“Great is Your Faith!” – Rev. Tony Romaine – August 9th, 2020
According to Webster’s Dictionary, faith can be defined as: allegiance to duty or a person, loyalty, fidelity to one’s promises, sincerity of intentions, belief and trust in and loyalty to God, belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion, or something that is believed with especially strong convictions. But sometimes we can get bogged down in definitions, so, I also looked up some quotes about faith to possibly help us digest it a little more:
“Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”
“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
“Faith is an oasis in the heart which will never be reached by the caravan of thinking.”
“I am still far from being what I want to be, but with God’s help I shall succeed.”
“Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain, that someone could stake their life on it a thousand times.”
“It is a mistake to equate knowledge of God with mere information, it is also a mistake to think of faith as a desperate leap in the dark. Christian faith and life are inseparable from reliable knowledge of the character and purpose of God.”
Perhaps that helps a little more, with the wisdom of others guiding our thoughts, but because we are also denominational in our beliefs and we belong to the UCC and the UMC, here is how we define faith according to our denominations:
United Church of Christ Statement of Faith
We believe in God, the Eternal Spirit, who is made known to us in Jesus our brother, and to whose deeds we testify: God calls the worlds into being, creates humankind in the divine image, and sets before us the ways of life and death. God seeks in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin. God judges all humanity and all nations by that will of righteousness declared through prophets and apostles. In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord, God has come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the whole creation to its Creator. God bestows upon us the Holy Spirit, creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ, binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races. God calls us into the church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be servants in the service of the whole human family, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil, to share in Christ's baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory.
God promises to all who trust in the gospel forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace, the presence of the Holy Spirit in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in that kingdom which has no end.
UMC Basics of Faith
Our Christian Beliefs: God
God, who is one, is revealed in three distinct persons.
Our Christian Beliefs: Jesus
We believe in the mystery of salvation through Jesus Christ. God became human in Jesus of Nazareth; and his life, death and resurrection demonstrate God's redeeming love.
Our Christian Beliefs: The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is God's present activity in our midst. When we sense God's leading, God's challenge, or God's support or comfort, it's the Holy Spirit at work.
Our Christian Beliefs: Human Beings
Genesis 1:27 asserts that we've been made in the image of the Creator. Like God we have the capacity to love and care, to communicate, and to create.
Our Christian Beliefs: The Church
The church is the body of Christ, an extension of Christ’s life and ministry in the world today.
Our Christian Beliefs: The Bible
We believe that the Bible is the primary authority for our faith and practice.
Our Christian Beliefs: God’s Reign
The kingdom or reign of God is both a present reality and future hope.
So now armed with all of this wonderful knowledge and with definitions galore, we should easily be able to understand, talk about, and know how great our faith is, right?! Well, if you are like me, you realize it is not so simple and that is what indeed is the Greatness of our faith. Faith is absolutely something that we can define and add thoughts to and put on paper. And certainly, a faith that is not able to reason and describe why it is that we believe a certain way, is a faith without legs to stand upon.
However, there is also part of our faith which is inherently indescribable. Like in Isaiah when we hear God speaking through the prophet asking us if we were there at the moment of creation; asking us if it was us who directed the Holy Spirit; asking us if it was us who instilled all knowledge. Faith is trusting in our God enough to say, “You know what, I could not possibly know all the ‘ins and outs’ of creation, for I am not the Creator, I was not there at the moment the universe was made, and I am certainly not all-knowing.” Faith is being able to abandon myself to trust in God that there is a plan and reason that is beyond my understanding at work for good in our world. Faith is trusting that God has us, and made us, amidst all this splendor for a particular reason in our own unique way to become part of the Great Mosaic which is God’s and God’s alone. This leads us to a deeper level of faith in which we understand how we are one person weaved together in and among a multitude of God’s Creation.
But in order to better understand this part of our great faith, we need our reading from James where we hear about favoritism. Faith is trusting that God does not have favorites. Well, let me tweak that just a little, God does have favorites; it is just that we are all God’s favorites! Faith is believing and trusting that I, as we previously covered, do not have all the answers and cannot possibly know why each and every one of us were made. But if I am God’s favorite, then so are you; and if you are God’s favorite, so am I!
