Herzog notes, the word used here for ability could also be translated as power.  They are given these gifts because of their power, their position, because of what they have already demonstrated they could handle.

In other words, this is not a test.

No master would be foolish enough to use this much money as an experiment.

No, this ruler knows the servants, honestly assesses them, and puts in their hands exactly what they can realistically handle.

One of these servants receives a single talent.  Another two.  Another five whole talents.

What we discover in this parable is that it is not important what your power or abilities or talents are today.  It doesn’t matter how much you are given.  It is what you decide to do with your discipleship that really counts.

 

This past spring, many of you helped our church to honestly assess our ministry and our life together through a really long survey:   the Congregational Assessment Tool.

We have learned a lot of things through this tool and the leadership of our church is starting to wrestle with how to respond to various pieces.

In worship over the next couple of months, we are going to be exploring a few areas that reflect our discipleship as a church.

Now, in these scores, we were compared to 500 other churches our size around the entire country.  So these scores are not the percentage of you that said these things… but how our church as a whole compares with others

  • I work to connect my faith to all other aspects of my life (32%)
  • I experience the presence of God in my life (36%)
  • We do a good job supporting people in ministry by reminding them they make a difference (48%)
  • We prepare our members for ministry by helping them discern gifts (51%)
  • We understanding that we have a spiritual responsibility for life-long learning and formation (47%)
  • We welcome and are enriched by persons from many different walks of life (39%)

 

If I were to name a common thread that I see in these items, it would be that we as a church have abundant, extravagant gifts in our midst… and we don’t know what to do with them.

These results tell me that when it comes to living out our faith, when it comes to our discipleship, we act a whole lot like the third servant in our scripture today…. Both personally, and as a church.

And I think there are two factors at play here.

1)    As a church, we have not taken the time and energy, like the master of the story did, to help one another figure out what our abilities and position and gifts really are.   You need to know where you are starting in order to know what you have to work with.

2)    Even if we DO know what our abilities, skills, and gifts are… even if we have this talent in our hands… we aren’t sure what we are supposed to do with it.  We don’t have a clear sense of how to help it to grow

 

Here at Immanuel, we define discipleship with a phrase we use every single week:  In Christ, live a life of love, service, and prayer. 

It’s a great, easy to remember phrase… but…

What do we mean by love?  How are we supposed to pray?  Who are we serving?

How do I know if I’m doing it?

And above all… How can I do it better and more fully next week that I did last week.

That’s what today’s parable is all about, after all… taking what you have and helping it to grow.

 

So, starting today, and over the next eight weeks, we are going to break down that vision of discipleship at Immanuel into bite sized pieces.

We are going to explore what this looks like in worship and hospitality, service and generosity, formation and practice.

We’ll start next week with this whole pie and what each area of discipleship looks like at Immanuel, then over next six weeks, we’ll explore how we can take the talent placed in our hands and help it grow.

 

Figuring out where you start is the key to taking the next step.

You may have noticed a bulletin board in the foyer that includes four words:

Exploring.

Beginning.

Growing.

Maturing.

These words are going to help us to claim where we are in this journey of discipleship.

Are you someone who is brand new to this and has no idea what the possibilities are?

Are you someone who is just beginning your faith journey and you are starting to try some things out?

Are you someone who has been working on your discipleship for a while, but you still know you have room to grow?

Are you someone who understands what discipleship is all about and you have been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, and now you aren’t sure what comes next?

The truth is, it doesn’t matter where you start on this journey today.

It doesn’t matter if you are the servant in our story who was given one talent or five talents… or the servant that didn’t even get talked about who wasn’t entrusted with a talent at all.

What matters is what you do with what you have.

 

The truth of this parable is that any one of these servants could have been the ones who chose to let fear or ignorance or laziness creep in.  It could have just as easily have been the one who had been given the most who chose to do nothing with his gift.

Here at Immanuel, we are going to try to help one another not only figure out what we have, but what we can do with it.

