October 6, 2019, Seminarian Greg Baker
Sermon preached by Greg Baker, Seminarian
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (track 2)
(This sermon was not recorded due to a glitch in our recording process.)
I will stand at my watch post, and station myself on the rampart…look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.
We’re all here this morning because we believe something. No matter where you are on your faith journey, whether just beginning or in your final chapter, something drew us all here today.
As Christians, we often talk about our faith. We’ll talk of our baptisms, the good things in our lives, maybe even our conversion experiences or where we see God each day. We do this with each other and when we listen to someone tell us about where they saw God, we might realize you had a similar experience. Oh – you felt that too! These stories, this sharing can help reinforce our faith.
But in my experience, we are less comfortable talking about when things aren’t going so well. In some circles, there can even be a little stigma in admitting that your faith is being challenged, that what you thought you believed in is wavering or that you’re having a hard time finding, hearing, or seeing God. And these tougher times are as sure to happen as the easier ones. What does it mean to have faith in these moments?
Scripture has some answers for us. We hear in Habakkuk of someone who is calling out to God – “And there is suffering and loss involved –And yet Habakkuk stands at his watch post, – because the righteous live by faith.
Our psalm talks about faith to – “put your trust in the lord and do good…wait patiently for him.”
It seems that integral to being faithful is the idea that sometimes there’s some waiting involved. Habakkuk is waiting for the appointed time – some day in the future when things might get better. “how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?” “destruction and violence is before me, the law becomes slack, and never prevails, he laments. But instead of throwing in the towel, takes his place and waits for the appointed time.
Our own experience probably affirms this, right? Waiting for something to get better, to find someone or something that will improve our current situation. Waiting is hard work. Having faith that there is a greater power at work, that God will step in, can test us. We find ourselves in the wilderness and everything around us looks the same – there is no clear indicator of which way to go, or which horizon which the sun might rise over. “Increase our faith” we might cry with the disciples.
Right after college, I moved to Boston to do a year of service work with the Episcopal Service corps. It was a pretty desolate time in my life – the first year out in the real world, no matter when it comes, can be pretty tough. I really didn’t like my work, and I can tell you that if anything is going to challenge your faith in humanity, it is sharing a home with 7 other people. I had also taken that year to figure out whether I was being called towards ordained ministry. And for long stretches of that year, I felt totally adrift. I was waiting – for a sign from God, hoping for a sign that I couldn’t even describe. Waiting for assurance that I was in the right place, that I was on the right path, that my community was going to be ok. I wanted certainty, from anyone or anything, it didn’t matter. And when it didn’t come, I convinced myself it was because I didn’t have enough faith – in myself, in my friends, in my God. Increase my faith!! I implored – if I only had more of it, things would be ok.
I wonder if you have ever found yourself in a time like this. Maybe it was in the past. Maybe it is right now.
Often these moments cause doubt, fear, uncertainty, or even suffering. And all of our readings this morning reference – directly or indirectly – suffering. It seems almost a pre-requisite to faith. But we should be careful here to not glorify suffering. This is the same tactic used by the hateful – you must suffer, they say, – look, it says so in scripture. You have to suffer to prove your worth, to prove that you really believe– take up your cross.
But faith is not defined by this. It is not defined by suffering, because it’s source is the same God “who saved us and called us with a holy calling,” Paul says. Because faith is a gift from God. We cannot lay any claim upon it – it originates from God. And when Jesus says, “So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’” he is not making an argument supporting slavery, but instead telling us that faith involves obedience not to any master of the world, but to him alone, and that we have to trust that gift is going to take us somewhere. It is of God, and we cannot make it ours. All we can do is use the faith given to us to listen to where it might lead us.
But, the hard part about having faith in God is that we don’t always know what God is up to, or what the “where” is. This holy calling takes discernment, prayer, and sometimes some sitting the dark before the light bulb goes off. But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t there. God is always working – always working God’s purpose out through us, even if it isn’t obvious or evident to our own eyes. Where is God leading you?
These moments, when we’re waiting to figure out what is going to happen, I think of as Holy Saturdays. There are plenty of Good Fridays in life, and plenty of Easter Sundays too. But they’re often sudden moments. The time in between – the Holy Saturday time – fills longer stretches of our lives. We sit in the dark, waiting. And this is when God is most at work. And we have to hold on to the fact that we know the end of the story – that after Holy Saturday, comes Easter. It always comes. That is the foundation of our faith – that Easter. Always. Comes. The appointed day, always. Comes.
Habakkuk knows this – I will stand at my watch post, I will wait for the appointed time, and if it seems to tarry, I will live by the faith that it will come. For “I know the one in whom I’ve put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have given to him – myself.
I know in whom I’ve put my trust – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sara, Rebecca and Leah and Rachel, the God of Israel who came down from heaven for me, who preached for me, who said, follow, who died – for me, for you, for us.
I know the one in whom I put my trust is the same God that trusted me with the gift of faith – The God who accompanies in all seasons – who came down from heaven because God had faith in us. That is in whom we’ve put our trust, and in whom we have faith.
In the verses before our Gospel this morning, Jesus gave his disciples some pretty challenging tasks. They can’t be blamed for responding, increase our faith! But what they didn’t understand is that they already had everything they needed. “if you had the faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this tree, be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you.” Jesus says. The most minute little grain of faith, even when faced with challenge and difficulty, is still enough.
He says “I hear you” when we’re in a Holy Saturday moment, because he has already drawn us by faith into his life. Sometimes we also say, “increase our faith!” But we too have everything we need. God is working through that faith, big or small, in the good times and the bad. God will never abandon you, even when that faith is challenged. And when uncertainty does strike, when Holy Saturdays do come, God is there more than ever.