Faith Has A Job To Do
Spinning Gold from Straw - Sermon #04 - Faith Has A Job To Do
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • March 26, 2017 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
Introduction - Pastor, can you help? - Upset the equilibrium - Oops!
Let me tell you a story,
“Early one morning a man turned up at the house of his minister in tears, saying, ‘Please, can you help. A kind and considerate family in the area is in great trouble. The husband recently lost his job, and the wife cannot work due to health problems. They have three young children to look after, and the man’s mother lives with them because she is unwell and needs constant care. They have no money at the moment, and if they don’t pay the rent by tomorrow morning the landlord is going to kick them all onto the street, even though it’s the middle of winter.’
The minister replied, ‘That’s terrible. Of course we will help. I will go get some money from the church fund to pay their rent. Anyway, how do you know them?’
To which the man replied, ‘Oh, I’m the landlord.’ ”
Disconnecting Faith from Action - Danger! - analyzing the discrepancy - Ugh!
There’s a way of understanding the story that allows the landlord to assume he is a part of solution, he’s getting the minister to help this family in need, but what the landlord fails to realize is he is actually a part of the problem. This happens when we don’t confront the image of ourselves that assume we live by, and project to others. James gives us a clue here,
14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
The story of the landlord who gets the pastor to intervene has stuck with me since I first heard it in 2009. It’s a good story: short and powerful. Every time I recall it, I have to do something, I have to consider the image of myself that I am living by and compare it with the one that I am projecting. This is what James is saying, “What if, what you believe is manifested in what you do and how you behave?” This is a reality check, which can be helpful as we continue to make our way follow Jesus. This is the distance between, “I love my enemies” and God calling you to serve your enemy. Now, let me be clear, God’s mercy and grace is always available especially as we struggle to measure up or follow-through. Because God is merciful, accepting this mercy requires honesty and self-awareness and treating my fellow image-bearers in the way I hope to be treated by God.
Am I trusting myself or God? - Disclosing the clue to resolution - Aha!
All of this forces me to ask, “Am I trusting God with my life or am I attempting to protect myself and therefore save my life?”
22Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 31But seek his [God’s] kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. 32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions and give to the poor. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:22, 31-33)
In other words, am I living out John 8:31?
31“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31–32)
Jesus calls us to wholeness, an integration of head and heart, which causes to confront ourselves and our willingness to surrender.
“You say you have faith in God, great, now let that faith direct your actions.”
“You say you follow God, then let’s see the evidence, show me the receipts.”
It’s not enough for us to declare that we are just falling short of our beliefs because this posture allows us to continue to say that there is a disconnect between our beliefs and actions.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a powerful moment when a person admits to themselves and others that they are powerless over their addiction, it’s actually the first step. We cannot get onto the road to recovery, unless we first admit that we need to. When we separate our actions from our faith, we deny that our faith informs our actions, we effectively deceive ourselves.
We need Wisdom from Above - experiencing the gospel - Whee!
So, what do we need to make our way forward? James says we need wisdom from above,
13Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. ( James 3:13-18)
If any of you lacks wisdom, James says, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:15)
Wisdom from Above Creates Integrity.
When we operate in the wisdom that God gives, we will learn how to interact with each other in a way that doesn’t compromise our integrity and helps us avoid attempting to manipulate, control, or lie to others. There is an invitation here that allows us to become our authentic selves, while acknowledging that we have been wounded or hurt in our connections with others. See the sermon handout for more reflections on what wisdom creates in our discipleship and willingness to follow.
Wisdom from Above Creates Peace
When we operate in the wisdom that God gives, we will recognize our need for grace, which will help us to not antagonize others. It can be really easy to use the tools of disdain to resolve our conflicts. But hear the proverbs:
Any fool can start arguments;
the honorable thing is to stay out of them. (Proverbs 20:3; GNT)
When we take up the tools of disdain, comparison, condemnation, and contempt, and use them to resolve our conflicts, we operate in the wisdom from below creating barriers for reconciliation and preventing love from ruling the day.
Wisdom from Above Creates Compassion.
When we operate in wisdom from above, we become mindful of the feelings of others. There’s a common misunderstanding that says, “If I don’t feel the same way you feel, then your feelings must be invalid, illogical, irrational, or silly.”
James says, wise people are considerate; they don’t minimize the feelings of others. If I’m operating in wisdom from above, I can acknowledge that you have them and they affect you. I may be willing to lean in to try and better understand them. Typically when we react to people’s emotions we often belittle their emotional pain. James says, if I become secure and wise in my relationships, I will not need to minimize your feelings. This opens the door for me to be considerate of you and your needs.
Wisdom from Above Creates Acceptance
When we allow the wisdom from above to operate fully in our lives, we can become less defensive. We can become open to reason. We will find ourselves living with our hand open, allowing us to be flexible. This allows us to be open to listen to and learn from anyone.
Shift the Focus by Serving Others - anticipating the consequences Yeah!
One of the ways we put wisdom into practice is through our service to others. There’s something about intentionally putting ourselves in a humble posture that allows the work of discipleship to have its way with us. We will find ourselves in situation that we didn’t design, and will have to learn to trust and depend on God to make our way. At its core, our deeds, our faith in action, helps our discipleship.
We need an openness in our lives that invites Jesus through the Holy Spirit to teach us what it means to be his disciple, to be his student. Serving others puts us in the right frame of mind. It prevents us from becoming too self-centered, too self-focused, and too selfish.
Paul puts this way,
“The only thing that counts is faith, expressing itself in love.” (Gal 5:28)
This isn’t just believing in Jesus or following him like you might on Twitter. Jesus, Paul and James all echo each other, if our faith doesn’t inform our actions, then our faith is dead, it’s useless.
Hear the words of Peter:
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others. If you serve, you should do so with the strength God provides. (1 Peter 4:9, 11b)
There’s a promise buried in the field of our surrender, in the willingness to take the focus off of ourselves and place it onto others. It’s a treasure that we all long for because it will help us to discover God’s strength. Which means that when we surrender, when we take the focus and attention off our ourselves and our needs, and place them onto others, God meets us right there.
So, why do we ignore James? It’s simple. Fear. We are afraid. We aren’t sure that we can trust that putting others before ourselves is the best course of action. We are fearful that if we lived the way that Jesus is calling us to live, it will cost us too much. We ask ourselves this question in our minds, “If I serve someone, will I be taken care of?” We wonder if our needs are going to met when serve others. That’s a legitimate concern, a very real concern.
This is why I love the church. The church can be, if we let it, a learning laboratory. A place where we experiment. A place where we can conduct mini-experiments and inspect the results in a safe environment. As we conduct these experiments, we learn to trust the King. As our trust grows, we become more likely to take greater risks and conduct larger experiments, experiments that allow us to meet the King at work in our neighborhood, at our school, on our job, in our relationships and families, and in the world.
Which brings me to a practical application this morning: the sacrament of the survey! :-)