St. Matthew’s Sermon 05-26-2019


St. Matthew’s Sermon 05-26-2019

Believe!

Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5, John 14:23-29

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

Some things in our lives come to us naturally and are so basic, so common, that we barely notice them except in extraordinary situations. Breathing, for example; in our normal routine we don’t pay much attention to our breathing. Maybe now that I brought it up some of you are noticing air going in and out of your lungs but normally, we don’t sit around thinking: breathe in… breathe out, breathe in… breathe out… at least not until something exceptional happens to cause us to take notice of our rhythm, like climbing the stairs to enter the sanctuary, (breath-in- breathe-out-breathe-in-breath) or if we choose to do something exceptional such as attentive deep breathing as a form of meditation to calm our bodies, our minds and our spirits. (b r e a t h e-i n… b r e a t h e-o u t)

And there are those things that don’t come to us naturally but, once learned, become so much a part of our life that they, too, are barely given attention. Riding a bicycle might be a good example of such learned behavior. When we start out we are thinking of all the things we need to be mindful of: turn the handle bars in the direction you’re leaning, keep it moving, and the brakes; THE BREAKS! Yet, after we’ve mastered that 2 wheel vehicle we hop on and peddle away in complete control with nothing more on our mind but, perhaps, how long it might take to get to where we want to go.

But then comes the unexpected situation like getting the wind knocked out of you in a fall (breathe in, breathe in!) or the gravel on the road that causes the bicycle tires to skid unexpectedly.

Our life of faith can be this way too. There are some things that come naturally, and some things we learn with effort over time, yet both can become so second-nature that we rarely pay them any attention.

Thoughts of this came to me while contemplating today’s reading from the Gospel of John, especially the closing verse that reads “And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe”.

Belief is one of the foundational elements of our Christian faith, so much so that it gets little attention; too often left to statements without consideration of what it means to believe.

Our ‘Statement of Faith’, which we’ll recite in a few minutes, opens with the words “We believe in God, the eternal Spirit, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father…”

In the Apostles Creed we read the opening line of each paragraph is a statement of belief: “I believe in God the Father… and in Jesus Christ… I believe in the Holy Ghost; the Holy Catholic Church; the communion of Saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.

Similarly, the Nicene Creed repeats the phrase “We believe in” an equal number of times.

And the “New Creed” that we use occasionally, also opens with the words “We believe in God…”

Each one then lists what we believe about God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; creator, savior, and sustainer. But none of them remind us of what it means to believe.

Is believing only about recognizing the acts of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit; creator of the universe, the one who died to save us, and the one who dwells with us; guiding and protecting us? Is belief that God exists; that Jesus is God’s Son; and that the Holy Spirit is real all there is to faithful believing?

Satan believes God exists: we see that early in the Genesis story when the serpent tempts Eve saying “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of [the fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Satan knew Jesus, and knew he was the Son of God; they spent 40 days together in the wilderness.

The demons of Satan believe that Jesus is God’s Son: Mark 1:23-26

Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

So it seems to me that there must be more to believing than just acknowledging the existence of God, and the Father / Son relationship with Jesus.

As I looked more carefully at the Gospels, in particular John’s Gospel as that’s where I started by search, I came to Jesus’ first discourse on belief in Chapter 5. There the words of verse 24 caught my attention; that reads, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”

The latter part of that statement, about eternal life, judgment, and death, and life, has always been the part that caught my attention in the past. But with my new focus on belief, I was drawn to the beginning of the verse; I repeat “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word, and believes him who sent me…” There are two parts of that half of a sentence that needed more attention.

First, the easier one is “…hears my word…” Christ’s “word” is his teaching; all the things he says as lessons for us to learn. In the context Jesus is also stating that he only does and speaks what God has given him to do and speak; in part reading “…the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father a does, the Son does likewise”.

And that brings us directly into the second part; that being “and believes him who sent me…” of course referring to God.

What I almost didn’t notice is the lack of the word “in”. So often we read or recite “believe in” (as was noticeable when I was talking about the Creeds and Statement of Faith) that, in my mind, it automatically appeared here. But it’s not here; it doesn’t read “and believes in him who sent me”; it reads “and believes him who sent me”.

Am I being clear? Can you sense the difference? There is a difference between believing in God and believing God.

Joined with Jesus’ talk about him saying and doing only what God the Father tells him to say and do (his words) and believing God the Father (believing God’s words) the difference between believing that God exists and believing God comes through. It’s not only about believing that God exists but also about believing that God’s commands and words of guidance are filled with wisdom that needs to be believed, and understanding that needs to be put into practice if we are to live the life of fullness and joy that God desires us to have; that, in fact, God plans for us to have!

Believe God until it becomes as thoughtless as taking a breath; practice that belief until it becomes as second nature as riding a bike and [God and Christ] will come to you and make their home with you and stay at your side when you fall and when you’re traveling rough roads!

Amen

Acts 16:9-15
16:9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
16:10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
16:11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis,
16:12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.
16:13 On the Sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.
16:14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.
16:15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

Psalm 67
67:1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
67:2 that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.
67:3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
67:4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
67:5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
67:6 The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us.
67:7 May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him.

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
21:10 And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
21:22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.
21:23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
21:24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.
21:25 Its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there.
21:26 People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.
21:27 But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
22:2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
22:3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him;
22:4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
22:5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

John 14:23-29 (Adding vss. 21 and 22)

14:21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

 14:22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?”
14:23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
14:24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
14:25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you.
14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
14:28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.
14:29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.