Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Stay in the faith. . . Stay in the Word

Sermon for Pentecost 19, Proper 24A, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, October 20, 2019.

    In the collect for the day, we asked God to grant us the Holy Spirit to direct and govern our hearts so that we’d persevere with steadfast faith, a faith that endures to the end.  We talk a lot about faith, but I wonder if we truly know what it is?  It can be a hard word to define especially when so many people have so many different ideas about faith.  So what is faith?  Where does it come from?  What does it do?  And how do we persevere with it?
    Faith gets talked about in many different settings, not just church.  It gets talked about in the sports world.  Athletes and coaches say they just have to have faith that all their work and preparation will result in a win.  Faith is spoken about as words of encouragement.  When things don’t seem to be going your way there’s usually someone who will say, “Just have faith and everything will work out in the end.”  But is that what faith is?  Is it a shallow hope that you’ll win?  Is it positive thoughts and optimism?  No. 
    Faith is also described as a mental activity; the ability to know facts and the choice to believe them as true.  Sadly, this is one of the most prevalent views of faith.  Too often we think of faith as knowing what the Bible says, knowing Jesus died on the cross and then our choice to accept Him as our Savior.  But is that what faith is; knowing facts and then our choice to believe?  No. 
    These popular views of faith don’t line up with how God talks about faith.  They assume faith is a mental activity.  But faith isn’t forced positive thoughts and it’s not a decision.  Faith is trust.  It’s located not in the head, but the heart…and it’s not of our making, but God’s. 
We want faith to be our doing.  We want faith to be based on our positive thoughts, on our knowledge and understanding, on our decision and choice because that shows the strength of our mind.  We want faith to be a creation of our determination and will because then we get credit for it.  We want to be able to stand up and say, “I did it.  Against all odds, I kept trusting and believing.”  But this isn’t faith, at least not faith in God.  This kind of faith is trust in ourselves, and let me ask you, can we really be trusted?  No, we can’t.  We can’t trust ourselves because we’re sinners.  Sin is in our heart, and therefore, we can’t create a holy faith that looks to God, because sin only looks inward.  Our sin doesn’t want God.  Our sin hates God. 
We can’t produce faith because our heart is filled with sin.  We can only have faith God gives it to us.  He must create in us new and clean hearts.  Your faith is a gift from God, not because you’re so smart and knowledgeable, not because you’re full of optimism, but because God wants to give it to you.
He gives it to you through the working of the Spirit as you hear His Word, as you hear His Law that shows you you’re a sinner, and as you hear His Gospel that shows you your Savior.  God’s Word is the foundation of your faith.  God’s promises spoken and His promises fulfilled in Christ are what your faith is built upon.  You trust in God because He has done what He said.  You trust in your Savior because He has given His life for you.  These are sure and certain and true.  These can be trusted.
    Today’s parable about a widow who persistently came before an unrighteous judge seeking justice is a parable about trust.  We hear this story and we say the woman was foolish.  Why did she keep going before this judge looking for justice when the judge admitted he cared nothing for justice?  Why did this woman trust in a man who couldn’t be trusted?  In the end, the judge did the right thing, not because it was the right thing, but because the widow keeps pestering him.  Using this story as an argument from lesser to greater, Jesus asked, “Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?” (Lk 18:7).  Of course He will, because God cares for justice, He cares for His people, He can be trusted. 
    The widow showed faith in a man who couldn’t be trusted, but your faith is in God who can be trusted.  God is faithful and just, that’s what we say at the beginning of every Divine Service.  He’s faithful, meaning He’ll do what He promises.  And He promises you forgiveness of sins, life everlasting.  These He gives to you through Christ who died in your place, taking the just punishment of death your sin deserves.  And with the gift of faith, you trust in your Savior.  With the gift of faith you receive that forgiveness and life He won for you. 
    Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, you have His promised everlasting life now, but you don’t experience it now.  You experience pain and suffering, temptation and sin.  It can be tough to stay faithful during these times.  It can be tough to stay faithful when it doesn’t appear as if God is faithful.  And on your own, you can’t remain faithful...that’s why you pray for steadfast faith. 
    At the end of Jesus’ parable He asked the question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8).  If our faith were our own doing, the answer would be “NO!”  You can’t keep the faith on your own.  You can’t persevere on your own.  You must be kept in the faith by the working of the Spirit, and He does keep you in the faith.  As you hear God’s Word, the source of your faith, continually preached and read, the Spirit strengthens your faith.  As you eat and drink the body and blood of your Savior, in whom you trust, your faith grows.  It’s only by these things, it’s only by God’s grace, by His Means of Grace, that you continue to have faith.  He creates it.  He sustains it.  And you live by it. 
Faith is trust.  It isn’t head knowledge.  It isn’t shallow optimism.  It’s trust; trust in God’s Word and in the promise of life in Christ.  This faith isn’t your doing.  It’s given to you by the working of the Spirit.  This faith is founded on God’s Word and strengthened in that Word; and it’ll only endure through the hearing of God’s Word.  So stay in faith.  Remain in the Word, receive the Sacrament, and when the Son of Man returns, He will find faith in you.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

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