Bishop Emmanuel Chemengich: Finishing Well

Bishop Chemengich who oversees the Diocese of Katali, Kenya is our guest preacher this morning. Sermon delivered on the Last Sunday after Trinity C, Sunday, October 27, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

There is no written text for today’s sermon. To listen to the audio podcast, click here.

Lectionary texts: Joel 2.23-32; Psalm 65; 2 Timothy 4.6-8, 16-18; Luke 18.9-14.

Biblically-Prescribed Remedies for Despair

Sermon delivered on Trinity 18C, Sunday, October 20, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 31.27-34; Psalm 119.97-104; 2 Timothy 3.14-4.5; Luke 18.1-8.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

If you are one who characterizes the OT as being all gloom and doom while the NT is all warm and fuzzy, you will be a bit grumpy over hearing our texts this morning because in them our OT lesson promises a breathtaking hope while our NT lessons exhort us to hang on and persevere as we await our Lord’s return to put all things to rights. What’s going on here? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

In our OT lesson from Jeremiah, God breathes a fresh and stunning new hope and promise to his people (that would include us as well). God starts with the obvious. Your sins have caused you to live in exile. For God’s people Israel this meant literal exile to a foreign land, an unthinkable punishment for most of them. For us, exile is more figurative but every bit as real: alienation from our Source of life and health: God himself. This causes all kinds of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual maladies in us from anxiety to cancer to heart disease to apathy to anger, you name it. If we enjoyed perfect communion with God as our first ancestors did in paradise, we would live in perfect health and enjoy life to its fullest as God’s image-bearing humans. But we no longer live in paradise. Our sins have forced us to live in exile, alienated and hostile toward God and each other.

So what do to? From God’s perspective, sins can be and are forgiven. But that doesn’t address the root cause of the problem: a thoroughly corrupted heart, the biblical term for the center of our will. As God reminded his prophet Jeremiah earlier, the human heart is desperately sick and beyond repair. Who but God can understand it (Jeremiah 17.9)? Until the heart is fixed, the problem of sin will remain. Forgiveness there is but forgiveness under the Old Covenant was not thorough enough to address the root cause of sin, a corrupt heart.

We’re now ready to hear the breathtaking part. In today’s lesson, God promises to not only forgive our sins, but to heal our corrupted hearts so that we will no longer sin and God will no longer have to forgive. But how? Before we attempt to answer this question, we must humbly acknowledge that any answer we offer will be incomplete. We are dealing with issues above our pay grade as mortal and finite humans. We must therefore trust God to be good to his word. With this in mind, God promises to heal our corrupt hearts in two ways. First, God will pour his Spirit into us so that our hearts are inclined toward him. We will remember that we are his bride, his beloved people, whom God has rescued from the outside powers of Evil and Sin as well as from ourselves. This promise was fulfilled, albeit only partially, at Pentecost when all God’s people who were in Christ received the Holy Spirit. That phenomenon continues to this day. But the history of the Church indicates that God’s people are good at rejecting the Spirit’s presence and/or refusing to listen to his wise but gentle counsel, and the Spirit, who never forces himself on us, puts up with our ongoing rebellion and hostility toward God even as he continues to heal us one day at at time, even when we cannot see that we are making any progress. When we are humble and wise enough to obey the Spirit’s promptings, however, we find ourselves empowered to be the fully human beings God created us to be. In biblical language, this means our hearts (or will) are inclined to obey God’s will to be the image-bearing creatures who are fit to run God’s world on his behalf. Given this dynamic, we can assume the day will come when God’s Spirit heals us completely, presumably in God’s new creation. Given that St. Paul tells us our resurrection bodies will be animated by God’s Spirit and not flesh and blood like our mortal bodies, it is not unreasonable to think that this will be the time God gives us a new and uncorrupted heart that is willing and eager to obey God and reflect his image out into his new world.

