Sermon for Easter 2, Year B
Based on Jn. 20: 31
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Faith, belief….These are two very familiar words for us Christians. Most of us have heard the old adage: "Everyone believes, or has faith in someone or something." Of course, it's true. Even atheists believe in, have faith in someone or something.
Robert Browning once wrote, "Belief or unbelief bears upon life, determines its whole course, begins at its beginning." From the cradle to the grave, we believe ~ have faith in ~ our parents and grandparents, our children, the daily rising and setting of the sun, our husband or wife, the value of money, the vehicle we drive or ride in to get us to and from work ~ these and many other things or people we have faith in every day.
At the end of today's gospel passage, the evangelist regards believing as so integral a gift of God, that he tells us this was the purpose for which he wrote his gospel ~ he says: "But these are written so that You May Come To Believe That Jesus Is The Messiah, The Son Of God, And That Through Believing You May Have Life In His Name."
Do you, do I, do we have this gift of faith? Great faith is willing to take risks for God and the Gospel. Ernest T. Campbell once put it quite well this way: "If I understand the Bible correctly, there is and economy with God regarding the gift of faith. It is only as we attempt great things for God that we can expect great things from God. If we are trying to move some mountain of unbelief, apathy, prejudice, injustice, or hatred, it is then that God will give us faith. We know as we go. If we will not go we will not know."
Dr. Leslie Weatherhead has said: "it is not What happens to us that matters in life. It is our Reaction To What Happens to us that matters in life." For some, faith and belief are only a matter of correct, pure doctrines. They are so cold, formal, abstract, and crystallized that there is no room for anything personal, experiential or practical.
For others, faith and belief are fine in fair weather ~ when everything is going well and they are "on top of the world." Such folks have reduced their faith and belief to a kind of magical charm, which should guarantee a carefree successful, happy, healthy life. When things go wrong for these people, they may have the tendency to grow bitter, resentful, and angry with God. They believe that God has given up on them, therefore, they give up on God. Some tragically remain in this state all of their lives or they completely lose their faith.
God's gift of faith is meant to be put into practice. An active, practical faith is what transforms people's lives, and indeed, the world. The following story, told by William Bausch in his book, More Telling Stories Compelling Stories, demonstrates how one person's faith was able to transform her life and the lives of others:
"Elsa Joseph was a Jewish woman who was cut off from both her children, both girls, during the Second World War. It was years later that she discovered that her daughter had been gassed at Auschwitz."
"A former violinist, Elsa responded to this tragic news by picking up her violin and going to play it in Germany. And there, in the halls of the homeland of her children's murderers she played her violin and told her story that cried out to heaven for vengeance. But she did not seek vengeance. She spoke of the world's deep need for reconciliation and forgiveness, without which it was tearing itself apart."
"If I, a Jewish mother can forgive what happened," she told her audiences not only in Germany, but in Northern Ireland, and in Lebanon and in Israel," then why can you not sink your differences and be reconciled to one anther?"
Such forgiveness is rooted in the gift of faith that is able to transform people's lives ~ our own and others. We who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ "have life in his name," as the evangelist of our gospel passage puts it today. This is not some sort of magical power given to use in any and every way to entertain or impress others with feats of sensationalism or to manipulate and control others or to use in order to gain power over others and get whatever we want. Rather, our faith and believing gives us life in Christ's name whenever we respond to God's love and grace by forgiving and being reconciled with others; by continuing the ministry of Christ through preaching, teaching and healing and serving others with deeds of loving-kindness.
It is God's precious gift of faith and believing that gives us our identity as Christians, which we inherit through our baptism into Christ. The richness of the church is ultimately present in God's people. The richness of you who are disciples of Jesus is your faith, which is not static, but always moving and growing, since ours is A Living Faith. Our baptism gives us a strong sense of our identity and our calling and commission as the church. It clarifies our mission and equips us for it.
Ernest T. Campbell was correct when he observed that the church is unable to accomplish its purposes without faith and the identity we inherit through our faith: "we cannot do much for others, or for long, until we know who we are. The activist is right! We can't have what we will not implement. But it is also true that we cannot implement what we do not have!"
"The church is more than the sum of its parts. But we must not forget that the faith of a given congregation rests ultimately on the faith of its members in particular. Those who love this church can do nothing more or better for it now than to look to their faith. How is it with you and your faith? Do you prize your faith for the treasure that it is? Do you expose yourself to Jesus for the growth and enlargement of your faith?"
Is ours a practical, active faith? As we celebrate this season of the resurrection ~ Christ's and ours ~ do we draw from the rich resources of God's gift of faith to transform us and those around us? As we leave this place today and journey into another week, may the power of Christ's resurrection strengthen our faith, so that we are willing and able to live out the message of today's gospel: "But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name."
This page has been visited times.