Faith on the Installment Plan
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Matthew 4: 12 – 23. Focus on how human beings come to faith in Christ. Why Doing and Following are the keys.
The fact that you came in here today puts you with millions, in fact billions of other human beings who believe there is something bigger, other than, you and me who is ultimately in charge of our existence and destiny. Most of us call this “other than thing” God, which is acknowledge in one form or another in every culture on this earth. In fact National Geographic has Morgan Freeman traveling the world doing a series on it entitled: In Search of God.
To the questions around purpose and ultimate meaning the Christian religion says that all those questions: “Who am I? Why am I here? And what becomes of me when I die?”… All these are answered by the life of Jesus, which have been summarized in creeds like the Apostle’s Creed. A creed we will be saying during Austin’s baptism.
But that’s not where faith begins. For the gospel writers and for us faith began this way:
Jesus went along the shore of Lake Galilee, and saw two brothers who were fishermen, Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, catching fish. Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will teach you to catch men.” At once they left their nets and went with him.
Now these first Christ followers couldn’t possibly know what they were getting into. He didn’t give them any references or credentials, didn’t show them his seminary degree, no stump speech outlining what his program was or even who he was.
And that’s the way the church started. No action plan. No three weeks of new member classes. No market research. No mission study. No employment contract. No list of doctrines. No Book of Order. Jesus didn’t explain anything.
All he said was Follow me. And instead of a plan he gave them hints and clues, bits and pieces, parables and perplexities, which he dropped along the way, and demonstrated in his everyday life how to know God and how to act toward everyone else.
Clue: A man was very successful, thought he had to build bigger barns to store his stuff. So he said, “At last I’ve got enough to feel secure and take it easy. I can finally retire. From now on it’s eat, drink and be merry.
But the poor fool – well he died that night. So it is for anybody not rich toward God. Oh, I get it; you mean there are things more important than getting richer and richer.
Clue: You’ve heard in your law you should not commit adultery. But I’m telling you don’t lust in your heart – it’s the same thing. What?
Hint: What’s God like? He’s like a father who took horrible insults from his son, but welcomed him back with open arms.
Hint: A man got mugged, badly mugged. Three good citizens wouldn’t stop to help, but a man from another denomination that you despise, did. Oh, so the Samaritan was a good guy! I get it you want us to be like him.
And many more clues and hints of what God is like and expects us to be like were revealed along the way. In time these ordinary men and women began to understand, little by little, what following this man was all about. They didn’t always get it, sometimes they acted with selfish motives, but they learned what it meant to follow him by following.
Little by little they grew in faith and wisdom as they caught on through his words and ways. In short, they got it on the installment plan. And so do we.
So here’s the sequence: first you follow, then you commit. You listen to the talk then you walk it. You learn a lesson, do a lesson, teach a lesson. These are the steps of faith. Don’t be discouraged; you’ll get the hang of it. One step forward, maybe two back. Then the next time two forward and one back. You’ll get better and better at it with each step, just don’t quit, keep trying.
Most of us didn’t arrive at faith by serious study. We arrived at it by having had an encounter with God in some way. He isn’t going to beat you over the head or force you to believe. He’s just going to ask you to follow.
If you want to have a life that is meaningful, sustaining, and satisfying you have to risk living it – just like the first four – Peter, Andrew, James and John did. Every one of us starts the trip off without knowing how it’s going to work out. That’s very scary, but it’s the essence of faith – to follow without knowing all the answers, to learn as you go.
“Yes Lord, I hear you tell me I shouldn’t be anxious about the outcome, but I still am, although it’s a little better today than it was yesterday. Show me how to handle the stress and anxiety. Yes Lord, I hear you tell me that I can trust you to care for all my needs, but I’m still going to protect my family as best as I can. So help me get the balance right.”
Don’t worry if you’ve got more questions than answers about this. Think of the disciples, who often seemed to miss the point. Just keep trying to pick up on the clues. (For that you will need to read the Gospels and trust your experience). You’ll get better at it as you do it. After all that’s what our baptism is all about saying I’ve decided to follow Christ and learning to trust him with all of your life as you go. Amen