Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Sunday's Sermon - Old Faithful

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, August 6, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. This was the eighth message in the series entitled "Living by the Spirit." You can hear a podcast of the sermon on the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

Now I’ve got to tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to a group that seemed more anxious to hear what I have to say. I mean, right now, y’all seem so alert and focused and, well, almost hungry to hear the Word. Of course, I can’t be sure whether it’s the content of my message or the fact that I’m standing between you and a whole bunch of food. Who can tell?

But regardless of the intensity of your desire to be fed, before we dig into all this stuff up here, we’re going to talk about the Bible a little bit, and in particular, the seventh fruit of the Spirit. Of course, we’ve covered some pretty good stuff already. I mean, we started by talking about what living by the Spirit is not. And then, we’ve hit love and joy, peace and patience, kindness and of course, generosity. And as we’ve made this little journey, we’ve looked into the Bizarro World and at those two little naked “Love Is” kids. We’ve considered what’s down in our hearts and the direction the eagle faces on the Presidential seal. We’ve met a friend who’s anything but patient and a character who’s always depended on the kindness of strangers. And then last week, we talked about how bacteria in our guts might make us more generous people. Now that’s where we’ve been.

And this morning, since we’re kind of outside, and we can see the sun shining and hear the birds singing and feel the breeze blowing and smell the food just sitting there, picking up some of that bacteria we talked about last week, I mean, since we’re out of the building, I thought something related to nature would be appropriate for the cover of the bulletin. And because faith or faithfulness is the next fruit of the Spirit, I decided on a picture of Old Faithful. Now tell me that’s not clever.

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And even though I assume that most of y’all know why they call this geyser, not geezer, that’s what I see when I look in the mirror, but geyser “Old Faithful,” just to make sure everybody’s on the same page, it’s because the eruptions are incredibly predictable. As a matter of fact, since 2000, it has erupted every forty-four to one hundred, twenty-five minutes. In other words, if you decided to spend a couple of hours around its cone there in Yellowstone National Park, you could be confident that you’d see it shoot a stream of boiling water about 145 feet into the air. Man, you can have faith that it’ll happen.

And of course, that’s what we’re talking about this morning, you know, faith. But it’s not faith in either a geyser or a geezer, rather it’s faith in God, something that Paul believed we should show if we’re living by the Holy Spirit. And so, for the next few minutes, we’re going to talk about faith, and in particular, what it is and what it does.

And I’ll tell you, I think that’s pretty important, because even the most dedicated Christian can get a little confused about what the Bible means by faith. For example, I think a lot of folks think faith is really about believing a lot of stuff. In other words, we have faith in God when we believe a set of specific things about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And if that’s what we assume, than the more we know or the more we learn, the more faith we’ll have. And a truly faithful person can explain a lot theological stuff. For these Christians, faith is all about what you know.

Image result for trusting godBut I’ll tell you, that’s really not what the word means in Greek. You see, the word that Paul used in passage from Galatians is πιστίς, and πιστίς doesn’t really mean knowledge, that’s γνώσις or the word σοφία. No, πιστίς refers to trust. And even though, in most English translations, the word is translated either “faith” or “belief” and I understand that faith and belief are sort of connected to trust, I think how we interpret the meaning of the words are somewhat different. And let me show you what I’m talking about. I’m going to read a passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans in which he used either the noun πιστίς or the verb πιστεύω. Now, it’s a story of how Abraham showed faith. And every time those two Greek words are used, I’m going to say “trust.” Just listen: “The Scriptures say that Abraham would become the ancestor of many nations. This promise was made to Abraham because he trusted God, who raises the dead to life and creates new things. God promised Abraham a lot of descendants. And when it all seemed hopeless, Abraham still trusted God and became the ancestor of many nations. Abraham’s trust never became weak, not even when he was nearly a hundred years old. He knew that he was almost dead and that his wife Sarah could not have children. But Abraham never doubted or questioned God’s promise. His [decision to] trust made him strong, and he gave all the credit to God. Abraham was certain that God could do what he had promised. So God accepted him, just as we read in the Scriptures." [Romans 4:17-25] Now, do you see what I mean?