We are going to help each other take the next step in our discipleship.

You don’t have to start with a lot in order to be faithful.  You just have to choose to do something with it.  Together… we’ll figure out how.

Amen.

Format Aside

I serve on the Rules of Order Committee for our Iowa Annual Conference.  These rules are basically the organizing and structural principles that guide our shared work and life together – both within our 3-4 day conference sessions and for the rest of the year.

We’ve been working hard to clarify and “clean up” the rules.  We had stuck a number of standing reports within our Rules of Order at one point that really didn’t belong. And now, we are working to examine which of the rules help us to live effectively into shared ministry together, and which are hindering us from the work before us.  A colleague on the committee shared with lament:  “it’s like we didn’t know how to trust each other, so we just wrote all of these rules instead.”

Maybe you are familiar with the feeling.  An employee leaves under bad circumstances, so you change the job description before hiring someone new… so that all of the previous person’s faults can be avoided.  Or one person oversteps an unwritten boundary and the entire system reacts by making a complex set of rules.

Rules are good.  They guide and shape our life together.  They provide the foundation or the framework upon which our homes and churches grow and flourish.  Done well, they provide just enough support and instruction to enable us to be creative and joyfully share in our work together and then they get out of the way.

And I’m also acutely aware of the ability of rules to protect and defend the innocent, the marginalized, and the powerless.  Rules can keep us from running amok and forgetting to look around and see who we have neglected to create space for at the table.

But that comment from my colleague keeps sticking with me.  Too often, because of distrust, or instead of doing the hard work of learning how to trust or trying  to build trust, we just create new rules. We fill our churches, our institutions, our Discipline, with do’s and don’ts.

As I pour over the nearly 1500 pages of legislation brought to the General Conference, that comment keeps ringing out in the back of my mind.

Is this piece of legislation a symptom of our distrust of one another?  Or is it a tool that will help us work together towards God’s future?

Over and over, I ask these questions.

Will this addition or deletion help us be more faithful to the witness of God in our world today as the people called United Methodist?  Or are we simply adding or deleting a rule because we aren’t happy with what Mr. Smith said at the last Ad Council meeting?

Does this legislation lift up possibility of God calling us in a new way?  Or is it filled with fear that holds us back from living out God’s dream?

I don’t believe our work at General Conference 2016 is to legislate trust.  We can’t “whereas” and “therefore” our way out of our disagreements.  So I pray for the God of hope to fill our proceedings.  I pray for a Spirit of direction that will help us to create a framework for ministry that can reach every corner of this globe.  I pray that the Living Word would be heard afresh so that God’s vision for today might be heard a new.

Trust, not Unquestioning Belief

In 2012, I took my youth group on a mission trip to Minneapolis.  We worked in a number of different sites and one of them was the Emergency Foodshelf Network.  This organization helps distribute food items to 70 area food shelves by channeling donations for organizations and large corporations.

Most of these are bulk items.  Like 50# bags of rice that needed to be bundled into smaller portions.  Or bushels upon bushels of fresh produce that we sorted so each box had a little bit of everything.

unlabeled-canOne day, our job was to affix generic labels onto 18,000 cans of corn that were donated without labels. Yes. 18,000.

As we walked in that morning, there they sat, all shiny and shrink-wrapped on pallets, just waiting for our little paper labels that read “Corn.”  Our job was to cut the labels to size, add two pieces of tape, and bundle them onto trays of 30 for distribution.

But there was this nagging question in the back of our minds all day long as we cut and taped and stacked and moved these aluminum cans.

How did we know it was really corn?

 

The only way to tell was to open the can.  But that of course ruined the product.

You could shake the cans… and we did… and it sounded like corn… but it could have sounded like peas or beets for all we knew.

 

We had to trust that it was really corn in those cans.  We had to go about our work, tape those labels on and trust.

And to be honest, because we knew that people would be receiving these cans, we felt responsible for their contents.  Others would trust then when they got a can that said corn, a can that we had labeled, they would actually be opening a can of corn.

