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Jesus is Faithful

Jesus Is Really Good - Sermon #5: Jesus is Faithful

Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • March 13, 2016 • Julius Buzzard, Welcome, Outreach & College Director

 

Preamble

Good morning and welcome to the Vineyard!

 

We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. No matter how many times you have visited with us, we are honored and excited that you are a part of our community—grateful for your presence as we continue to move through this season of Lent. Our simple prayer for you is that you would experience peace, welcome, and acceptance.

 

I’m Julius Buzzard! I’m the Welcome, Outreach, & College Director here at the church and for me to unpack exactly what that means would be a sermon in and of itself; what it really means is that I’m lucky enough to serve with each of you, creating a deeper community here at the Vineyard and working towards a better Washtenaw County.

 

Introduction

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been digging into our Lenten series “Jesus Is Really Good.” In this sermon series, we have been using the scriptures to inspire, encourage and nudge us into taking little leaps of faith during Lent. We also want to focus on the sheer and surprising Goodness of Jesus. We sometimes forget that through all the suffering, loss, and daily hassles of life that God is ultimately, chronically, and refreshingly good.

 

Following in the themes this years Lenten journey, today we will discover the ways how “Jesus is Faithful.”

 

Alternate titles for today’s sermon include: The Stubborn Messiah, Jesus is Just Alright, From Fear to Faith, Is It Really 11am Already, The Real Life of Pablo, What Now, and When All Hope is Lost. Don’t worry, we’re sticking a bit closer this morning as we navigate the truth that “Jesus is Faithful.”

 

Last week Shane Claiborne, (a Christian activist and author who is a leading figure in the New Monasticism movement and one of the founding members of the intentional community “The Simple Way” in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) visited with us and shared stories of contemporary communities who are living with beautiful creativity (and sometimes getting in a little trouble for it)— expressing what it means to live life as we see in modeled in life of Jesus.

 

Faithfulness of a Near Saint

While Shane was here, he began to introduce us to a woman whom I often find myself looking towards for guidance, Mother Teresa. Before her death in 1997, Mother Teresa was one of the worlds most undisputed spiritual icons—like St. Francis or Gandhi, her name, life and acts of compassion were etched into the very fabric of society.

 

Mother Teresa was born in Macedonia, but spent the vast majority of her life in Calcutta, India where she devoted her life to poor, sick, and needy. In 1979 she was awarded the Nobel peace prize for her dedication. She has inspired hundreds of others to do the same through founding the Missionaries of Charity, an organization which pioneered hospice care and continues to care for refugees, ex-prostitutes, the mentally ill, sick, abandoned children and many more.

 

She continued to inspire others around the world through her writing and speaking. As I came into understanding my faith for the first time, I was inspired by her sweet simple words, saying: “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

 

Because of her unwavering and awe-inspiring faith and devotion, It’s no surprise that she is now on a fast track to the becoming a saint in the Catholic church.

 

The faith of Mother Teresa is clear. It is easy for me to see and label “faith” in another person, but honestly I struggle to define it for myself. I’ve found myself wrestling with the concept of “faith” in times where I struggle to experience God.

 

And so I nudge you to ask yourself, -“what is faith?”

 

When coming to a definition, it is easy to seek a dictionary, polling friends, or even tweeting a few celebrities; but none of these methods will satisfy the pangs in minds. Faith, as marked out by history, is defined the “already and not yet” nature of the living God—it is a frustratingly unclear definition. Yet Jesus demonstrates what faith is. He does this by living a life that is utterly dependent on God.

 

Jesus’ faithfulness is unwavering, steadfast, and strong.

 

As we dive in and take a look at what Jesus’ faithfulness looks like I invite you to turn to Mark 4, we’ll be hanging out there for the majority of the morning, it will also be on the screen behind me—or you can listen along as I attempt to draw us deeper into a likely familiar story.

 

I wrote this paraphrase of the text as if one of the disciples were telling the story as it happened, as if it were a story they could not keep to themselves once they got to land, rather than as it was remembered.

 

Jesus Calms the Storm (Mark 4:35-41)

After a very long day, Jesus finally gave us the signal that it was time to go. I know he must have been tired—I was beat, and had only been standing by as he taught all day. Quickly, we piled into the boat with Jesus and let the other boats follow along as we set sail.

You won’t believe our luck with the weather though! It wasn’t long before the skies began to grow dark and the winds picked up. And trust me, of all the places in the world, the sea of Galilee is the last one you want to be during a storm! It’s a small, shallow sea—200 feet deep at the most, if we had been caught at just the right time with the wind, we would have been sent hurdling towards the seabed almost immediately—I saw it happen once!

Waves were breaking into the boat causing us to become weighed down by oncoming water. Myself and all the others were panicked, bailing water and preparing for the worst. Everyone except for Jesus, that is. We went looking for Jesus only to find him asleep in the stern!

I don’t even know how he remained asleep while we were sloshing so violently back and forth. We woke him and asked “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” What happened next was incredible! He came to his feet and said “Peace! Be still!” and there was a calm over all the sea!

