Faith Precedes Belief

Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Matthew 4: 12 – 23.  Focus on how and it’s so important to follow Jesus before you come to belief in him!  Why Doing is the Key to Believing.  Check out Kelly Crandell & the choir following the sermon.

The fact that you’re here today puts you with millions, in fact billions of other human beings who believe there is something other than, you and me who is ultimately in charge of our lives. Most of us call this “other thing” God, which is acknowledged in one form or another by every culture on this earth.

As a result of this – hundreds of religions or belief systems have come into being with the purpose of appeasing, praising and petitioning this big Super Being so that we might find out what this Being wants of us. And because it’s hard to believe in the abstract, most of us use a personal pronoun, usually “He.”

And it is the Christian religion that says that all the questions of what this Being wants from us and what this Being promises us can be found and answered in the life of one person – Jesus of Nazareth.

The answers we’ve come up with have been carefully crafted into statements called Creeds, which are the human attempt to spell out the essentials of what we call proper belief or orthodoxy. Most of our creeds were born out of controversy, such as the effort to settle the argument in the first centuries of whether Jesus was fully human, or fully divine, or some of both. (i.e. the Nicene & Apostle’s creeds)

But Christianity did not get its start with a creed, or a set of proposition. The Christian faith started with a bodily experience, not a list of things to believe. Just look at our story.

Jesus went along the shore of Lake Galilee, and saw to 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 road map he gave them hints and clues, bits and pieces of life, parables and perplexities, which he dropped along the way. All designed to show them how everyday life was supposed to be lived in relation to God and neighbor.

Hey Andrew here’s a clue regarding your question about money and its use: 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. And all that stuff he had accumulated who’s is it now? “Oh, I get it; you mean there are things more important than getting rich.”

Hey Peter. You’ve heard the Bible say that you should not commit adultery. But I’m telling you that if you lust in your heart it’s the same thing. “Are you kidding Lord?”

Hey James you were asking what God’s like. Here’s a clue: He’s like a father who took horrible insults from his son, and yet when he returned home he welcomed him back, killed a fatted calf and threw a block party for him?

John you were asking about your neighbor the other day. I’ll give you a hint: A man got mugged, badly mugged. Three good citizens wouldn’t stop to help, but a man from a religion you hate, not only stopped to help. He took him to a hospital. “Oh I get it Lord, so the Samaritan was a good guy! Are we to be like that?”

And the more these ordinary fishermen followed him the more he revealed through parables, hints and clues what God is like and what God expects from us. And after three years of following him, watching him, listening to him, doing what he told them to do, these ordinary men and women began to understand, little by little, what this new emerging religion was all about. They didn’t always get it right, sometimes they acted with selfish motives, sometimes they acted like cowards, but little by little they learned what it meant to follow him by following.

And it’s been working that way ever since. And it will work that way for you too. So here’s the sequence: first you commit, you say yes, then you follow, then you start learning what he wants you to learn by walking the talk you hear on Sunday.

These are the steps of faith. One step forward, maybe two steps back. Then the next time two forward and one back. You’ll get better at it with each step. The key is just not to quit. When you fail and you will, just pick yourself up and start again.

You see most of us didn’t arrive at faith through serious Bible study. We arrived at it by having had an encounter with God in some way. And this is the thing about God. God isn’t going to beat you over the head or force you to come along for the ride. He’s just going to ask you to come and 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. I’m sure it was scary for them just as it’s scary for us, but that’s what faith is – to follow without knowing all the answers, to learn as you go.

“Yes Lord, I heard you when you told 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 when you said 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. Just keep paying attention to the clues he scatters along the way. He’ll mention them every week in the stories we’ll read aloud together. You’ll get better at it as you commit to it. And you’ll be in for the most wonderfully liberating, adventure you’ve ever had.

Besides what other journey comes with an eternal lifetime guarantee? Amen

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