 

Trust.

 

Our two scripture readings for today seem to give us a portrait in contrasts… between Abraham, the one who trusted and Peter, the one who didn’t.

 

Abraham, was well past retirement age, yet chose to follow and trust the God would use him to birth a nation.  He is lifted up as the example.  The one who did it right.  The one who was trustworthy and true.

And Peter. Oh Peter.  In this season of Lent we see how so many times he gets it wrong. He questions Jesus.  He denies him. He is even called Satan in our reading for today.  Perhaps what we might imagine is the opposite of one who trusts.

 

Last week, we talked about three different types of atonement theories. Three different ways God is working in the world to bring us back into relationship, to restore us to shalom.

We had the forensic theory – the idea of a trial or a courtroom.

We had the moral example theory – where Jesus shows us how to live.

And we had the Christus Victor theory – where Christ is victorious and rescues us from sin and death.

 

Today, our scriptures lead us to those forensic theories.  They take us to the courtroom.

 

courtroom-drama-1It is the courtroom Paul has in mind as he writes to the Romans in this section of this letter.

It is courtroom language that Paul is using as he describes Abraham’s relationship with God.

 

Imagine that Abraham is sitting in the witness stand of a great courtroom.  And the question put to him is this:

Why do you deserve the promises of God?

It’s a different version of the question we often think of at the end of our days: why should you get into heaven?

Why do you deserve shalom?

And throughout chapter 4, Paul lays out an argument.  Like a lawyer, Paul claims it was not Abraham’s works that made him worthy of the promises.  It wasn’t that he followed the laws of God, the Torah.  It wasn’t that he did all the right religious things like be circumcised.

No, what puts Abraham in the right… what proves that he deserves the promises of God is that he “trusts him who justifies the ungodly (4.4).” He trusted the one “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist (4:17).“ He believed, even though the odds were stacked against them.

And he was right.  He trusted that God would give him and Sarah a child and his claim was upheld. So using the courtroom language of the time, he was in the right. He was righteous. He deserves the promise because he trusted in the promise.

 

That seems too simple, doesn’t it?

 

Abraham’s faith was nothing more than a trust in the specific promises God made.

 

So what about Peter?  What if we put him in the same courtroom?  Where does he stack up?

 

If we focused strictly on this passage from Mark, he doesn’t get it.  He doesn’t trust.  He doesn’t understand.

Or maybe a better way of putting it is that he was operating on unquestioning belief.  Faith without any understanding. Peter was making assumptions about God.  Assumptions like: the journey was going to be easy.  An assumption that Jesus was going to march into Jerusalem and magically everything would be better.

And when faced with new evidence, new teaching, Peter chose to shut his mind.  He clung to that unquestioning belief.  He, in fact, challenged Jesus!  The word used here actually is the same word used for silencing demons – Peter thought Jesus was out of his mind!

Jesus has to correct Peter.  He has to tell him once again what God really promises.

 

That snapshot of Peter’s faith, however, doesn’t give us the full story.

 

In fact, if Peter and Abraham were really on trial, if their whole lives were spread before a court that was trying to determine if they deserved the promises of shalom, their stories wouldn’t be all that different.

 

If we go back to Genesis and really read Abraham’s story, his is one of fits and starts, too.

He and Sarah laugh out loud at God’s plan for their lives.

They try to do it their own way.  They always have a plan B in the works. (maybe talk about how Abraham tells the king Sarah is his sister not his wife… if his wife, Abraham will be killed… as his sister, the king will bargain with him…)

Yes, they go. They stick with it. They make it to the end of the long and complicated journey of faith.  But it isn’t an easy road.  When we pick their lives a part with a fine toothed comb, we find there are all sorts of things that are far from trustworthy and true. There are plenty of moments when they set their eyes on human and not divine things.