And if we are all God’s favorites then who among us will perish? Who among us should be persecuted? Who among us should be denied basic human rights? Who among us, God’s chosen people, God’s favorites, should not be allowed to live a dignified life? Who among us should be hungry, poor, homeless, or forgotten? You and I both know the answers to these questions, and they are convicting. And this is why we get the wonderful lesson at the end of this passage from James that reminds us we are to love our neighbor as ourselves and not show partiality. Why? Because indeed we know the answers to the previous questions, and we are all God’s favorite!
Which leads us to our Gospel passage for today and indeed what a great faith means. A great faith means that I am enough, you are enough, and our God loves us. A great faith is willing to take risks to approach God and ask for the very things we need. A great faith is trusting that I indeed am one of God’s chosen, one of God’s favorites and that when I approach and kneel before my God, God will see my faith and heal me, hold me, and love me. A great faith is willing to argue and debate and trust in our God. A great faith is willing to kneel before Our Savior and be fed by the scraps or by the loaf itself. A great faith is trusting that even when we think we are beyond salvation; Jesus’ grace extends to us all. A great faith is saying, “Lord help me,” then trusting, hoping, and believing that help will come. And a great faith is knowing; not just thinking, not just saying, not just doing out of habit; but actually knowing in the depths of our soul and believing in every level of our being, that whatever this world may throw at us, our end is infinitely eternal in Christ Jesus.
Ultimately, what we see is that faith is easy to define but more difficult to live. Faith is a journey which does not end until that one fine day when our faith is rewarded. And the greatness of our faith is not so much in how we define it for others, but how we live it out in our lives. Faith in the Greatness of God, faith in the greatness of our neighbors, faith in the Greatness of the Grace of Christ, faith in the presence of the Holy Spirit…Great is Your Faith, Amen!
“Invitation to Abundant Life” – Rev. Tony Romaine – August 2nd, 2020
In my NRSV Bible, the heading for the Isaiah Reading we heard today is “An Invitation to Abundant Life.” And as I was reflecting this week on my message, I came across a troubling statistic. Food insecurity for U.S. households last week reached its highest reported level since the Census Bureau started tracking the data in May, with almost 30 million Americans reporting that they did not had enough to eat at some point in the week leading up to July 21st. 30 million Americans, that is almost ten percent of our entire population who reported not having enough to eat.
But let’s whittle that number down a little, if we took ten percent of MN’s population, that would be roughly 500,000 people in MN alone. But maybe this is still too large to think about, so let’s take Little Falls. Ten percent of our population is just short of 900 people, can you imagine that 900 people in our community statistically do not know where their next meal is coming from! But let’s take this one step farther…Our church membership. Ten percent of our church membership is about 20 people. Which begs the question, what is our invitation to abundant life?
The abundant life that we are being called to is not solely about what we have to eat, as we hear in our Isaiah Scripture, but also includes where we are being called. We are being called to come to a place where we can have milk and bread and cup and not have to pay anything. We are being called to come to the fount of eternal life and to know that there is no price for what we are about to imbibe, only that we must trust, believe, and live as those forgiven and freed. That is the abundant life that we are being called to; but you and I know there is more don’t we!
We are not just being called to trust and believe in the abundant life, but we are being called to live an abundant life. However, to live that abundant life, we must follow in the footsteps of Jesus and that is what brings us to our Gospel message today of the loaves and fish. All too often, when people think of this miracle, they remember the multiplication and how Jesus turned five loaves and two fish into enough food for 5,000 people and then some. And while this is definitely miraculous and not something your run-of-the-mill prophet would be able to accomplish, there is something deeper at work in this passage.
At the beginning we hear the words, “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” The “this” Jesus heard was the death of John the Baptist. Jesus was obviously affected by the news and wanted some time to process the loss of his close friend and baptizer. But as he was trying to get away, as he was trying to seclude and reflect, the crowds came because they knew where he was. And so, as Jesus often did, instead of turning away and going farther into hiding, Jesus went ashore and healed the sick and cared for their needs. Moreover, not just that he came ashore, he had compassion for them. Jesus knew they needed something that only he could offer, something that only he could bring them…abundant life!