The second way God promises in our OT lesson to heal us, albeit implied, is through radical and complete forgiveness. If you have ever been forgiven of a serious offense, you will know immediately the healing power that real forgiveness brings. If God is going to bring the kind of healing to our corrupted hearts that he promises through his prophet, God must find a way to bring massive and complete forgiveness for the sins of the entire human race, ours included. Of course we believe this has happened in and through the blood of the Lamb shed for us on the cross. This is why holy communion is so important for the healing of our hearts. When we take communion, we literally consume our Lord’s body and blood given for our redemption and the forgiveness of our sins and are tangibly healed in the process.The extent to which we have the grace, humility, and good sense to accept God’s complete forgiveness of our sins, is the extent to which we allow God to heal our corrupted and sick heart. Jeremiah also indicates how terribly costly it was for God to forgive our sin. When God tells us that he will remember our sin no more, it doesn’t mean that our sin doesn’t remain in God’s memory; rather, God is telling us that he will not act on our sin (in Scripture to remember something is to act on it, to not remember something is to not act on it). This is why forgiveness is so hard. We are not called to try blot out the memory of the offense, but rather to not act on it by exacting revenge. This costly act of total forgiveness of all human sin on God’s part is indicative of the depth and length and breadth of God’s love for us, despite our rebellion against him.

This two-fold dynamic of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us combined with the healing power of radical forgiveness, the kind that only God can provide, is how God intends to fulfill his promise and heal the human heart. But we all know this promise has not been fulfilled, nor has the Lord returned as promised, and this can lead us to despair. So what to do as faithful Christians? Stop believing the promises and adopt an “every person for him/herself” mentality? Turn cynical? Drink heavily? No, these are all symptoms of despair and as Christians we are never to fall into despair because we are a radically forgiven and loved people despite our warts and flaws and sins.

Instead, St. Paul and the Lord Jesus himself have the answers for us. We are to ensconce ourselves in God’s word contained in Scripture and remain vigilant in prayer. Let’s face it. Being an orthodox Christian gets harder every day as our society increasingly turns away from God. We are mocked because we fail to get with the program of the post-modern world with all its sickness and narcissism. For example, we are derided as haters because we will not succumb to the new sexual ethics being forced on us. We still believe that a healthy life is lived the way God’s created order runs, including how we view and use sex and how we treat each other. Moreover, after two thousand years we are still waiting for Christ to return to finish his saving work and usher in the resurrection of the dead and God’s new creation, and this can create doubts in us. That St. Luke included the parable of the unjust judge and the widow suggests that even in the first century AD, Christians were falling into despair because they had expected Christ’s return and it hadn’t happened. 

But both St. Paul and Christ himself tell us to stand firm despite our doubts. God’s timetable is not ours and we are dealing with matters far above our pay grade. And so we learn the story of God’s rescue plan in Scripture and in so learning the story, we learn how to live our lives in ways that are pleasing to God, all the while confident that we have God’s Holy Spirit living in us and helping us to be transformed into fully human beings. As St. Paul reminds us, Scripture is useful for teaching and training and correcting our thinking, speaking, and behavior. When we read Scripture we are reminded of the mighty acts of God and his promise to give us a future and a hope. And because all Scripture is God-breathed, i.e., it finds its origins in God through human writers, it has the power to heal as well. I suspect the reason so many of the mainline Christian churches have abandoned the faith once delivered to the saints (to you and me) is because many interpreters and ministers have become disillusioned over unfulfilled promises or were taught and trained incorrectly. We know our ears itch for new innovations because our hearts are corrupt as we’ve seen, and the Spirit will never force us to think correctly when it comes to matters of the Spirit and of God. So we have to read Scripture together and interpret it faithfully within the confines of the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. When we do so, we are promised that our reading faithfully will change us for the better. Not perfectly, of course; perfection will have to wait for God’s new world. But reading Scripture will change us enough to help us live righteously and this pleases God. For anyone who claims to love God, living in ways that we know please God is healing balm in itself.

Likewise with prayer. Our Lord reminds us that God’s promises are true and we are to hang on and pray in the manner the widow did in his parable. And what did she do? She was tenacious and bothered the unjust judge. The Greek word for bother means to give someone a black eye so our Lord intended for us to persevere and be tenacious. We are to pray this way, not to bend God’s will to ours, but rather as a witness to our faith that God really does exist and that God really is good and just and right. Not only that, bold and tenacious praying bears witness to the fact that we believe an invisible God is truly accessible to us and cares about us. God isn’t like the unjust judge in the parable. That never was the point. The point is that we are called to keep the faith, even as we wait for God to answer our prayers, or even when God chooses not to answer our prayers. However, if we pay careful attention to what we pray for, we will surely discover that more often than not, God does answer our prayers, even if it is not in the way we ask for originally. There is a holy mystery about this, my beloved, but underneath it all there must be an indefatigable faith in the power, goodness, mercy, and love of God. And so we pray, in part, because God uses prayer to strengthen our faith and this, in turn, helps keep us from falling into despair. When the time is right, the Father will surely act quickly to vindicate the faithful and this must be our sure and certain expectation.