Peter, likewise, makes lots of mistakes.  He radically misunderstands what it means for Jesus to be the messiah.  Just like Abraham and Sarah, he has his moments of weakness where he looks out for his own interests above God’s plans.  He lies to protect himself.

But at the end of the day, Peter came to believe and trust in the specific promises God made. Peter came to believe in the giver of life. He came to trust that if God could raise Jesus from the dead, then God could raise him too.  And Peter shared that faith with others. He led others to trust in those promises, too.

 

What makes us worthy of shalom? What makes us children of Abraham?

We come to deserve the promise when we trust in the promise.

 

And that promise is that life can and will come from death. It is a promise that sin has nothing to do with our salvation, because Jesus has already wiped it away.

In the courtroom at the end of our lives, our mistakes are no longer on the table. They no longer count as evidence against us.

What matters is if we trust with our whole being that the God who created this world out of nothing and brings life from what was dead can justify the sinner, too.

If we trust in that promise, its ours!

 

And it isn’t unquestioning belief.  It isn’t faith without evidence or justification.  We trust in that promise because we have carry the story with us of how God works. And maybe we have even witnessed it with our own eyes.

 

So here’s a question…. What if I was pulled in front of a courtroom one day to testify about why I labeled those cans “corn”?

Our supervisor promised that those cans held corn and I believed her.  I trusted her.  Why?

To be honest… if we had showed up one day at a random building with an unknown organization and we were asked to label cans of corn, I’m not sure I would have trusted.  If we had done so, simply on unquestioning belief, without any relationship or evidence or understanding of who they were or what they were about, that trust would have been pretty unjustified.

 

But that isn’t what happened.

We learned about the organization and its history.  We spent some time working with them. We saw their attention to detail and how much they cared for their clients.  So on that final day, when we labeled those cans of corn… we believed in what they told us.  We trusted them.

 

Here in this church, we aren’t asking you for unquestioning belief, either.

We hope to build a relationship with you.

We want to learn together and wrestle with the promises of God that have been handed down for generations.

And just like Abraham and Peter and Paul passed down what they knew to be true… what they witnessed God doing in their lives… we are going to share our stories too.

Stories of how God has transformed us.

Stories of how God has brought life out of death.

Stories of how we have experienced grace and forgiveness and love.

And no matter how many fits and starts and mistakes any of us make along the way, my prayer is that someday, each of us will trust in the promises of shalom.  That we will trust in God and in this community of Christ in such a way that whenever difficulty and struggle come our way, we can hold fast and support each other, knowing, trusting, believing that in Christ, all will be well.

I Believe…

Nearly five years ago, I lead this “Enough” study with my very first congregation in Marengo. I remember vividly how I had planned out the whole series and had all of my notes ready to go for Sunday morning. I had sat down to start writing about the American dream and how our quest to have it all has taken so much away from our lives…. when an earthquake hit the island of Haiti.

And suddenly, it didn’t seem so hard to put things in perspective.

Every simple convenience and item in my home seemed like an overwhelming blessing when I began to think of the lives of missionaries and doctors and orphans and moms and dads who had just lost everything.

I had a friend whose parents were working at a hospital in Haiti at the time. Her parents were okay and her mom wrote to her in an email:

Hospital Ste. Croix is standing. John and I are fine. The administration building collapsed, and our apartment collapsed under the story above. We have nothing we brought with us to Haiti… Someone who was here gave me some shoes, and I found another pair of reading glasses that will work, so I have what I need.

Those lines just struck me.

“we have nothing we brought with us to Haiti… but someone gave me some shoes and I found a pair of reading glasses, so I have what I need.”

 

We may not experience earthquakes, but that doesn’t mean our lives are completely stable and worry free.

when the ground beneath your feet begins to shake…

When you lose your footing…

When everything seems to fall apart…

When that happens we start to ask questions about what is it that we really need and what are we going to rely upon.

Now, that may have been a more humorous look at this idea of instability but I think that each of us could probably find ourselves somewhere in that sketch.

