10-23-11 Tests of Faith: Commitment

 Tests of Faith: Commitment

Last week I talked about the test of faith our congregation and our denomination has been going through as attendance drops and churches have to close, as Gladwyne UMC plans to this fall. We are not in so  dire a predicament here at St. Luke. Most churches would love to have the choices and resources that we have, but we also know that we have to reach out and grow our church or we will soon face the same problems some of these other churches are facing now. I called last week for a time of discernment in the three weeks leading up to the annual meeting of the church on Monday, November 7 and I have been talking to people to get your thoughts about possible ways we might go. I want to risk talking about one possibility this morning. Let’s be guided by this important reading from Matthew.

Matthew 22:34-46  When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. 35 One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: 36 “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?” 37 Jesus said, ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ 38 This is the most important, the first on any list. 39 But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ 40 These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”  41 As the Pharisees were regrouping, Jesus caught them off balance with his own test question: 42 “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said, “David’s son.”  43 Jesus replied, “Well, if the Christ is David’s son, how do you explain that David, under inspiration, named Christ his ‘Master’? 44 God said to my Master, “Sit here at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” 45 “Now if David calls him ‘Master,’ how can he at the same time be his son?”  46 That stumped them, literalists that they were. Unwilling to risk losing face again in one of these public verbal exchanges, they quit asking questions for good.

 Tests of Faith: Commitment

When my family went out to eat during my growing up years, my father had one basic criterion for the kind of food that we would go eat.  The food had to be American. He was not interested in Mexican food or Thai food or any of these other crazy foreign kinds of foods that are served in restaurants today.  He wanted to stick to American food, like spaghetti or something like that.

I came to feel sorry that he was missing a wide range of delicious tastes and cultures, but I tried to respect his particular preference for a certain kind of food. These days, I think people are getting a bit more adventurous. I loved it when our potlucks started to include Korean food and other cultural foods that dared us to experiment a little bit.

Somebody pointed out to me recently that some people fear eating something that is strange to them precisely because they are hungry. They know what hunger is like and they get scared to order something strange for fear that they will not like it and leave the table hungry. I guess the same thing happens somehow with associating with people we don’t know. We’re hungry for good company and we’re afraid to sit with new people because we’re not sure they will nurture us and help us.

Jesus commandments are so important to us because they challenge these fears directly. Jesus challenges us to love the Lord our God with all our passion and prayer and intelligence, and to love others as well as we love ourselves.

The Pharisees were trying to test Jesus.  They thought the Saducees really had him with that question about paying taxes to the hated government.  Now they try this other tack of asking him which law is the most important. The Pharisees had accumulated a bunch of laws to try to make sure they were following the original 10 to the letter.  They recognized 613 – 248 positive injunctions and 365 prohibitions. That’s a lot of laws to remember.

They were just trying to be good, you see. They were the good religious people of the day, trying their very best to be good people in the sight of God. They didn’t want to risk anything that would create a mess. They were scared and didn’t want to order anything that wouldn’t like and they would go away hungry. They were scared and they didn’t want to sit next to people who might not be able to help them out. They were scared and they wanted to have answers for every problem and question, so they could know that they were right.

When Jesus summed up all the 613 laws into 2, they must have been floored – not just because he avoided their trap, but because the simplicity of those 2 commands to love God and love neighbor pushed them out of their comfort zone and made them have to think about the world God created beyond themselves, and the people sitting next to them who could challenge their own view of that world.

We are the Pharisees, the good religious people trying our best. We don’t want to change our worship because it works for us. We’re afraid we might go away hungry if we try something different.

God bless St. Luke Church. I love this church. When I came here 15 years ago, folks told me that they knew the church needed to change. They just didn’t want it to happen too fast. Folks here have been extremely tolerant, as we have tried one thing and another over the years. You have supported children’s festivals, second services, jazz music in the summer, screens in worship, and all kinds of experiments.

I think it’s time to take a bigger risk. My vision of St. Luke is that we will build a Christian community where to nonreligious and nominally religious people become committed Christians. I see us creating an inclusive, multi-racial, multi-generational church community. To do that I think we need to make some changes that I will propose at our Church Council meeting on Wednesday evening. The Finance Committee accepted a proposal this week to increase our budget to hire a second musician for a year’s time, a musician who will lead a half hour praise and prayer service at the beginning of our morning celebration.  From 10 am to 10:30 am we will include the young people in this praise and prayer time and then we will have our regular worship time for another hour after that, a time which will also include some of this supplemental music.

As we begin our stewardship campaign this morning, I’m asking you to support a vision of a more inclusive, more faithful church. I’m challenging us to reach out beyond our comfort zones to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. I want us to create a time that young people from our community will want to come to and participate in. I’m asking you as the church to support this vision of a more inclusive, faithful church with your wallets, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. Surely as we celebrate God’s abundance by giving ourselves to God’s community, we will feel God’s new realm right here in our midst.

Responsive hymn: 2206 Without Seeing You