As we pray, we also must act as the widow did. Praying and acting are never mutually exclusive. Our inner house must be in order if we ever hope to have our behaviors make a difference as well as please God, and so the widow acted by bothering the unjust judge. So we must too. We often hear that there needs to be more action and less praying. The implication is prayer is ineffective and should be consigned to the dustbin in favor of action. But this criticism would have surprised the Son of God, who prayed to find strength and direction for his actions and decisions. So we must not be kowtowed into silence or shamed into abandoning prayer in favor of social action.

This is the biblical prescription to fight the despair we all feel in our lives from time to time. We are to read Scriptures to learn the story of God’s rescue plan for his creation and image-bearers and persevere in prayer. It was practiced and endorsed by the OT prophets and the Son of God himself, along with his apostles. And so we have a choice. If God really is our Creator, who knows us better than God? And if God really does love and care about us, why would God purposely lead us astray by telling us to do things that will not help and benefit us? Will we be wise and choose God’s help or be fools and resort in pride to self-help as the human race usually does? The latter option will surely fail because the human race does not know God or God’s ways. God’s ways, on the other hand, are always good and just and right, and we are called to have an informed faith that the Holy Spirit will use to see us through the darkest valleys if we will persevere and do so together. Is this the kind of faith you have? If so, are you, e.g., persevering in prayer to God to open the way for us to find a home we can call our own? Does your faith not only carry you through the dark times of your life but also create in you a generous heart so that you will support the work of your parish family? God has given himself to us to rescue us from death and despair. Let us resolve to honor him by following after his generous ways. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.   

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

When God Doesn’t Seem to be in Control

Sermon delivered on Trinity 17C, Sunday, October 13, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 29.1, 4-7; Psalm 66.1-11; 2 Timothy 2.8-15; Luke 17.11-19.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Our lessons this morning all exhort us to faithful living, especially during times when it seems that God is no longer in control of things. This is what I want us to unpack this morning.

We start with our OT lesson. The prophet speaks a surprising message to God’s people Israel who are living in exile in Babylon. Last week you recall that our psalm lesson had some very harsh things to say about Judah’s captors. Happy is the one, said the psalmist, who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks. In his cry for justice, the psalmist, it seems, takes a dim view of his captors (to put it mildly). Behind this shocking statement, however, rests a faith in God to make things right on behalf of his people and to exert his sovereign control over the nations by giving justice to his people Israel who are living in exile.

In today’s lesson, we see Jeremiah’s faith shine through in a distinctly different way. We have every reason to believe that those living in exile would have welcomed the psalmist’s sharp call for God’s justice against their captors. After all, hadn’t God used human agency (the Babylonians) to bring judgment against his own people? In today’s OT lesson, on the other hand, we have every reason to believe that the exiles would have disliked Jeremiah’s exhortation to pray for the peace and welfare of their captors every bit as much as they liked the psalmist’s cry for justice. A bit of context is needed for us to fully understand why the exiles in Babylon would have had such a dim view of Jeremiah’s advice to them to pray for their enemies. As part of God’s awful judgment on the sins of his people Israel, there were three deportations of God’s people living in Judah to Babylon. Jeremiah was addressing the exiles involved in the first deportation before the Babylonians finally sacked Jerusalem and burned down the temple. God’s people exiled to Babylon were hearing false prophets among them predicting a short exile. Not so, said Jeremiah and Ezekiel, God’s true prophets or spokesmen. You are suffering God’s ultimate curse for breaking his covenant and chasing after false gods (read Ezekiel 23 if you want God’s earthy and graphic description of his exiled people). But being the stubborn people they were (just like we can be stubborn), many of God’s people refused to believe God would punish his beloved people. Instead, for many living in exile, it seemed to them as if God was no longer in control. How could he be with them if they were exiled?