If faith is about what we believe, then it’s about what we know. But if it’s about what and whom we trust, then it’s more like a decision we make. In other words, based on what we might understand, we can make the decision to trust: to trust that God loved us before he created the world and to trust that Jesus entered our time and space so that we might better understand God and so that he might completely identify with us and to trust that right now the Holy Spirit is flowing around and through us, opening our eyes so that we might see and our minds so that we might understand and our hearts so that we might feel. You see, just like we said about love, faith is a decision, a decision that, regardless of what we think we know, will always be a little like stepping into a dark room trusting that there’s a floor on the other side of the door. You see, faith is trust; that’s exactly what it is.

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And I’ll tell you, when we make the decision to trust, I think two things change. For example, first, our decision changes our relationship with God. But before I say anything else, let me be clear about this, it doesn’t change God’s relationship with us. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Before the world was created, God had Christ choose us to live with him and to be his holy and innocent and loving people.” [Ephesians 1:4] No, it’s like a minister told me years ago; we’re going to have to live with the fact that God loves us. But even though it doesn’t change how God relates to us, faith changes how we relate to God. When we decide to trust that God is loving and gracious and merciful and when we decide to trust that he has both redeemed and cleansed us and when we decide to trust that our lives and our destinies are in his hands, we enter a new relationship with God, something that Paul called righteous, a right relationship. You see, it’s through our decision to trust God that our relationship with him is made right and complete. And I’ll tell you, I think that’s exactly what Paul was getting at when we wrote this to the Romans. He wrote, “Now we see how God does make us acceptable to him. The Law and the Prophets tell how we become acceptable, and it isn’t by obeying the Law of Moses. God treats everyone alike. He accepts people only because they have faith in Jesus Christ. All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. But God treats us much better than we deserve, and because of Christ Jesus, he freely accepts us and sets us free from our sins. God sent Christ to be our sacrifice. Christ offered his life’s blood, so that by faith in him we could come to God. And God did this to show that in the past he was right to be patient and forgive sinners. This also shows that God is right when he accepts people who have faith in Jesus.” [Romans 3:21-26] You see, when we make the decision simply to trust God, our relationship with God changes. And that’s the first thing that happens.

Image result for children of godAnd second, when we decide to trust, it changes our view of both ourselves and others. You see, when we accept that all those things about God’s love and grace and mercy are true and when we recognize that all that stuff is directed toward us whether we want it or not and when we acknowledge that because of all this, our past has been cleansed and our future secured, in other words, when we trust in God, man, it’s got to change how we see ourselves. I mean, rather than seeing ourselves as slimy sinners who deserve nothing better than Hell or self-sanctified saints who’ve earned their little spot in Heaven, we’re going to see ourselves as we actually are: redeemed sinners whom God has sanctified as saints. And I think this was sort of what Paul was saying when he wrote to the Galatians, “All of you are God’s children because of your faith in Christ Jesus. And when you were baptized, it was as though you had put on Christ in the same way you put on new clothes. Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman. So if you belong to Christ, you are now part of Abraham’s family, and you will be given what God has promised.” [Galatians 3:26-29] You see, when we decide to trust in God, we can see ourselves as God’s adopted children. Now that’s the change I’m talking about.

But it also changes the way we see others. I mean, since we’ve decided to trust that it’s God who loves us and who’s made us righteous and who’s adopted us into the family, man, it not about what we’ve done but about what God has done for us, and we didn’t realize it until we trusted, if that’s how we see ourselves, well, it just stands to reason that the same thing applies to other folks, even people we don’t like. I mean, when you get right down to it, God loves them just as much as he loves us, they just don’t know it yet. Therefore, rather than to ignore or condemn, maybe we should share, so that they might decide to trust too. You see, our decision to trust changes the way we see everyone. And that’s the second thing that happens.

You see, just like we can trust that Old Faithful will erupt every couple of hours, we can trust God. In fact, that’s really what faith is all about, you know, trust. And when we make that decision, that decision simply to trust that God is loving and gracious and merciful, not only will it change our relationship with him, it’ll change how we see ourselves and those around us.

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