Summary: A sermon for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, proper 22, series C

19th Sunday after Pentecost [Pr.22] October 3, 2010 “Series C”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, through the power of your Holy Spirit, unite us together as a community of faith, that we might genuinely care for one another, and embrace each other as members of your heavenly kingdom. Empower us to provide a growing environment for our children, that they might be strengthened in faith, and embrace the life to which you have called them in baptism. Inspire us to live by the principles of our faith, that we might witness to those around us that your redeeming grace makes a difference in our lives. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

Each of our lessons for this morning address the issue of faith. In our first lesson, Habakkuk laments the fact that Israel is not living according to the precepts of God’s law, and receives from God the assurance that the righteous shall live by faith. In our second lesson, Paul says to Timothy “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” And in our Gospel lesson, the twelve apostles said to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” And take note, that there is an exclamation point at the end of that sentence.

Thus, I would like to address the subject of faith from the point of view of these three lessons. Habakkuk was living in troubled times. As a prophet who observes the life of Israel as being filled with violence, wrongdoing, destructive behavior, contention and a lack of concern for God’s law, he cries out to God, “How long shall I cry to you for help.” He seems to be tired of proclaiming the Word of God to a society that seems to reject God’s will and vision for life. God answered Habakkuk by telling him to keep the faith. God reassures Habakkuk that his vision for life is just, and that at the end of time, there will be judgement.

This past week, I had a luncheon meeting with Pastor Don Hake, who is now serving Holy Trinity, Hermitage. During our conversation, he shared with me that he believes there is a growing number of people in our society that seem to believe that they don’t need God. It is as if they believe that whatever they do, short of murder, is okay. They are so self-centered. Then he asked me, “How do you preach to them? What do they need to hear?”

I responded to Don, “You preach law and gospel.”

“But they don’t need to hear the gospel,” Don replied. “They already feel free to live as they want. They need to hear the law, because they don’t believe that they sin. Just look at our society, and how far we have traveled down the wrong path since we grew up. They need to hear the law, and realize that there will one day be judgement.”

“Yes,” I said. “That is what those persons need to hear. But our calling is to preach both law and gospel. We can not be responsible for what the people hear. As long as we are responsible in proclaiming what we have been called to proclaim, it is the Spirit’s work to open their hearts to hear the message and come to faith. We must remain faithful to the Word of God.” End quote.

This leads us into our second lesson for this morning. To be sure, some people come to faith through remarkable conversion experiences, like that of the apostle Paul. On his way to Damascus, where Paul intended to rid the synagogue of those who had come to faith in Jesus as the Christ, he was struck blind, and hear the voice of Christ challenge him to come to faith in him. As a result, Paul became a Christian, and was responsible for spreading the Christian faith throughout the Gentile world.

But I believe that most of us are more like Timothy. We come to faith in Jesus as the Christ through the witness of our family, or through the ministry of our congregational family. Our faith is the result of a communal, corporate experience. Although faith is ultimately personal, it is never lived out in isolation. We are surrounded by a community of people who share common beliefs, which serves to uphold and nurture faith in us.

I recently read a statement that suggested a profound understanding of faith. It said, “Faith is not a self-generated act of affirmation, but the gradual participation in the communal assumptions that surround us.” If I understand this statement correctly, it means that the values that our community holds dear and embraces as truth, soon become the values that are passed on to our children. For example, if the communal assumption that surrounds us is that money is the most important thing in life, we gradually begin to believe that it is, live by that principle, and pass that assumption on to our children. Communal assumptions help to shape our lives.

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