Sunday’s Sermon: Faith Like a Child

  • You know, there are kids all around the world doing some truly amazing things.
    • Arti Verma –10-yr-old girl –> challenged caste system in her village in India
      • Amazing that she challenged centuries-old system at all
      • Even more amazing because she’s a girl
    • Abdul Maqeet – eco conscious little boy in United Arab Emirates
      • Attended 75 workshops around the world in 3 yrs.
      • Makes paper bags out of newspapers and distributes them to cut down on plastic bag usage
    • Kylie Trawick –13-yr-old girl –> hiking Appalachian Trail for hunger awareness
      • App. Trail = 2180 miles from Georgia to Maine
      • 4000 lbs. of food raised for her local food shelf
      • Hiking since early May – should return home TODAY!
    • Dozens of stories like this on –> stories of kids who are changing the world one paper bag, can of food, and village at a time. They aren’t letting anything get in their way, especially not something as trivial as their age. They’re just doing what needs to be done to make the world a better place.
      • Able to do this because of openness in children – open to dreaming big and trying new things, open to being instruments for change
      • This morning, I want us to think about what it might look like to translate this openness to our faith because when we have that child-like faith, God can do amazing things through us.
  • 3 elements to child-like faith seen in today’s Scriptures
    • Trust –> children on Kids Are Heroes website have trust in goodness of others, trust in their willingness to help
      • See element in OT passage –> Jeremiah = trust in goodness of God, in God’s willingness to help people once again
        • Jeremiah = tasked with delivering the Word of God to the people of God –> And this was no small task. He was called to deliver a serious word for a serious time. Jeremiah certainly wasn’t the first prophet to the nations of Israel and Judah, so he knew what kind of reputation prophets usually got. He knew that the lives they lived were difficult ones full of rejection, isolation, and sometimes even worse.
          • Later, Jeremiah’s own life was threatened because of the message God has given him to deliver
          • Yet Jeremiah trusts God.
            • Partly inspired by assurance from God’s own mouth – text: “You shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am going with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”[1]
            • Heb – “with you” = more like “I am going before you” –> God is promising Jeremiah that even though God knows Jeremiah will face struggles because of his calling, God is willing to shoulder the brunt of those struggles for him.
              • Scholar connects this to our lives: If we can see our own vulnerability in Jeremiah’s, if we can hear our own reluctance in his protests, maybe we can also take to heart God’s assurance that the one who calls will also sustain.[2] –> God called Jeremiah, and Jeremiah trusted in God to sustain him in that call – in the actions that would be required of him to carry out God’s mission. And God calls us, too, to all sorts of different missions each and every day.
                • Not always easy, but same promise extends to us: God will sustain if we trust enough to follow
    • Exuberance –> Kids are Heroes children have exuberant spirits, an enthusiasm for their cause and giant hearts for those whose lives they touch
      • See in NT passage, specifically in young woman’s reaction to healing – text: When he laid hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.[3] –> Don’t you just love picturing this scene? This woman who’s been bent over for 18 years suddenly stands up straight. And what’s her first reaction? She begins praising God!
        • I imagine her leaping and dancing and running in wide, swooping arcs through the crowd as she shouts out praises at the top of her voice … maybe with a “woo hoo!” thrown in every once in a while for good measure.
        • Displays unbridled exuberance for part she has been chosen to play in God’s mission –> can only guess at what she did next
          • Enthusiastically told her family about what Jesus had done for her –> maybe told her friends who told their friends and families and so on, like a ripple in a pond.
