Living By Faith

LIVING BY FAITH

Women especially mothers have more experience living by faith than any other group. As a woman becomes pregnant she enters into a time of waiting, where the outcome is uncertain. Not every pregnancy results in a healthy happy baby, a huge investment of a woman’s life in an uncertain outcome. And even if a baby is delivered into the world, there are no guarantees how the child will turn out. Now I will grant that many women do not understand the courage that will be required of them in becoming a mother. Motherhood is an exercise in living by faith.

Our scripture this morning is about learning to live by faith. Peter and the disciples were still hanging out in Jerusalem, and each day when they went to the temple to pray, they would go to Solomon’s Portico, where the other Rabbis would gather to teach their students. Peter, James, John, Andrew would begin engaging in telling the story of Jesus to whoever would listen. And people began bringing their friends and relatives to the disciples for healing. As the following of the disciples grew, the Temple Authorities became anxious and angry.

Finally in an attempt to put a little fear into the disciples, the High Priest ordered his Temple Police to arrest the disciples, rough them up a bit, and throw them into the common prison. But miraculously either an angel from heaven or a sympathizer among the jailers came in the middle of the night and let them out.

So the next morning, when the High Priest convened the Sanhedrin to hear the case of the disciples to decide what to do with them, when the Temple Police were sent to the prison to bring them before the Council, the disciples weren’t there! I can just imagine the consternation of the Temple Police. “We put them in the jail, now where are they?” And then someone came and reported to the Council that the disciples were in the courts of the Temple itself preaching in the name of Jesus again.

“Go get them,” shouted the High Priest. And the Temple guard dutifully trotted off to arrest the disciples all over again. But according to the text the police did not rough them up this time for fear that the crowd of admirers standing around the disciples might attack them.

When the disciples were brought before the Council the High Priest accused them: “We strictly charged you not to teach in the name of Jesus, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

Now remember, Peter was the disciple who climbed out of the boat to walk on water and when he saw the wind and the waves he started to sink in terror. Peter was also the disciple who on the night of Jesus’ arrest, when he was accused of being a follower of Jesus denied he ever knew man. It would have been easy and in character for Peter, surrounded by the police and accused by the High Priest, and standing before the Sanhedrin, who could have ordered him to be stoned to death, Peter to his everlasting credit replied: “We must obey God rather than human authority.”

Peter had been changed, transformed. He was a different person than the man who denied even knowing Jesus in the court yard of the High Priest. So let’s ask this morning, what made the difference? How was Peter transformed from a cowardly lion into a person of faith and courage who could withstand the attempt of the authorities to intimidate him?

First, Peter had experienced the Risen Christ. Jesus had been tortured to death on a cross, and yet Peter had experienced Jesus alive after his crucifixion a jaw dropping transforming experience. Because if a person who was murdered so brutally could live again then all that he stood for must be true. Love can be murdered and yet live again. Love is beyond the power of death, and lives eternally in those who walk the way of love. That is ultimate hope. And if we have that kind of ultimate hope, we can be transformed too.

Besides witnessing the resurrection appearances, Peter also knew the living presence of Christ in the breaking of the bread. Daily the disciples were sharing the breaking of the bread and the cup remembering Jesus and learning that simple sharing is transformative. Every Thursday night we are sharing the breaking of the bread and the remembering of Jesus, and it is transformative.

Peter had begun living by faith. He was responsible for organizing the sharing table of the Jesus community. And when we are trying to provide food for everyone who comes to share that is an act of faith that there will be enough. We don’t require reservations or RSVP’s just come and share. Sharing may be such a small beginning but it is an act of faith – living by faith.

Peter had also taken on the role of encouraging others. Remember last week when we talked about engaging the faith of others by becoming encouragers. In learning to engage the faith of others Peter’s faith had been strengthened. And our faith can grow, when we encourage other people to live by faith. Of course we have to live by faith ourselves, encourage by example.

Speaking of encouragement I am reminded of a story. A minister in a little church had been having trouble with the collections. One Sunday he announced, “Now, before we pass the collection plate, I would like to request that the person who stole the chickens from Brother Martin’s henhouse please refrain from giving any money to the Lord. The Lord doesn’t want money from a thief!”

The collection plate was passed around, and for the first time in months everybody gave.

Peter also had been engaging the faith of others by calling forth healing in them. Praying with and for other people not only encourages them, our faith is strengthened as well. Margaret Grace Reese writes in her book Unbinding Your Heart: “Prayer is the way to stay in love with God. Prayer is the way individuals, small groups and congregations grow and become vivid. It is a habit, a discipline, but not discipline with a clenched jaw. Prayer is more about receiving from God than it is about asking God for things or working hard at intercession. . . . prayer involves effort, habit and focus; but it results in lightness and energy and excitement.” Through a ministry of prayer Peter and the early followers of Jesus had found lightness, energy and enthusiasm – all components of courage.

Even when we commit to following the way of Jesus, death and all of the agents of death will try to intimidate us. The Temple authorities were desperate trying to hold onto their power, wealth and privilege, and this upstart Jesus movement was a threat. The Jesus people were inviting the poor, the sinners and the nobodies to come and eat at the sharing table. They were challenging the Temple’s land foreclosures that were pushing peasants off of their farms and into poverty. They were proclaiming a Commonwealth of God, where all people would share and have food, shelter and clothing. The Jesus movement rejected the caste system of the law based upon clean and unclean, and they sought to heal the sick and give dignity to the poor.

The early church also admitted women as full participants in the life of the faith community, because Jesus accepted women as the intellectual equals of men. The Jesus people were threatening to turn the social hierarchy upside down, and by God someone had to stop them! It was true then. It is true now. When we embrace the radical way of Jesus, proclaiming that everyone is welcome at the sharing table, some people will try to stop us. The powers that be will try to warn us, intimidate us, threaten us. And unless we have been transformed, like Peter, by the courage of faith, we will bargain, compromise, concede.

We need a vision of the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ in our 21st century world in Huntsville, Alabama, so compelling, we will have the courage of Peter to respond, “we must obey God rather than human authority.” My prayer is the visioning process being led by our Moderator Greg Kamback will lead to that compelling vision that will transform us and give us courage to faithfully follow in the way of Jesus.

Since it is Mother’s Day allow me to note that the kind of courage we need to be transformed like I pointed out at the beginning of the sermon is feminine. Even Paul used feminine imagery to describe transformative faith: We know that the whole creation has been groaning with labour pains, and not only creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the spirit, are straining inwardly to help give birth to a new reality – the Commonwealth of God. For in this hope we have been saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees. But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Faith of our mother’s holy faith, may we have the courage to give birth to a vision worthy of the way of Jesus.

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