Living Our Faith

By The Rev. A. Wayne Schwab

[Pentecost 3, Year C, 6/13/10; RCL, 2 Samuel 11/26-12:10, 13-15; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3; Trinity Church, Plattsburgh, NY.]

I had the good fortune to do some intensive work on the ministry of Christians in daily life with Professor Louis Weil, an authority on Christian formation.

He likes to tell about his first confirmation class.  A real estate man was in it.  He had a bad reputation as a chiseler.  He always found a way to take the buyer and the seller for some extra bucks beyond his commission. [This is not an attack on the real estate profession.  I grew up in it.  My father provided for us by his hard and honest work in real estate.]

Louis asked the man to come in.
“I hear from some people that you are not always honest in your deals.  Should I worry about that?  You know that you will reaffirm your baptismal promise to ‘strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every human being.”

The man shrugged his shoulders and said, “I do things my own way.  What’s that got to do with confirmation?”

We can laugh or be shocked.

Yet that is the issue.   We are to live our faith – not just say some routine words and be on our way to live as we want.  We are to live as Jesus’ followers – honest and avoiding cheating in business – in all of life.

  •  That is one of the themes in today’s readings.
  •  The collect prays for living our faith.
  •  David had stolen Uriah’s wife.  Nathan finds a way to confront him.
  •  The psalmist advises youth to confess their wrongdoing.
  •  Paul advises against letting yourself be found a law-breaker – a sinner.
  •  Simon, the Pharisee, did not bother with the simplest gestures of hospitality toward Jesus.
  •  What really counts is how we live from Monday to Saturday.  That’s what God is really looking at.

It’s so easy to forget that we must live the faith seven days a week wherever we are.
We can miss that truth a number of ways.

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One way is to center on spirituality – to center on experiences of God as what really counts.  Sensing the presence of God in daily life is to be valued.  However, God’s presence always comes with God’s call to some action to make the world a more loving or just place.  It’s easy to miss that call to action.  It’s easy to seek the spiritual life as an end in itself.  Sure, feel God’s presence with some special way to sit – some special way to breathe – some special way to pray.  Then go on to ask what God wants you to do.   The quest for spiritual experience is big today.  But, have the spiritually renewed gone on to change the world?

William Sloan Coffin put it well: “Beware of being so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good.”

Is your spiritual life making you more loving at home and more just in talking the public issues of food stamps and the minimum wage?

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Another way we miss living our faith Monday to Saturday lies in what we come to church for.  What do we come to church for?  We can come to be reassured that God loves us, period.  We do, surely, need to be forgiven and to be reassured of God’s love.  Some of us have been so damaged that is about all we know to ask for.  Some of us need a whole lot of affirmation before we can think about making our community more open and inclusive; before we can think about correcting some injustice at work; before joining some group to limit the power of corporations.

God is love.  Still, God is also justice.  God calls us to move beyond our need to be loved to begin to love others.

Margaret, had needed a strong sense that God loved her and she had found it.  She was content to be a good wife and mother and loyal church member helping with the food shelf.  Her study group gave this homework: what do you believe God wants you to do in your neighborhood?  All week Margaret said to her friend, “I have no interest in my neighborhood.  That is a blank for me.”  Not until it was her turn to report did she get an idea.  “The parking lot at the corner convenience store is full of cigarette butts and litter.  I’m going to clean it up.”  Clean it she did.  And, in time, others noticed the parking lot looked better and they began to use the trash cans.  And Margaret kept at it.

It’s a simple story of a person who found herself loved by God and found a way to love those around her by giving them a more pleasant place to shop.

Helen has a more dramatic story.  Her father deserted her when she was a child.  Forced to work and run the home, her mother had little time with Helen.  Helen even felt deserted by God.  She needed a lot of reassurance that God really did love her.  Church was the place she found that reassurance.  As her confidence grew, she remembered her mother’s hard life.  She saw one way she could help single mothers and their children.  She could start a day care center in her town.  Some government funds were available to help.  She went to work.  Her pastor gave her some leads.  I was with the pastor the day Helen phoned.  “That day care center will open in a month.  Will you come to pray for us on opening day?”

Helen had heard God’s call along with God’s reassurance.  Having found love, she looked for a way to love others.  She named the center Bethel House – literally House of God House.  She ran it as a place where – with an eye of faith – you could see God’s love at work.

*    *     *

One more story – this one of a father – in church every Sunday – who had taken his oldest son, a twelve-year-old to a counselor.  He will discover something God wants him to do.  His son had broken into a neighbor’s house.  What for?  The counseling revealed that, unconsciously, the boy was looking for a sign of affection from his father.  The counselor gave the father this advice.  “You have four children.  You need to spend one hour each week with each one.  Alone.”  That was four hours a week for this busy father.  The father winced.  And began to do it!  It was not always a full hour but each child got his or her time alone with him each week.

That was Jesus’ work in this father.  This father prayed for power to do it.  Jesus gave it.  And he and his four children and his wife were blessed 30-fold, 60-fold, a 100-fold!

*    *    *

Eucharistic Prayer C says it well: “Deliver us from coming to this table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.”

We come to Jesus’ table not just to be cared for.  We, surely, will be cared for.  We come most fully to be empowered for mission.  You and I come to offer the whole of our lives to God – all of it – our home life, our work life, our part in community life, our life in our nation, our leisure time activity, our spiritual quest, as well as our church life.  There’ll be a piece of bread that represents each one of us on this table in a few minutes.  See all of your life there – all seven of your mission fields.  And when we hold it up, offering it to God, God adds his life to it.  When that piece of bread is put in your hands, it’s your life given back to you.  Now the power of Jesus’ life is added to your life – to every part of your life – your home life, your work life, your part in your community’s life, your life in our nation, your leisure time activity, your quest for spiritual health, as well as your life in the church.  You and I go out of here empowered by the power of Jesus to live Jesus’ mission to make each part of our worlds more loving and more just.

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Do you feel burdened by the seven-mission fields?  You are already doing something in each of them.  In some you will keep on doing what you are doing already.  In others, you’ll find simple things to do.  It may be like Margaret – to pick up the cigarette butts in the parking lot.  It may be like Helen who opened the day care center.  It may be like the father who learned to spend time each week with each of his four sons and daughters.

Jesus will carry you on his shoulder.  He is the shepherd who will find you; put you on his shoulder and carry your home – home to each part of your daily life as one of his people – on mission to make each of your worlds more loving and more just.

Your need for spiritual experience will be met along the way to being some “earthly good.”

Your need to be cared for, will be met as you are sent to care for every one of your worlds!

[The Rev. A. Wayne Schwab; Coordinator of Member Mission Network, In., President of Member Mission Press, Chair of the Spiritual Formation Committee for the United Church of Hinesburg, VT, Author, Speaker, and Workshop Leader.]