We put all of our hope and faith and trust into the things of this world… our homes, our jobs, the stock market, and we don’t often pause to think about whether or not we are making the best decisions.

We over extend ourselves and work more hours to make more money so we can have more stuff.

Some statistics from Adam Hamilton’s “Enough” stuck out to me.

Did you know that the average American home went from 1660 square feet in 1973 to 2400 square feet in 2004?

Did you know that there is estimated to be around 2 billion – yes, billion with a b- 2 billion square feet of self-storage space in America? We have so much stuff that we don’t even know what to do with it or where we will put it.

And to get all of that space and all of the stuff to fill it, we have exploited our credit systems… and our credit systems have exploited us.

In the past twenty years, the average credit card debt in our country rose from $3,000 a person to $9,000 a person.

It’s like we have a gaping hole in our lives that we aren’t quite sure how to fill. So we try to fill it with money and possessions.

We try to build our lives upon these things and forget that the economic systems of this world are just shifting sands.

And so when the sands shift, when the rug gets pulled out from under us, we don’t have a firm footing. We have put all of our faith and trust into our things… instead of our God.

Adam Hamilton reminds us that the core of our most recent financial crisis is the extension and abuse of credit.

The very word credit comes from the Latin word credo, which means “I believe” or “I trust.”

By extending credit to us, our home mortgage companies and stores and the credit card companies believe and trust that we will pay them back for the money extended to us.

But too often, we have treated this credit as something that we believe and trust in… we believe it will always be there, that there is always more to borrow, that it is the answer to all of our problems.

We believe in our credit, more than we do our God. And as we do so, we find ourselves building on an insecure foundation that is moments away from collapse.

Jesus had some advice about things. In the Sermon on the Mount, he said that his words are not just helpful pieces of advice to get add inspiration to our day – they are what we are supposed to be building our lives upon.

Hear this scripture again, this time from the Message:

If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards. – Matthew 7: 25-29

Now, of course, Jesus isn’t talking about our actual homes. Floods and fires and earthquakes destroy homes all the time, no matter how strong we have built them.

He is talking about our ability to withstand the troubles of this world.

When disaster strikes…

When the stock market falls…

When a diagnosis shakes the foundations of your family…

When those things happen, and sometime they will to all of us… Is your life built on a belief in credit cards and mortgages and flat screen televisions?

Or is the core belief of your life… the one that everything else is built on… is that belief in the God who created you, who died for you, who gives you life?

When the earthquake comes and shakes our very foundations, will we have as much abundance in our life as the woman serving in Haiti whose only possessions are a borrowed pair of shoes and some reading glasses?

In our first reading this morning, this letter of advice to Timothy, Paul writes that wealth is here today and gone tomorrow, so we should:

go after God, who piles on the all the riches we could ever manage – to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. (1 Tim 6:17-19 MSG)

And he reminds Timothy, this from the Message translation:

A devout life does bring wealth, but it is the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough.

If we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet… that’s enough.

 

Over the next month, we will be looking at that word, Enough.

We’ll ask what “enough” means in our life, what it means in our church, and how we can live our lives making sure that others have “enough” as well.

But today, I want us to remember that while we worry about having enough, the truth is that we are blessed beyond our wildest dreams.

It is just that we sometimes need a shift in perspective to see that. We need to weed out the seeds of life and fruitfulness from the gunk.

We might fret about keeping up with our neighbors, but we were created to love one another.

We get anxious about our stock portfolios, but we were meant to share with those in need.

We are constantly thinking about upgrading to the newest device or fashion accessory, but we were meant to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

My prayer is that this season of “Enough”, this time that we spend together exploring our spiritual and financial lives, will help re-orient us. My prayer is that it will transform our relationship with money so that we might see it not as a source of anxiety and stress in our lives, but as a resource that God has given us to do good in this world and to care for one another.

And the start of that transformation is to start with what we believe and who we entrust our lives to.