    • Humility –> Kids are Heroes children aren’t doing amazing things for the glory or the news coverage, not doing them to be heroes or make it onto the website – doing amazing things because they see a need and they want to fill it
      • See humility in both passages – Jeremiah: Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”[4] –> In this plea, we can hear Jeremiah’s reluctance about this call – fear, timidity, and uncertainty.
        • Not happy prophecies that Jeremiah was doling out
          • Declares kingdoms of Israel and Judah have both broken covenant with God
          • Threatens exile for the people if they don’t return to God
          • And in the face of this weighty charge, Jeremiah makes it clear that he feels unworthy of such a task. “I am only a boy. This task is too big for me. It’s too demanding. It’s too significant. I can’t do this on my own. I am only a boy.” In voicing this, Jeremiah shows humility, upholding the importance of the message God had given him over his own importance.
      • Also see humility in woman mentioned in gospel passage –> Scripture tells us Jesus called out to her
        • Now, this is an abnormal occurrence when it comes to people’s healing encounters with Jesus in the gospels. Most of the time, it’s others who call out to Jesus for their healing. They approach him and ask to be made clean. Even the woman who had been hemorrhaging for years sought Jesus out when she reached out and touched the hem of his cloak. But not the woman we read about today.  
          • No doubt she’s in need of healing – Lk’s description: a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.[5] –> And yet despite this serious physical need, she doesn’t approach Jesus. The woman in today’s story must’ve known that she was near Jesus and must’ve heard the stories about his other healings, but still, she didn’t seek him out.
            • Lk: When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”[6]
            •  I don’t know about you, but I see humility in this.
              • Maybe she didn’t ask because she didn’t think she was worthy
              • Maybe she didn’t ask because she thought there were people who needed it more
  • When we come to God with that child-like faith – a faith full of trust, exuberance, and humility – we give God an opening to do wonderful things through us.
    • Encouraged in OT passage – God’s words to Jeremiah: See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.[7] –> That’s a pretty amazing list – “to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” – all things God is promising to do through the child Jeremiah.
      • Sounds like lack of restrictions felt by kids who end up heroes –> Those kids all have the strength and the courage and the creative energy to do the amazing things that they do because they believe they can do it. No one’s told them that they can’t.
        • Imagine how different the world would be if some other people had succumbed to “can’t.”
          • E.g.s – world
            • Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel – over 5000 sq. ft.
            • Building of the Notre Dame cathedral – took 87 years to build
            • E.g.s – Scripture
              • Esther = simple young girl from the country made a queen because of her beauty – ended up saving her people from planned genocide
              • King David = just a shepherd kid from the hills before he slay the giant Goliath and was anointed king over Israel by prophet Samuel
              • Scholar: In biblical and contemporary experience the call of God is often counter to what passes for common human wisdom. God often calls unlikely people in unlikely times and circumstances – or so it seems, when measured in commonly accepted human terms.[8] –> Somewhere along the line, as we grow from children into adults, we lose that assurance. Somewhere along the line, we hear, “No. You won’t. You shouldn’t. You can’t.” And we begin to believe it, forgetting that God does call unlikely people to do amazingly unlikely things … if we’re willing to follow and believe.
  • Lyrics from Jars of Clay’s song “Faith Like a Child” – They say that love can heal the broken. They say that hope can make you see. They say that love can find a Savior if you would follow and believe with faith like a child.[9] –> And it’s true. So I guess the better question is this: When we allow ourselves to embrace that child-like faith, what can’t God do through us? Amen.