But Jeremiah disagreed with that assessment, having laid out a compelling and damning case against God’s people on behalf of God. Israel was in exile because she had been unfaithful to God’s call to them to be his people to bring his healing love to God’s broken and hurting world. Instead, they had adopted the false gods others around them worshiped and had become like those they had been called to heal. And precisely because God was in charge, now they found themselves exiled in a foreign land. You’re going to be here for awhile, Jeremiah told his people, so pray for your captors and for their welfare. It is the destiny of God’s people to flourish and prosper, and your situation depends on the welfare of your captors. So take the long view here, people of God. Pray for your captors even if you despise them. 

This advice requires great faith that God is in control despite appearances to the contrary and we all get this. Life for the exiles as they knew it before they were deported was over. For all intent and purposes, their sentence was permanent. God would one day end his people’s exile but well past their life span and this would surely have been demoralizing to the exiles just like we get demoralized when our world is rocked by awful change, be it the death of a loved one, a serious or debilitating illness, financial catastrophe, or being betrayed by a loved and trusted friend, to name just a few. Like the exiles, we ask where God is in it all? If God really is in charge why all the chaos in our lives and this world? 

And how about the Church? Almost every day I hear folks predicting the Church’s demise and proclaiming our irrelevance to this culture. But what if God has exiled his Church due to the sins of our ancestors as well as our own? What are we to do then? Accommodate the demands of our culture to be “relevant” again to win people for Christ? No, said Jeremiah to his people and us. Pray for your enemies and remain faithful to God’s call to be his people and embody God’s holiness. For Christians that means we imitate Christ in the power of the Spirit. We must therefore ask God to bless our cultural enemies because our welfare is tied to our broader culture. If God weren’t in control, even in the midst of the chaos that swirls around us, if God isn’t sovereign over the nations, this advise would be absurd. Without God in charge, why bother praying? Instead we would be wise to adopt the attitude that it’s every person for him/herself; we’re on our own, baby!

But Jeremiah and the rest of the biblical writers would tell us not to lose hope or become demoralized like that, just like he told his own people, because a few verses later we hear this astonishing promise from God to a demoralized people living in exile under the curse of God’s judgment: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jer 29.11). This is what God’s grace looks like on the ground and if God weren’t sovereign or in charge, God could never promise this to us. Almost twenty years ago when I was living through one of the darkest periods of my life and actively considering suicide, I memorized this passage and repeated it often and on a regular basis. Because I am standing here today I can attest to the power of God’s word to heal and sustain in the midst of immense darkness and would encourage you to do likewise as you walk through your own dark valleys. God is faithful and his plans for us are for our good. We can depend on him if we are willing to be patient and take the long view of life.

In our epistle lesson, St. Paul tells us to do essentially the same thing as Jeremiah told his people. Following the advice and practice of the psalmists who remembered God’s power to deliver his people from their captivity in Egypt with its own cruel chaos, and who encouraged God’s people to do likewise during the dark times of Israel’s history as well as their own, St. Paul remembers the power of God as he gladly endures suffering for the sake of the gospel. St. Paul points us to Jesus Christ, crucified, died, and buried, raised on the third day to new bodily life. Like Jesus telling the returning leper in our gospel lesson to get up—the Greek word for “get up” refers to resurrection—and get on with life because the leper’s faith had saved him (or made him well), St. Paul makes the bold claim that Christ’s resurrection is the historical event that was the game-changer for those of us who put our faith in Christ. Echoing his claim in Romans 6.3-5, St. Paul reminds us that because we have died with Christ in our baptism, we will live a resurrected life with Christ in God’s new world. Despite the darkness, loss, sorrow, heartache, fears, chaos, and the transitory nature of life, we who belong to Christ will share in his eternal future. We must therefore be bold in proclaiming this truth, a truth that will one day overthrow the dark powers who currently rule God’s world, and in doing so we must expect to suffer for Christ’s sake. If we are willing to suffer for Christ, we will reign with him in the new heavens and earth. Our future destiny isn’t rest and refreshment. It’s a call to be what God created us to be in the first place—God’s image bearers who run his new world and reflect his goodness and glory. There will be no darkness or evil in that world and life because we will live in God’s direct presence as Revelation promises. Christ’s resurrection is definitive and historical proof that God has defeated the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death on our behalf and calls us to imitate our Lord Jesus in the living of our days. It is a call for us to be fully human beings. Being human in this mortal life, of course, means we will also sometimes miss the mark, or in St. Paul’s words, we will be faithless. But we are to take hope because Christ is always faithful, just like the Father is always faithful to his people and good to his word. So we dare not cave to our culture nor should we be ashamed of proclaiming the gospel to a hostile world that desperately needs to hear it but refuses much of the time to do so. This can be discouraging itself, but we are to stand firm. We are resurrection peeps, my beloved. We must take the long view of life because we have a future and a hope, a sure and certain expectation. Is your faith strong enough and bold enough to sustain you when you must walk through your own dark valleys? 