I want to invite you to turn with me to page 883 in your hymnals and recite with me one of the many creeds, or statements of belief that we affirm together as the people of God. Page 883.

All Will Be Well

 
by ClearlyCassidy

Julian of Norwich, in a time of doubt and struggle, wrote:  All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

This is my last column in the Circuit Rider because on October 1, I will be beginning a new journey as the Coordinator for Imagine No Malaria with the Iowa Annual Conference.  It is a long job title but a very short and intense ministry that I am very excited about beginning.

My new position will take me across the state, working with clergy and laity, young and old, small churches and the biggest churches, as we together raise funds to end death and suffering from malaria by 2015.  While it might seem like only an outreach project, the truth is, I understand this campaign to be something bigger in the life of our Iowa Annual Conference of the UnitedMethodistChurch.  Working together on this effort will help us build bridges between conservative and liberal sides of our church.  Focusing outward on mission and partnering with our community to raise funds through health fairs and 5k runs and lemonAID stands will help us build relationships outside the walls and revitalize our churches.  That is something that YOU have experienced here in Marengo.  As we turned our hearts to both local and global mission, the Holy Spirit moved in and a spark of love and light ignited in this church.

When I came here to Marengo, neither you nor I knew what to expect.  There is a song that I played frequently in those days to myself called “All Will Be Well” by the Gabe Dixon Band.

The new day dawns, / and I’m practicing my purpose once again. / it is fresh and it is fruitful if I win but if I lose, / Ooooo I don’t know. / I will be tired but I will turn and I will go, / Only guessing til I get there then I’ll know, / Oh oh oh I will know.

I was fresh out of seminary and you were ready to become a fruitful church… but we didn’t know it was going to work between us.  It was a wild guess on our parts… but something amazing for God’s part.

All the children walking home past the factories / could see the light that’s shining in my window as I write this song to you. /  All the cars running fast along the interstate  / can feel the love that radiates /  illuminating what I know is true /  All will be well. / Even after all the promises you’ve broken to yourself, / All will be well. /  You can ask me how but only time will tell.

I don’t know what God has in store for this church… but I know that God will be with you and all shall be well.  I know that God has led you to embrace an amazing mission: to reflect the light of God in Marengo and Iowa County as you step out into the world and pass it on.  I know that the Holy Spirit has been moving strongly in your midst and that God will not leave you or forsake you.  I know that all will be well.  You can ask me how, but only time will tell.

Keep it up and don’t give up / and chase your dreams and you will find / all in time.

You are my first church… and I love you dearly and I will miss you terribly… but all shall be well.  Keep your hearts focused on what God has called you to do.  Give your lives to living out that vision. God bless you all.

labeling cans of corn

The project site I am working at for the first two days of our mission trip is the Emergency Foodshelf Network.  They distribute food to about 70 area foodshelfs and help to channel donations from organizations and larger corporations.  Including cans… without labels.

Part of our job yesterday was to begin making a dent in the 18,000 cans of corn that were donated without labels.  They sit on large palletes, all shiny and shrink-wrapped, just waiting for a generic corn label to be affixed.  And so we have been cutting paper labels, adding two pieces of tape, and then moving them into boxes of 30 for distribution. 

But there is this nagging question in the back of my head… how do we really know its corn?  How can you officially tell? 

You have to open it!

You have to ruin the product to ensure that it is what it actually is.

Now, of course this comes from a manufacturer and it is all the same and grouped together and not just some random cans tossed into a donation bin. 

But there is still a level of hope and faith required in order to trust that in these cans there really is corn.

We can shake them and they kind of sound like kernels of corn – but really you just have to trust.  You have to affix the labels and trust.

In so many ways our faith is like that.

We depend on the stories that others have told us and we can choose to believe and to trust or not.  We can choose to fix our own label on the blank can that was passed to us and bless others with it, or we can refuse to label it, dig in with our doubts, and open up the can.

I love questions.  I love people who doubt – because they push me to dig deeper in my faith and help me to grow.  And hopefully they are also growing in their faith. 