[1] Jer 1:7-8

[2][2] Sally A. Brown. “Proper 16 (Sunday between August 21 and August 27 Inclusive): Jeremiah 1:4-10 – Homlietical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 365.

[3] Lk 13:13.

[4] Jer 1:6.

[5] Lk 13:11.

[6] Lk 13:12 (emphasis added).

[7] Jer 1:10.

[8] Bruce C. Birch. “Proper 16 (Sunday between August 21 and August 27 Inclusive): Jeremiah 1:4-10 – Exegetical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 367.

[9] “Faith Like a Child” on Jars of Clay (self-titled album), © 1995.

Sunday’s Sermon: Soggy Covenants

This is the sermon from Aug. 25, 2013. I apologize for the lateness in posting. 🙂

  • Water is a funny thing.
    • It’s powerful.
      • Colorado River continues to carve out Grand Canyon, arguably one of the most beautiful and magnificent natural sites in America
      • Niagara Falls hurls 150,00 gal/sec down on the American side and 600,000 gal/sec down on the Canadian side
    • Water is also soothing.
      • Looking out over a smooth lake with steam rising gently and quietly into the morning sky
      • Sounds of a brook splashing & bubbling between its rocky banks
    • But on the flip side, water can also be destructive.
      • Dec. 2004 – Tsunami killed over 230,000 people in 14 countries in SE Asia
      • Aug. 2005 – Hurricane Katrina killed almost 2,000 people and put 80% of New Orleans under 20 feet of water
    • It’s an interesting paradox, isn’t it? We need water – the earth is 71% water, our bodies are 60% water! – but too much of it can be seriously devastating. I find it intriguing, then, that the two covenants we’re talking about today – covenants made between God and the people that God loves – are expressed through water.
  • Like our need for water, these covenants are essential, and God made them with us for our well-being and restoration.
    • See covenant for well-being in waters of the flood
    • See covenant for restoration in waters of baptism
  • 1st: Covenant of well-being –> Let’s talk about the flood.
    • Story we all know well – First, we learn the charming side of the story.
      • Coloring sheets in Sunday school
        • Giant boat
        • Menagerie of smiling animals
        • A smiling man with a long white beard
        • Big, beautiful rainbow in the background
    • It’s only later, when we’re older, that we learn about the darker side of the flood
      • Things on earth had gone terribly wrong, to the point where Genesis tells us that all the thoughts and inclinations of the human heart were full of evil, and God actually regretted creating humankind.[1]
        • Humanity’s saving grace = Noah, a righteous man with an upright heart
        • And so the waters came – Gen: The waters swelled above the mountains, covering them … God blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth.[2]
          • By the waters of the flood, God was trying to save humanity and the world – all of creation – from the fear and hopelessness caused by sin.
    • And though the waters did come, they didn’t stay forever. After 40 days of flooding and ~5½ months of floating, we come to our passage for today, a passage that stresses how much God wants to take care of God’s people.
      • In passage, God uses phrase “establish my covenant” 3 times –> woven throughout: beginning, middle and end of passage
        • v. 9: “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants …”
        • v. 11: “I establish my covenant with you …”
        • v. 17: “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh on earth.”
      • Rest of the passage makes it clear that like water, this covenant is essential for all
        • Special Heb. word: hinneh –> This is an attention-grabbing word (“truly,” “behold!” or, as one of my seminary professors liked to translate it, “Shazaam!”). As with this line from Genesis, it’s not always directly translated in Hebrew, but those who read it in that original language would’ve known that whatever followed this distinctive word was critically important. So what follows this “hinneh” in our passage for today? I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you[3]
          • Hinneh = covenant is important, something worthy of serious, undivided attention –> God wants to make sure that we pay close attention to these words. This declaration of a covenant with “you and your descendants” not only promises God’s care, it also implies longevity. It implies that God has a vested interest not just in the well-being of Noah and his immediate family but also in the well-being of all those who came after … including us.
  • Next: Covenant of restoration –> From the waters of the flood to the waters of baptism …
    • Our New Testament passage is pretty clear – Peter: Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. … And this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you – not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ[4]
      • You see, Christ draws us to God through the waters of baptism, restoring a relationship which is as essential to our spiritual health as water is to our physical health.
        • So essential that we impart this blessing and this drawing-in on our children when they are just babies
          • Mark them for Christ