Let me tell you what, it sure was awkward after he asked why we were afraid…not only were the waters calm, we were also—the rest of our trip was completely silent.

 

A Tale of Danger

This is not simply a tale of danger and rescue, it is a proclamation of God’s presence and power here on the earth; “God’s kingdom at hand!” Though, as we look at scripture as a whole we realize it is a story of something even greater.

 

Think of Jonah. Instead of doing what God told him, he was sailing away in the wrong direction; a great storm arose, which was only calm when, at his prompting, the sailors threw him overboard. Or, what about the Israelites and their escape from Egypt. With Pharaoh and his army close behind them, God created a pathway by splitting the seas for them.

 

For the Jews, the sea represented the dark power of evil. It threatened to destroy God’s good creation, God’s people and purpose.

 

The forces of evil are roused, angry and threatening, but Jesus is so confident of God’s presence and power that he can fall asleep on a pillow. Unlike Jonah, he is not running away from God’s command—in faith, he is doing exactly what the living God wants.

 

Have You Still No Faith?

The disciples had spent all day with Jesus, listening to him teach the people. He shared with them the parable of the sower, the story of a lamp under a basket, the parable of the growing seed, and of the mustard seed. What's more, at the end of the day the disciples received even more detailed explanations around each of these stories, explanations which we do not even have. We know this because Mark 4:33-4 reads:

 

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

Mark 4:33-4

 

I often wonder what it would be like to be there when Jesus explains “everything.” Would it be overwhelming? Or maybe confusing? Would I even trust that there is not something more he was hiding?

 

In any case, the disciples had every resource they could possible ask for at their fingertips. This must have made Jesus’ final statement of the trip an incredibly painful one.

 

“Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

 

That hit hard. You know how sometimes what is actually said and what we hear differs? I imagine this as one of those times, with the disciples hearing something more like:

 

”Come on guys. Remember a few hours ago when before we left? We spent all day talking about my fathers kingdom—it's not powerless like the kingdoms of other pagan idols! It's a kingdom which seeks to restore Israel & rescue the people of God! What do I have to do for you guys to get it!”

 

What Comes in the Way of Faith?

What comes in the way of faith? What caused Jesus to walk swiftly, in line with the storm while Jonah fled straight into it? What was different between Jesus’ response and the disciples, in the midst of the storm?

 

Fear.

 

Fear is the most significant enemy of faith. It was fear that overcame the disciples as they crossed over the Sea of Galilee and it is fear that has the ability to strip us of our faith.

 

Why would faith evoke a reaction of fear within us?

While I was in college, I had the joy of serving at Camp Carl, a Christian camp outside of Akron, Ohio (forgive me, I’m still a Wolverine). Back when I was still an intern here at the church, the camp’s director called me and asked if I’d consider coming down and facilitating the ropes courses for a week. Seeing the opportunity as a chance to relive life as as a camp counselor one last time, I jumped on it immediately.

 

Over the course of the week I laughed, cried, swam in synchronization to “Jump On It,” reconnected with old friends, shared Jesus with middle schoolers and provided a safe experience for countless youth as they rock climbed and executed other high ropes activities.

 

Though each of these experiences are special to me, I will always remember one in particular above all the others. We were in the middle of the woods doing a high ropes activity called the pamper pole. During this activity, the participant would climb somewhere between 50 and 70 feet to the top of a telephone pole. Once they reached the top there is about a ten feet jump to a trapeze. A simple pulley system connected to the facilitator (which is me) was there to catch anyone who falls or lets go.

 

I’d done this hundreds of times, but today was different.

 

My camper climbed to the top of the pole, looked to the ground, and leaped into the air. The pulley snapped, sending the kid hurling towards the ground with nothing to stop his accelerating fall other than my own strength.

 

What was remarkable to me though was that other kids wanted to continue with the activity. They couldn’t see or tell that there was a human on the ground who will catch them once they fall. They literally wanted to jump blindly with trust that I would catch them. This is the faith I believe Jesus was longing for in the disciples when he asked that painstaking question.

 

In Hebrews chapter eleven, verse one, we read that…

 

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

Hebrews 11:1

 

Faith requires us the exhibit and unabashed sense of trust in a God whom, at any given point, we cannot tangibly see, feel, hear our touch—it is the conviction of things not seen. When faith is our confidence, fear has no jurisdiction.

 

This is the first reason faith tends to evoke a sense of fear in us, and the second is like it: we long for control. We long to manipulate situations, to remain cool and calm, we hope to be able to contain all of the power in any given situation.

 

Or at least I do. It’s sometimes difficult to rely on another human being who I can see and hold accountable for their actions! I often fall into the trap of carrying the full weight, rather than sharing it with those who are around me so I don’t need to rely on anyone other than myself.

 

Letting go isn’t easy. It is not only a test but a testament of our faith. This is the type of faithfulness we see modeled in the life of Jesus Christ. As the storm came upon the ship, Jesus did not fear, knowing that the God of the universe was in control. He did not grasp for a power or control that he knew was not his, but called upon it from God, with complete faith in an answer.