But at the end of the day, we have a choice:  to believe something we can’t see… or not. 

I have found that when I believe, when I make that choice, and when I share that faith…. both myself and others are blessed in the process. 

That’s why I keep believing that cans of corn without labels really have corn in them. And that God exists and came to us in Jesus Christ and that we have been saved though we don’t deserve it and can be renewed through the gracious power of God in the Holy Spirit. 

Sometimes I want to rip open that can and double check… I do… but today, I keep taping on labels and sharing the blessings with others.

home #gc2012

The processing of what exactly happened these past two weeks will take time.  My brain is still too full and jumbled to even begin to dig deep. 

But in response to some initial thoughts by the chair of our Iowa delegation, I started to think about some things that I am bringing home:

1) a reminder that we cannot legislate trust
2) the amazing experience of working together with people who are so different from myself and loving one another
3) knowing that all of the things we do… in the grand scheme of things what really matters is that people have a place at the table in our local communities. 
4) a desire to learn French
5) a deeper understanding of the process and the people who lead our church – and a recognition that we are all just people… people who care, who make mistakes, who put make-up on in bathrooms and drink coffee and say the wrong things and the right things, who deeply desire what is best for our church and yet might disagree on what that is.  It is humbling and inspiring and beautiful and messy.

“Show Me” faith

A father was trying to teach his three sons to do their fair share of the house cleaning. The first place that he started was the bathroom.

Dad crammed the three boys into the room and proceeded to clean the toilet in front of them. Alright, I’ve showed them, the father thought. Next time, they can do it.

So, the next Saturday came, and the father set the boys to work. They wiped off the counter tops, cleaned the mirror and then stared at the toilet.

“How does that work again, Dad?” “Will you show us one more time?”

Well, the father got down on his hands and knees and cleaned the toilet again for their benefit.
Next Saturday… same situation… that toilet just wasn’t getting cleaned by itself. The boys couldn’t or didn’t want to learn how to do it.
So Dad got an idea. He called in the eldest son and showed him how to do it. Then he had the oldest son repeat what he had done – only on the clean toilet.

The next Saturday morning – Dad brought the oldest and the middle children into the bathroom.

“Okay son… now you teach your brother how to clean this toilet. Show him, what I showed you.”
Lo and behold, the toilet got clean!

The next Saturday, Dad had his middle and youngest sons come into the bathroom. Again, the older child taught the younger one what to do, with no problems.

Having run out of children, the next Saturday, Dad took the youngest son and their dog into the bathroom. “Alright son, teach Rufus here how to clean the toilet.”

The father never had to clean another toilet again!

There is an old adage in the medical world – “see one, do one, teach one.” First you see a procedure done… then you yourself do it… and then you teach a colleague or another student how to do it themselves.
This is something that is reinforced by various learning theories. We learn the best not when we hear, not even when we ourselves do something, but when we are able to teach another person. When we pass on what we have been taught, that knowledge sticks with us. It becomes a part of us.

So I want to keep one question at the back of our minds today… when was the last time you taught someone else how to be a Christian?

In our gospel lesson for this morning, we find ourselves reading very familiar words. “Believe in God, believe in me…. I am the way and the truth and the life.”

For thirteen chapters now of this gospel, Jesus has been showing the disciples the way. He has been showing them the truth, he has been showing them life.

He is like the father who gets down on his hands and his knees and cleans the toilet for his children to see.

This is what you should be and do. This is how you should live. Feed the hungry. Love the sinners. Seek the lost. Take care of one another.

And the very first words out of a disciples mouth?

“Show me one more time.”

Writer GK Chesterton once penned, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”

Like the three boys in the bathroom staring at a toilet, we faithful believers often find ourselves staring at the Way of Christ and don’t quite know what to do. The task is daunting. It is overwhelming. It smells bad. We don’t want other people to see us on our hands and knees like that.

