This is the fourth of five sermons based on the book Making Sense of the Christian Faith by David Lose. This sermon uses the themes of the seventh chapter on the church.
We have talked about the nature of our God, which is creator. Our God takes great joy in creating and in what has been created, especially you, especially me. God has given each of us an Original Blessing, a stamp of approval, an invitation to be co creators, junior partners in the firm. All of us, have a God shaped hole within us that when filled with God, fills us with joy. We were created to be dependent on God for fulfillment.
The problem is we do not like to be dependent on anything or anyone. Thus, from the beginning, from Adam and Eve, we have been searching for ways to fill this God shaped hole with anything but God. This is the nature of Sin, when we stop trusting God for fulfillment in our life, and start trusting something else, money, food, family, sex, drugs, job, there are infinite number of wrong directions that we have taken. All of them, not only lead us away from God, but also hurt our life and the life of others around us. Sin, not trusting God, destroys God’s creation by destroying us and our neighbor.
God’s response in history recorded in scripture is to come after us. God wants to be in relationship with us no matter how many times we say no. The Old Testament is a book about the promises God has made to humanity to lead us to trust God with our lives. Promises to Noah, Abraham, Moses, David. God sends prophets to encourage humanity to trust God again, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and more. God even comes to us as God’s self, in Jesus to call us back, invite us back, to make clear that a relationship with God can still be found.
Just as humanity rejected God’s other attempts at reaching out to be in relationship with us again, we rejected God’s attempt in Jesus, too. Putting Jesus to death is a symbol of humanity’s continual no to God’s yes. More than any other act, it reveals our open hatred of God and God’s love. Yet, even the cross cannot dissuade God from love for us. From the cross, humanity at it ugliest, God sees us clearly, knows our brokenness, and without flinching does not take God’s gaze from us. God knows us and comes back to us in the resurrection and says remarkably, I still love you. God longs to not just be in relationship with us, but through that relationship makes our lives full, joyful, worth living.
The story of faith is not over though. Even with the remarkable announcement of God’s final promise of love, we still have to grow to trust it, hold on to it, and find hope within it. It is just as difficult for us to trust this promise as it was for Adam and Eve living in the splendor of paradise. For this reason, Jesus has given us a tool to build faith and trust in God, the Holy Spirit that gathers us as Church.
Even though Jesus has announced the resurrection, our age old battle with Sin is not over. We all live lives struggling at times to trust God. We all are tempted to find another way than God for fulfillment. Professing a belief in God does not mean our life won’t be rocked by earthquakes that suddenly change the landscape around us. Belief in a God of love, faith, means that you will be able to keep your footing even when the world shakes. The church is called to encourage our faith when our personal difficulties make it hard.
The church, powered by the Holy Spirit is called to help us keep our footing when the world shakes. Author Lose tells a story of a colleague at the seminary whose wife died. In his grief this bible professor questioned everything about a loving God who would take away the love of his life. Grief filled him and overflowed from him. He could no longer believe in our God of love. If he could no longer believe in God, how could he teach about God to future pastors? He went to the President of the seminary and he told him he had to resign. He no longer had faith. The President told him he would not accept his resignation. He said for a time; let us have faith for you. Allow your community of faith to believe in these days and months while you can’t.
The church is a community of people on individual journeys, but connected by their commitment to travel together. When we say yes to the baby girl being baptized among us, we promise to never leave her behind, no matter how hard she tries to convince us to go. In the church, we see each other with God’s eyes, both the brokenness and selfishness and the beauty and ability to laugh and be generous. By being Christ to each other, we are able to trust the promise of Christ made for each of us.
You nurture my faith, when you treat me like a precious gift, even on days when I know my work as your pastor has failed you. I nurture your faith, when I call you the day after you have yelled at me to reassure you that it will take more than words to break our relationship. We nurture each other when we resolve to stay together, no matter the pressure to come apart. This is the gift of the church.
Equally as important as the place where Christ’s love is practiced, the church helps all who come to find purpose in their life. To fill that God shaped hole with God, we need to align our special talents and passions with God’s needs in our world. The church gives Carolinn a way to use her sewing gifts to provide blankets for mothers in need. It gives Larry a chance to use his fencing skills so Pastor Thadd and Laura can enjoy backyard privacy in their home next to the church. It gives Julie the opportunity to use her gifts of art to create our Joseph’s Coat Logo.
In our new member class, Jim Wilson shares that he and Charlotte came to Messiah about nine years ago when Annika started attending Preschool. They were already Lutheran, had been active in other congregations and even attended seminary for a while. Yet, at that time they were not a part of any church. What made them stay here? It started with Charlotte baking cookies for Preschool functions at the church. They started to attend on Sunday mornings to support Annkia in her preschool events. At that time we were creating our Messiah Night community dinner and Charlotte got involved in this. They started attending worship more. Next, Jim joined our Men’s group on Thursday morning and within a year was teaching it at times, too. From their participation just grew. The Wilsons, one or the other or more often both created our Good Friday worship service, serve communion and read in worship at 9:30, maintain our kitchen, introduced the congregation to Via de Christo and Kairos prison ministry, created banners, led crafts for VBS and the list continues.
I tell you all of this not simply to give thanks for all the ways Jim and Charlotte serve Messiah but to highlight what Jim tells the new members. He found his faith again here. Not a Sunday morning faith, but a real way to use his gifts Monday through Saturday. The church gave him and Charlotte a way to come back into relationship with God, by serving us and all of God’s creation. We are blessed by the renewal of their faith.
I am starting my tenth year at Messiah. In those ten years we have grown our worship attendance by 65%, our member giving by 50%. Last year, we were in the top ten ELCA Lutheran Churches in all of Ohio because of our strength and growth. No one has come to ask me how we did it. If they did, my answer would be simple. We take worship seriously at Messiah. We work to support and encourage each other in the faith. We provide opportunities for everyone to live faithful lives Monday through Saturday.
It is difficult to trust the promise that God loves us. It is even more difficult to have faith that promise will change our lives. It can be impossible it seems to hold on to that faith when our world is rocked by trials. The church is the gift God has given us to encourage our faith when it is low and to use our faith in a way that not only transforms God’s world, but builds us up, too. God wants you to trust God’s love. God wants you to fill that God shaped hole with only God. God’s gift for you to do this is the Holy Spirit that gathers us as church. Amen