1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43 (Great text, but I do not reference it)
We surrender our center space and beg you come occupy it.
We thank you for changing us so that our leadership in your mission is worth following.
One Sunday, a pastor was approached by a group of people unfamiliar with Jesus or scripture, and who wanted to join the church. The pastor was happy to welcome them, and offered to lead an introductory study on the gospel of Mark to help them understand what they were getting themselves into. Come one class time, the group reaches Jesus calming the storm; the pastor invited them to discuss the ‘storms’ Jesus might calm in their lives. After a long, uncomfortable silence, a man asked, “Do you mean Jesus actually calmed the wind and sea?” The pastor replied, “Yes, but we should not get hung up on the details of the miracle. We should remember that Jesus can calm the storms in our lives.” Another long, awkward silence followed. Eventually, another person said, “Well, if Jesus calmed the wind and the waves, he must be a very powerful man!” The participants suddenly came alive, buzzing with excitement, entering into something like worship. Meanwhile, the Pastor found himself on the outside looking in. In his own words, the pastor so took Jesus for granted that he’d missed Him altogether.
I share this story because it shows our capacity to miss the mark. Sometimes, our biggest faith struggles come from us forgetting the nature and actions of God. In a sense, we have to remember to remember God. Our memory can erode over time, and –whether we realize it or not- our idea of God shrinks. We develop misplaced faith. Faith in our idea of God; not faith in God.
But we can also be completely sold on God, as exhibited by the members of the bible study; I sense a similar manifestation of faith in the Centurion you just heard of. He does not ask Jesus complex questions about marriage or salvation, or Cesar’s authority, nor does he inquire what he must do to obtain eternal life. He simply believes. He knows that Jesus is God! That His breath heals and transforms, that even sickness must bow to Him. This centurion –a ruler of at least 100 men, hence his title- has no backup plan; he is fully convinced. Even further, he realizes that so sovereign is Jesus that this centurion is not even worthy to welcome Him. There’s no mention of the centurion seeing Jesus face to face, and yet Jesus is astonished at the faith this man displays. Think about that for a minute. Did you know the Messiah experiences astonishment? That’s one thing I forget in my day-to-day life. I forget that God can be captivated by our faith.
I suspect this is the faith God desires of all of us. Recognizing and irrevocably accepting that Jesus is Lord. The beauty of this is that this faith does not have the prerequisites you might imagine. You need not a certain number of years experience following God, nor do you need an advanced degree –in fact, it’s often the educated who struggle-, and while a mountaintop experience is certainly encouraged, God meets you where you are now. God, who breathed creation into existence, is the same God who walked on this earth as a human, healing the sick and teaching those who listen.
But again, we sometimes falter. Our idea of God shrinks, and we mess up. Whoever helped craft this lectionary was on to something when they tied this account from Luke with the passage from Galatians. Most of the letters in the new testament begin with deep and profound encouragement, yet Paul starts this letter by telling the Galatians, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ (v. 6a)”. There’s that word again –astonishment; this time from the perspective of a human. It seems every Christ-follower has at some point crossed a threshold where –from their perspective- they feel they have erred too much to be redeemable. I know I’ve felt this before, and much like others, I find this issue compounded by spiritual weariness. It’s hard to stay diligent when you feel you’re beyond recovery.
Human beings can mess up. Think back to the Pastor for a minute; He was dead-set on Jesus, and yet –in his own words- he still misses the mark. How’s that for our capacity to err?
Yet this is not the end of the story; and whether you have a faith that has been broken and put back together multiple times, or one that is truly unshaken (if so, congratulations), here is where the mystery of God deepens even further.
When you find yourself distant from God, the response is not to dwell on your mistakes. Christ himself told His followers not to do that.
Think back to Peter for a minute. The disciple who denied Jesus 3 times the night of His imprisonment. After being resurrected, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him (John 21:15-19). When Peter replies “yes”, Jesus does not demand an explanation for his past mistakes. Instead, He says three times “Feed my sheep”. God, executed on our behalf, did not focus on Peter’s past. Rather, God beckons him to move forward and get to work. God forgives Peter, and God forgives you.
In that letter to the Galatians, Paul mentions their lack of faith multiple times, yet he realizes this is not the end of the story. In the course of this letter –which is not very long- Paul emphasizes the weight of their grievances, and then guides them past it and gets them refocused on their mission as Christ-followers. At one point, he writes, “You are all sons [and daughters] of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ Jesus have clothed yourselves with Christ (3:26-27)”. A whole community distanced themselves from God, but that does not de-validate their identity as Christians. God forgives the Galatians, and God forgives you.
Two weeks ago, we celebrated Pentecost, what can loosely be thought of as the birthday of the Church. This celebration of God bestowing His Holy Spirit onto His followers, allowing them to grow in the full stature of Christ, is another way God blurs the perceived boundaries of heaven and earth, allowing us to experience Him in a new intimate way.
|Yes, I referenced a meme in a sermon. Believe.|
I first read the beginning story in Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry by Rick Lawrence, pg. 13.