Tuesday, October 22, 2013
We spell success e n d u r e. . .
Of all the temptations prone to us as Christians, losing heart of the struggle, losing sight of the goal, losing focus on the purpose of your life in Christ, this is our greatest struggle. Sure there are always those who get mad at the Pastor or the Church or the people or God and pack up their toys and go home, refusing to play anymore. Underneath many of those folks, however, is a person who has simply lost his or her way in faith and uses the excuse to avoid facing up to it.
We might think that losing heart, losing sight, losing focus are all more common to the aged after a whole host of disappointments and defeats but it is also the weakness of youth. We are often battle worn Christians, not unlike those who come home from deployment unsure why they fought and uncertain if they made any difference. New soldiers are just as prone as old ones to such weariness and questioning.
The devil and the world are always asking us: What difference does faith make? What do you have to show for all you have lost and borne? And we are hard pressed to answer them because hidden within us are our own doubts, fears, anxieties, and just plain worn out spirits.
The readings this morning all remind us that success in Christian faith and life is spelled perseverance. We keep praying and keep living our faith not because we have so much to show for it all but precisely because we do not. No one wonders where God is in life's victories. It is in our defeats, when we lose our way, when we grow weary of the struggle, that we wonder where God is. As tempted as we are to show a string of victories to substantiate the faith, faith is perseverance when all we have left is the promise of God.
Our lives are not victories from which we look down the mountain, gloating upon our enemies still below in the valley. No, our victory is that Christ is with us in the valley, in the shadow, in the struggle. We endure because Christ is with us. Faith trusts in the unseen promise because of what we have seen in Christ's visible suffering on the cross. Faith is the assurance of what is not seen – not as people groping in the dark but because of what we have seen: Jesus Christ crucified for our salvation. When Peter says though you have not seen Him, yet you love Him, Peter means though you do not see Him now, you love Him because you have seen how He has loved you, even to death on the cross.
The object of our confidence in faith lies not in victories seen or triumphs we have witnessed or improvements in our lives, but solely in the promise of the cross, of sins forgiven, of life stronger than death, and of Christ’s strength with us now. We focus not on the momentary sufferings of loss of our Christians lives not because are immune to its pain but because of the future promise to us in Christ. We are forward focused in faith.
Where I once lived along the Hudson River, we would watch ocean going ships make their way up the river to the Port of Albany. The Hudson is deed but meandering and its channel narrow. How could they find their way? A river captain in the parish explained the system of lights. When you see one light, you are centered in the channel. When you see two you are drifting out of the channel and need to correct. When you see three, you are in immanent danger of grounding. Such is our forward focus upon Christ – it guides us through the thorny twists and turns of life but we need to be careful less we become distract by other lights and drift away from the promise of God.
In the same way, it is our great temptation to judge everything by what we are going through or feeling in one moment. But our lives cannot be seen or judged by a snapshot of greatness or of loss. Who we are in Christ is not defined by one moment of righteousness anymore than it is defined by one terrible moment of sin. Who we are is defined by a life begun in baptism, nurtured by the grace of Word and Sacrament, and kept even to everlasting life. One moment is not the total of our lives but the sufferings of Christ are what defines us. Our past forgiven, He is present guiding us today, and we have a future of heaven and glory assured. St. John says we are God's children now – an obvious enough statement but one so easily forgotten when our focus shifts from Christ to the troubles, trials, or temptations of the moment.
Our lives cannot be judged on the basis of our sins without also seeing Christ's saving death. Our lives cannot be judged on the basis of one good deed without acknowledging Christ working in us, the hope of glory. So we do not give up our hold on grace, not for the moments of our glory nor the moments of our shame. Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ has sealed us as His in baptism.
A heavenward focus is not simply for the aged but for all. Heaven is not some consolation prize for all we have lost today. Heaven is the sure and certain future that makes it possible for us to live today, to endure, to persevere, to keep on without losing hope or focus.
We will suffer much in this life. Everyone does. It is the terrible legacy of sin. But we endure. Not on the strength of our character, nor upon the achievements of our lives, but on the strength of Christ's love forgiving and His life redeeming us. We find disappointment and dead ends all around us. But Christ is the way for the lost, our light in the darkness and hope for the despairing.
When Jesus asked in the Gospel for today, "When the Son of Man returns will He find faith on earth?" This question was not because He feared the devil might win. Calvary killed the devil. It is not because Jesus fears Satan's power over us. One little word can fell him, as we sing in A Mighty Fortress. No, what Jesus fears most is the cost of weakness, weariness, and worn out hearts, wherein the focus shifts from Christ to us, from heaven to the world, from grace to works. Success is not achieving some benchmark but enduring, persevering, and trusting in the grace will not let you go. Brothers and sisters in Christ, do not lose confidence and let go of that grace which is ours in Christ Jesus. Amen.