I don’t know why God allows so much suffering and wrong in this world. I don’t know why God allows the bad guys to prevail sometimes. But I do know this. Our future in Christ is secure and we have been washed clean of our sins and all the separates us from God by the blood of the Lamb shed for us to end our self-imposed exile and alienation from God. The Father has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. I know all this is true because I know Jesus Christ is raised from the dead and I therefore I know he reigns over this world and his promises to us are true as Scripture proclaims, even in the midst of chaos and darkness. 

So here is how we as God’s people in Christ can find power to live in a world gone bad. First, we ensconce ourselves in God’s word contained in Scripture and faithfully interpreted by the Church to learn the story of God’s rescue plan for his good but sin-corrupted world. We learn it to know God is in charge, to recognize God’s ways, and to understand our role in God’s rescue plan. Second, we pray for our own welfare and for the welfare of our enemies and captors even as we are bold to expose their lies and proclaim God’s Truth contained in the gospel. And last, together we remember our resurrection faith and let it sustain us in the power of the Spirit by reminding us that despite appearances to the contrary, God has reclaimed his world and us and defeated the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death. Are you doing these things to help sustain you in the living of your days? If not, you are setting yourself up for failure as well as denying the Lord’s love for you along with his power to heal and rescue you, and when you crash and burn, you will have no one but yourself to blame. Don’t despise yourself like that, my beloved. For the love of Christ, don’t do that to yourself.

So how does all this apply to our stewardship campaign? Simply put, stewardship is a loving and thankful response to the power of God. It acknowledges God’s ways are not our ways and gives thanks that we have meaning, purpose, and hope in this mortal life. We are in day 28 of our 40 days of prayer and fasting, praying to the Father to end our homelessness. Are you persistent in your prayers? There is no way you can be if you do not believe in the efficacy of prayer! As we have seen, praying is one of our main duties as Christians because prayer has the power to heal and transform. Sometimes it seems as if we are too small a parish to really make a difference and we tend to be stingy with our time, our talents, and our money. But this attitude denies the power of God that we have seen is available to us who come to him in faith with thanksgiving. As you consider your pledge for 2020, I urge you to have a generous heart patterned after the Father’s generous heart as manifested chiefly in God the Son. We have been given an immense gift in Christ and called to be God’s own through him. Let us resolve to give generously to ensure that we at St. Augustine’s really do live out our mission statement to be “changed by God to make a difference for God” in the power of the Spirit. Our future is secured and this knowledge can and will help us live faithfully in this present age because we know our work in the Lord is not in vain (cf. 1 Cor 15.59). We know this because we know know that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead and our present and future are secure because of it, thanks be to God! To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Father Santosh Madanu: Increase Our Faith

Sermon delivered on Trinity 16C, Sunday, October 6, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Lamentations 1.1-6; Psalm 137; 2 Timothy 1.1-14; Luke 17.5-10.

Prayer: Lord Jesus bless us to have faith like you lord.  Though we experience your boundless love and care yet we lack faith in you.  Increase our faith Lord Jesus that we should come out to proclaim that you are the only true God, you showed the mighty deeds in your chosen and continue in our lives and in the world.  In Jesus Name we pray. Amen.

I would like to begin my reflection with the story:

Once in a circus the Ring Master said, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me direct your attention to high wire, how many of you believe that these daring men can ride safely over the high wire on bicycles while carrying someone between them? Raise your hands if you think they can. Many people raised their hands, a great chorus of belief.” Very well then,” says the Ringmaster, now, who would like to be the first to volunteer to sit on his shoulders? And all the hands quickly went back down.

Dear friends:

There is a keen difference between belief and faith.  It is easy to say we believe when we can stay in our seats.  But to climb onto the shoulders of that high wire artist- well, that is Faith!  