          • Welcome them into the family of faith –> provide them with an introduction to faith
            • Scholar: Above all, baptism enacts the power of Jesus Christ, who … has the ability to bring us to God. … 1 Peter calls us again to the utter seriousness of the sacrament – the mystery of faith conjoined with the mystery of Christ, gifts that lie too deep for words.[5]
    • Through our baptism, we are called to live into this gift, this mystery – NT text today describes Christ as being “alive in the Spirit”[6]
      • Now usually, with a passage like this, we want guidance – step-by-step instructions on what we actually need to do to be “alive in the Spirit.”
        • Out of luck – no explicit instructions
        • We each come to God with different circumstances, different joys and pains, and different gifts, so the ways that we can live into the mystery of Christ – the ways in which we become “alive in the Spirit” – will look different for each of us.
  • However, there is one thing that we all share – one particularly less-than-desirable habit: rebellion. –> NT passage speaks of those who “in former times did not obey”[7]
    • Now, Peter talks about Jesus making a proclamation to the people who perished during Noah’s flood. But we know as well as anybody that those people were not the only ones in all of history to have disobeyed God.
      • Countless examples found within the Bible
      • Countless examples found within our own day-to-day lives
        • Sometimes we just can’t act as though we are alive in the Spirit because we’re being held back by something – fear, confusion, doubt, anger, resentment, prejudice … for whatever reason, we don’t obey the firm but gentle pull of God on our hearts. We can’t respond to the thirst our souls have for God’s refreshing and renewing presence.
      • Fortunately, God is stronger – more patient, more forgiving, and more willing – than we could ever hope to be. Time and time again throughout the millennia, the power of both these covenants – the one for our well-being and the one for our restoration – have been tested, but they outlast all because of the strength of God’s love. –> proof is in Peter’s words: God waited patiently[8]
        • Gr = words for “waited eagerly” + “patiently” –> waiting like little kids wait with hands folded in their laps, trying to sit nicely but just can’t quite keep still – wiggling, twitching, squirming
          • This is certainly remarkable in and of itself – that God would wait for us – but even more remarkable considering that even in the midst of saving Noah and his family, even in the midst of establishing the covenant of baptism in the waters of the Jordan, God knew the people would fall again. –> just prior to OT passage today: the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth”[9]
            • Scholar: God’s internal musings make clear that God makes this move with eyes wide open, regarding human possibilities for evil; God remains a realist. But God cares so much for creation and its potential that God determines to take a new direction.[10] –> God recognized the pervasiveness of sin as well as our own weakness, so God gave us a new direction – a pure direction –  in the grace and salvation of Christ.
    • God waits for us, not calmly and quietly but with an eager anticipation. Even when we rebel and disobey, even when we feel far away from God or when we feel like we want to be far away from God, all God wants is to be near us … and deep down, we know that’s what we want, too. It’s kind of like our bodies’ need for water. We know we’re supposed to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day, but do we? Probably not. We quench our thirst with anything but that essential element that our bodies truly crave. We test how far our bodies can go without it. But when we finally take that long-desired drink of nice, cold, clear, refreshing water, we wonder why we waited so long.
      • Reminds me of our niece and nephews taking baths – When they have to stop what they’re doing – stop playing or coloring or watching a movie or whatever – they don’t want to take a bath. –> Eileen’s solution: “in & out baths” (explain)
        • The funny thing is, once they get in that water, the kids’ “in and out bath” usually turns into a good, long, warm, cleansing soak because they’re having so much fun. And when you think about it, are we really so different in our relationship with God? Sometimes, we want to focus on doing our own thing, but when we are reminded of the love and acceptance that God has for us, we decide we want to luxuriate in the warmth and security of that love and the refreshment and renewal that we find in God’s arms. That’s why God made those covenants with us – promises of well-being and restoration that are inextricably and intimately connected to water. By the waters of the flood, God says to us, “I will not forget you,” and through the waters of baptism, God says to us, “I will not abandon you.” Amen.

[1] Gen 6:5-6.

[2] Gen 7:20, 23a.

[3] Gen 9:9.

[4] 1 Pet 3:18, 21.

[5] Bartlett, 298.

[6] 1 Pet 3:18.

[7] 1 Pet 3:20.

[8] 1 Pet 3:20.

[9] Gen 8:21.

[10] Terence E. Frethem. “The Book of Genesis: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 1. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 402.