 

The Good News of Faith

Faithfulness as we see and experience in Jesus, and as we are called to ourselves is a type of good news that has the potential consequences of changing us, our families, communities, and the world—I don’t think it is possible to over sell this idea.

 

Our community sees the power of faith in stories of our friends in families, we see it even as we pray with and for one another in this very church. Each week we receive and lift up the prayers of our congregation and we join alongside you, asking God, in faith to bless his children—often he shows up. We’ve seen remedied diagnosis, mended relationships, safety, comfort, and love come though our prayers every week.

 

God wants to do great things for, through, and within us. We hear from the psalmist just what making the Lord our dwelling place, in faith, means. Chapter 91 reads:

 

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—

the Most High, who is my refuge—

no evil shall be allowed to befall you,

no plague come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you

to guard you in all your ways.

Psalm  91:9-11

 

What do we do when we do not feel this protection, when feel like evil may have its way with us? What does faith look like when God doesn’t feel real? These are real questions that we often wrestle with—I know I have not felt this hedge of protection in my life for portions of a time. Sometimes, in the face of joblessness, poverty, illness, discrimination, and injustice, it would seem as if God isn’t protecting us in these ways.

Mama T

It wasn’t until five years after Mother Teresa’s death that her complete papers and diaries were (against her dying will) published. What was revealed in these papers came as a shock to many, and has caused some to challenge the canonization of her as a saint. In these papers, she recorded feelings of despair and loneliness.

 

One of her reflections reads:

 

I did not know that love could make one suffer so much . . .
of pain human but caused by the divine.
The more I want him, the less I am wanted. 
I want to love him as he has not been loved,
and yet there is that separation, that terrible
emptiness, that feeling of absence of God. 

They say people in hell suffer eternal pain because
of the loss of God . . .
In my soul I feel just this terrible pain of loss,
of God not wanting me, of God not being God,
of God not really existing.
That terrible longing keeps growing, and I feel as if
something will break in me one day.
Heaven from every side is closed.

I feel like refusing God.

 

For forty years, Mother Teresa continued to care for the poor and dying even when she no longer felt the presence of God. Reflecting further on her experience, she wrote “as for me the silence & emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen but do not hear.” Although she may have been gripped by the fear that God might not be there, she continued what she did do in the name of Jesus.

 

This is what faithfulness looks like.

 

Recap Faith

This is the type of faith I began to experience in my campers. It’s the faith Jesus was asking for from the disciples, and the faith we see modeled throughout his life.

 

In the Garden of Gethsemane we come face to face with Jesus, fearfully pleading for deliverance from his death which was surely to come. Jesus worked through his fear to adopt a faithful response to what God is calling him into.

Faith is not about living a life of religious confidence, but about living a life of spiritual discipline. Living a life of faith would be obvious if we always felt the power of angels surrounding us, but faith in the obvious is science and not really faith at all. Faith in the living God takes us past our our rocky storms and darkest nights—it holds on and calls us beyond ourselves and our feelings.

 

Faithfulness, at is core is difficult to define. This is because it is only the strength to press on in faithfulness that confirms it. Our path of faith is not one decorated with continuous miracles, but marked by our consistent adherence the our commission to "pick up our cross and follow Christ.”

 

Practical Tip

Faith is a catalyst for change, both subtle and large. God can and will change our very community for the better, using us as instruments of grace—for those of us who are embedded in this community, it is through firm & unwavering faith that we will be moved to a greater Washtenaw County.

 

So for today’s practical tip, I am going to ask you to first, carefully examine what you are currently faithful to. It’s easy to find ourselves devoted to exercise, a significant other, work, a sport or hobby, or a number of other things, and if we do not first analyze them, there is little hope of moving forward. It may be a helpful start to look at the ways in which you spend your time and money—there your priorities lie.

 

As you surrender these things to God, prayerfully consider what it would look like to live a life marked by faith in the living God; how would our community be changed if you lived in this way? Make a list of three things you could try committing yourself to in pursuit of this. They could be anything from serving with the homeless ministry once a week to starting a garden and donating the food to food gatherers, to the way you live with and lead your family, the way you treat your coworkers. Use your gifts, get creative, and remember that it is not your work, but God’s.

 

Leaps of Faith Through Lent

In addition, I want to invite you to consider joining us in the leaps of faith we recognize throughout Lent.

  1. Identify and Pray for Your Six: We invite you to prayerfully select six people in your world to pray for each day. We suggest people just beyond your primary relationship circle.
  2. My Bold Request & The Answered Prayer Wall: Identify one thing you’d like to ask God to do for you and then ask daily. This is personal and a little selfish, in the sense that it’s for you. It could be something you really need right now or something you’ve always wanted.
  3. Get Baptized on Easter: In order to take hold of the salvation that Jesus won for us on the cross, we have to surrender our allegiance to sin and death. We must reject their claims on our life and turn our back on them. Baptism is more than the outward symbol of our loyalty to Jesus, it’s the place where we break solidarity with sin; we change our status, and enter the kingdom of God where we are no longer subject to the rule and reign of sin and death. Sign up at the Events Station in the Lobby.
 
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