And so we turn to Jesus… Will you show me again?

I have become convinced that a very large percentage of Christians in this world are living with a “show me” faith.

Ever pass by a homeless person on a street corner and pray: “I just wish you would show me how to help that person, God”

Ever get into a fight with a loved one and look to the heavens saying: “Jesus, just show me how to have more patience!”

Ever finish one chapter of your life and look forward to the next step of your journey with your heart crying out, “Please God, show me what to do next.”

Every time we utter those words, we are waiting for someone else to come and step in. We are praying for God to intervene. “Show me” faith keeps looking backwards, keeps returning to square one, keeps us from taking a step forward.

When the disciple Philip turned to Jesus and said, “Master, show us the father and then we’ll be content,” Jesus was quick to respond.

“You’ve been with me all this time, Philip, and you still don’t understand, you still don’t trust? You still don’t believe?”

How long have you been walked alongside Jesus? How long have you been sitting at his feet, listening, watching, but not putting into practice what he has taught us?

There is a small misunderstanding that we must clear up with the word, “believe.” Contrary to popular opinion, to “believe” does not to make a statement about something. It is not an intellectual decision or a theological opinion. No, the word as used in our gospels means to trust your life to someone or something.

To believe in God… to believe in Jesus Christ… means to have faith, to trust, that God is already there, already leading you on the path, has already given you everything you need in order to take the next step forward.
All that you need to do, is to do it. To take the leap of faith. To trust.
Jesus turned to Philip and pleaded… “Believe me! I am my father. My father is in me. And if you trust that you won’t only be able to do what I am now doing… but you will do even greater things.

I’m giving you this task. And you can do it.

I don’t have to show you anymore. Just take the first step and respond.

When you see that person on the street corner in need of some help and some love – don’t wait for God to show you what to do… you KNOW what to do… reach out your hand and do it!

When you are having that fight, don’t wait for God to show you what to do… you know… you KNOW what God desires for you in that moment… you are just to proud or scared to let go and trust and to do it.

When you find yourself struggling with the next step of your journey, stalled out in the middle of the road… don’t wait for God to show you. God has been there beside you the whole time and every step you make down that road you can trust that God will be there. And if it is the wrong step, God will put you back on the right paths. Just trust him. Just do something. And do it out of the faith and hope and love that you have in your Lord and Savior.
It is time for us to stop having a “show me faith” and time for us to “go and do likewise.”
It is time for us to take a leap of faith, knowing that the one we trust has already shown us the way.
It is time for us to not only start to do, but to teach one another how to do it also.

That is what the community of faith is all about, after all. It is the people of God, holding, guiding, supporting, encouraging, teaching, learning together what it means to be the Body of Christ in this world.

I shared with you after our gospel lesson this morning a brief passage from the book of Acts.

This is after all, the outcome of the gospel. The Acts of the Apostles reminds us what happens when we go and do likewise.

The disciples took a leap of faith and with a good dose of the Holy Spirit they set the world on fire.
And they taught others who taught others, who continued to teach others this Way of Christ.
And one of those people was a man named Stephen.
Stephen didn’t wait around for Jesus to show him what to do… he trusted in his heart that God was with him, that the Holy Spirit had his back, and that he was called to act.

And just as Jesus promised, Stephen did amazing things – great things – in the name of God.

And when people stood against him, did Stephen back down and wait for Jesus to show him what to do next?

No. He trusted. He believed. He opened his mouth and let God speak through him.

Even as he was being killed for his beliefs – for his trust in Jesus Christ – he kept his faith. And he kept speaking. And he kept teaching.
And because he believed even to his death, a young man named Saul had seeds planted in his soul. And Saul one day met Jesus and became Paul. And Paul didn’t wait around for Jesus to show him… he went out there and he did likewise.
Are you a “show me” Christian? Or are you a Christian who is ready to “go and do likewise?” Take a chance. Take a leap of faith. Trust and believe…. Go to do and to teach.

Amen and Amen.