Today’s bible reading has the disciples of Jesus learning about faith. The disciple watched Jesus’ miracles and believed, Miracles like changing the water into wine at the Wedding at Canna and feeding the five thousand with five loafs of bread and two fish, Jesus raises the son of the widow of Nain from death. Luke 7:11–17 and Jesus Christ raises Jairus’ daughter to life and so on. The disciples believed in Jesus. But Jesus wanted not just belief, but Faith, Faith has the power to do the things of healing, forgiving and loving the enemy.

Note what Disciple said to Jesus, as recorded in Luke 17:5:

And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  

But the Lord doesn’t increase their faith. He just reminds them that they have already been given all the faith they could ever need or call upon. He is trying to help them and us to understand that we just have to remember that believers already have it, and it is time to practice it. The seed of faith has to grow with the scripture reading, Sunday worshiping, daily personal prayers and spiritual life.   And God will nurture the seed of faith that God has planted in us, so I and you must use the faith that we have.

Faith is like anything else: the more we practice, the better our performance. It’s like practice and play an organ or a piano. The more one practices the better one produce beautiful and inspiring music.

A similar thing happens with prayer.

The more we pray, it is easy to offer up a beautiful prayer. This also comes from practice. So, what does Jesus say to the apostles to remind them?

And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you (Luke 17.6).

First, let’s remember that a mustard seed, or any other seed, know only how to produce a plant or tree after its own kind. It can’t do anything else.  It has a single purpose in life: to do what the Lord commanded it and designed it to do. We, on the other hand, have been given many tasks to do; but still with one single purpose, which we all too often forget. We are first and foremost to serve the Lord our God. Everything else we do should be so directed that it becomes part of our service.

We have two options one either we can ask for more faith or we can give up.  We see in the world around us, many people are giving up their faith. What if they are all people of faith? If they possess at least a tiny seed of faith, they can do wonders to spread the love and teaching of Jesus Christ and be part of the kingdom of God.

Faith is the unseen gift of God’s Spirit. Faith takes roots in us when we make sincere efforts.  The faith grows with the daily prayers, service to neighbor and doing good deeds of the Lord

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta is our contemporary example.   She put her faith to work in extraordinary ways by serving the poorest of poor and orphaned in Calcutta, India.   She says “Our calling is not to do great things, but to do small things with great love.”  She did no miracle but influenced the world with the power of faith in Jesus Christ as true witness of LOVE. The faith of Mother Teresa may be telling us, we don’t need more faith, what we need is to use the faith that we have.  God has blessed us already with the faith that is needed.

Most of the time we make similar request with Jesus like disciples, especially when we faced with crisis and urgent needs, then we say- God please heal my very sick child; God please save me from the shame and embarrassment of this sin in my life, God, please give me the right answer to this difficult problem I face. And we find ourselves repeating the remark of the father in the Bible, speaking to Jesus about healing his son- Lord, I believe, help my unbelief— another way of saying to the Lord, I have faith, but I need greater faith to deal with this child’s problem.

We could take a long time talking about what faith is or what faith means but most of us already have a pretty good idea because of being disappointed by the faithlessness we have all experienced at one time or another. The most common example is the person who promises to be somewhere at a certain time and then never shows up without any explanation or she told you even promised you she would never do it again and then she went ahead and did it again. Some people promise you the job but don’t keep up their promise. And what did you say to yourself about that person:

“I don’t have much faith in him or her.” And we know exactly what you mean- the person can’t be counted on, can’t really be trusted, because they are unreliable for whatever reason. What can be more encouraging is what Jesus said to his disciples after they asked Him to Increase their Faith. He said to them:

If you had faith even the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this tree to be rooted up and be planted in the sea and it would obey you.

In Mark 11:23 Jesus uses the example of a mountain (Far greater than a tree): “whoever says to this mountain, be taken up and cast into the sea and does not doubt in his heart, but believes it will come to pass; it will be done for him.”

If we can’t even move trees or mountains into the sea, our faith must be smaller than a mustard seed or is this just hyperbole, exaggeration that Jesus is using to make a point about how important faith is in our spiritual life? I wonder if we have more faith in our car starting than we do in Jesus answering our prayer. I wonder if we have more faith in our best friend helping us than we do in Jesus helping us. I wonder if we have more faith in our self to make a living and pay the bills than we do in hearing and answering the call of Jesus to serve Him.