Therefore, we see that an invitation to abundant life includes more than feeding, it includes compassion, it includes sacrifice, it includes recognizing the needs of others and being willing to go ashore and help them whether sick or dying or whatever it may be. An invitation to abundant life is one that not only covers the basic needs of food and health, but covers the internal needs of caring for someone. Feeding people and clothing people is one thing, but actually doing it out of a heart of care, of a place of empathy, of a place where you recognize that this is an area where your call to Jesus’ ministry can have affect; that is abundant life.
And here is the integral part to our abundant life. Our life can only truly be abundant if it is shared with other people. Are we saved, yes. Are we forgiven and freed, absolutely. But think about what the word abundance means, think about what it means to have or live or be in abundance. Here is a good exercise, repeat after me, abbondanza…this is Italian for abundance. Now I argue you cannot say abbondanza without a spark of joy, without somewhat of a smile, without a sense that your life is filled in some different way. Sure, you can mildly say it, but the meaning changes to just be a word; you miss out on the true meaning of it without the joyful utterance of abbondanza.
Okay, enough Italian for one sermon! But I use this exercise to demonstrate that sometimes we have to use words not just say them. Just like we have to live an abundant life, not just exist. And in order to truly live into an abundance, in order to truly have abundance, in order to truly experience what God is calling us through the prophet Isaiah into, we have to share our abundance with others. But just in case you still don’t believe me, hear these words again from Isaiah, “See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.”
See, God has called you to an abundant life. You are invited to abundance, and you are to witness to the people. Not so that nations will bow down in fear of our mighty military. Not so that nations will bow down to worship at the altar of our economy. But so that nations see how we are a people who have compassion for one another and want to have part of that dream. Nations will come to us and want to be like us, because our God is not some distant ethereal other, but is living and breathing in the work of our hands and feet. Nations will want to come to be a part of us because they will see that the abundant life we live is one where all people are welcomed to the table. And nations will come and want to be with us, people will want to come and worship with us, because they will know that here they will find baskets filled with bread and fish who are compassionate and share in the abundant life.
This abundance does not come without struggle, for we all have unsettled wrestling matches that prevent us from fully experiencing the abundance. We have all been there wrestling with God out of anger, fear, or mistrust. We have all experienced at one time or another a loss of abundance, a loss of life, a loss of trust. But in that moment when we were injured, hurt, seemingly left all alone…what brought us back? An invitation to abundant living! A loved one who would not let us go. A friend who knew just what to say, or knew to say nothing at all. A stranger who stepped outside their comfort zone to be with us. Or God in the form of some sort of angel or another, stepping in to rescue us from despair and give us the bread and fish we needed.
Abundant living is not necessarily pain-free living; but compassionate, caring; loving and sharing, in this life Jesus has called us to live. Abundant living is being in the boat in the middle of the lake reflecting on our pain and sorrow, and yet noticing that there are others who need our help. Abundant living is multiplying God’s eternal love for us to the world so that they may too live abundantly.
You may not be able to help 30 million people, or 500,000 people, or 900 people, or even 20 people…but you and I both know you are thinking of one right now! And if that one person is the only one you invite into abundant living today, tomorrow, this week…then that is one more than yesterday or last week. One more to reduce the statistic, one more to multiply the loaves and fish, one more opportunity for you to live into your invitation to abundant life!
How often have we come to Jesus, come to God and said, “I don’t have enough, I cannot possibly do x,y,or, z!” How many times have we approached our church as a building and said, “We are just a little church, what can we possibly do?” How many times have we gone to God and said, “I am just one-person, what difference can I make?” My friends, we are the loaves and fish, we are the living and breathing bread of life that Jesus has blessed and multiplied. We are the fish that are meant to be shared. We are the disciples of Jesus whom he sends to feed the nations. And when we go forth and follow in Jesus’ footsteps, when we come ashore and tend to the needy, when we actually have compassion for our fellow brothers and sisters who need us the most; that is when all will be fed, none will go away hungry, and God’s invitation to abundant life glorified. So let us RSVP our invitation to abundant living with compassionate hearts, open arms, and baskets filled and ready to share, Amen!