Romans 10:17 (NKJV) says, So then, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. If no one had ever told me about Jesus, and about God’s plan for my life, or if I had never read for myself about Him, I would be clueless about the need for faith. Reading or hearing God’s Word is like planting a garden. If you want to grow or “build” a garden, you must first plant the seeds, or the actual plant or flower. God’s Word is the seed that grows the faith. 

 Heed the Word

James 1:22-24(NKJV) offers a second way to increase your faith: 

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 

A Personal story of a certain woman:

A certain woman, she says “The first time my husband and I had to admit we were financially challenged, we had some choices to make. The biggest one was, would we trust God and the promises we had read in His Word? When a new difficulty developed, we faced the same choices. If we chose to believe God, our faith grew a little more. Then the really big crises erupted, like unemployment, parenting, and marriage challenges. But each time we looked back and saw the tracks of God’s faithfulness. He truly had kept His Word, and we came to understand the true meaning of “perseverance.” Trusting Him with smaller problems has built our faith to believe Him for the harder issues. Therefore the power of faith does not lie in how much you believe, it lies in what you believe. What a privilege we have in the Lord Jesus, our Teacher and Master who loved us enough to give up his life for us.

Prayer: Father God we are weak physically, mentally and spiritually.  Bless us with your strength and with your faith in your promises of kingdom of God. Bless us to recognize the seed of faith you planted in us through Baptism in order to use it for your glory and for the healing of this world.  We make this prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Ted Olsen: How to Jump Back In to Bible Reading

Christian leaders are also too aware of the dangers of bad Bible reading. We’re on alert against proof-texting. We fret about people misappropriating promises to Israel as guarantees of their own health, wealth, and safety. And we know that the Scriptures were written to believers for the life of the community, not for individualistic moments of personal piety. We start to wonder: Doesn’t the idea of reading one little chapter this morning encourage an atomized “thought of the day” when the whole point is the one large story it tells about God in Jesus Christ? Yes! And since I already know that story, do I really need to read a bit from 1 Corinthians again this morning? There’s so much else that needs doing!

Those thoughts and temptations have little purchase when I’m actually reading the Bible. It’s not that reading it always (or usually) floods me with a light of relief and certitude. But I’ve found that I’m hungriest to read Scripture when I’m reading Scripture. Part of this, no doubt, is simply the psychology driving any habit. But part of it is that the Word of God really is alive and active (Heb. 4:12)—and as much as I want to affirm its primary aims for the community of God, the Spirit keeps illuminating those ways in which it has something to say to me, personally, right now.

First, I would encourage you to read this short article by Dr. Olsen. I like his stuff and find it edifying. From the excerpt above he makes two important points. Don’t read passages in Scripture in isolation from the larger story presented in the Bible. Doing so can lead inexperienced readers to interpret various passages (not all) very badly. Passages of Scripture must always be read in their proper context.

Second, professor Olsen makes the keen observation that reading Scripture can actually feed our hunger to read more of it. But how to overcome our initial reluctance?

Brilliant as professor Olsen is, I am always saddened when the Church’s various traditions for reading Scripture are ignored because in my experience, reading Scripture as part of participating in the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer, where Bible reading is combined with prayer, can serve as an antidote to our reluctance to begin or return to reading Scripture. In my Anglican tradition, we have the opportunity to read a vast majority of Scripture over a two-year cycle. This doesn’t overwhelm newbies but it also provides grist for more experienced readers as well as the structure to read Scripture systematically. That’s never a bad thing.

And when it comes to praying, why try and reinvent the wheel? There are a lot of saints who have gone before us who know how to pray and we shouldn’t be so arrogant that we think we can do better. Form prayers contained in the Office can easily be modified to make them quite personal and I dare say they do not lead to rote praying any more than spontaneous praying does if my experience is any indicator.

So how to jump back into (or begin) reading the Bible? Check out the Daily Office and make it your own. Using the Office, I have let the form prayers make me a better pray-er and have read the entire Bible through at least a dozen times, with each new iteration bringing new insights and teaching. The latter shouldn’t be surprising because the Word of God contained in Holy Scripture is infinitely plumbable and edifying. We would expect nothing less from the God who created this vast universe by his word and who raises the dead back to life.

So become a Daily Office Bible reader, especially if you come from a tradition that uses the Office (Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Anglicanism). You will find new clarity and understanding as well as new power and purpose for living if you do.