Movable Faith - thrive UMC Official Blog

Movable Faith

 

As Rhonda and Andy just shared with us, we’re kicking off our first ever giving-campaign, to challenge all of you to pray and discern how you might choose to invest yourselves in our new little community. And of course this campaign has some very practical implications for us, since most of what our community does has a financial cost attached to it; but our higher aim here is to encourage you to grow in your awareness of, and participation in, your own life’s purpose.  And our giving campaign is a way for us to emphasize our communal value of generosity –of self-giving, for the benefit of others and the world.

So the encouragement we’re offering all of you between now and Easter is to take the time to examine our own practices of generosity.  Starting today, we want to challenge you to be intentional about how you spend your life and how you give. And then we want to challenge you to grow from there.  If you haven’t done so already, we hope you integrate some form of grace-inspired giving into your budgets.  Whether that’s supporting a charity, helping someone in need directly, or whether that’s investing your gift in the church, we want to promote and celebrate giving.  Because if you’re in any kind of position to help others, that’s good news, and it’s a big deal.  It’s a sign of health, and vitality, and maturity, and of God’s grace.  So if we can encourage you all to grow in the ways you give –even just a little, and even if you don’t decide to give to our community- we want you to do it.  If this campaign inspires you to support St. Jude Children’s Hospital, or Iowa Homeless Youth Centers, or the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and not thrive, then all of our uncomfortable talk about money will still have been well worth it, if more people are giving more powerfully.  Because I believe that’s how our nation and the world will be renewed.

So we’re asking you to give.  And to provide a kind of template to go with our challenge, we made up a little card to share with all of you to provide a few different ways of looking at giving.  And we’d like for each of you –or at least each family- to have one of these Commitment Cards to take home as a kind of conversation piece.  The conversation we hope the card will facilitate is what your giving will look like for 2017. To where and how much and how often do you want to offer your support.  What did you give last year, and is there room and opportunity for you to grow?   And our hope is that, within the next four weeks, you’ll make a decision that you can commit to –so that that can be your giving goal for the rest of the year.  And the card has a few options that it suggests.  Maybe you just want to commit to giving a certain amount each week.  Or maybe you’d prefer to look at your budget on a yearly basis.  Go with what works for you.

But in order to really challenge all of you on this point, I want to encourage you all to at least consider what’s called “percentage giving.”  Percentage giving is where you look at your total income and set aside a certain percentage of that amount to dedicate as a gift. This has been a traditional discipline or practice in both Christianity and Judaism, going all the way back to Abraham in the book of Genesis.  In the Hebrew Bible, the expectation was set that each citizen return one-tenth of their harvest to God, for the service of the poor and the priests.  This is called offering a tithe –or a gift of a tenth. Giving a tenth of what we’ve been blessed with is a sign of gratitude for what God has given us, and it’s also an expression of faithful service: it’s a practical way to act out our love for God and for our neighbors.

Now, as a quick aside, if you’re not already in the habit of giving a percentage of your income away, it might seem like a bit of a leap to suddenly give up 10% of what you have. But maybe you could start with a 1% gift this year and see how that goes. See if that changes the way you look at your money and your own role in the world around you. When Kristen and I were first married, we started out giving about 2%, and we’ve incrementally grown in our giving so that this year we can commit to giving beyond our tithe.  And the only reason I say that –beyond letting you all know that this is something I’ve already committed myself to- is to share with all of you the fact that we’ve experienced this act of giving as a great blessing. This practice has helped us to be a lot more intentional in the way we manage our finances, and has also provided us with the additional benefit of knowing that we get to make these positive contributions to our community.

Therefore I want to remind you all again that this really isn’t just about the amount or the money, or even the good that your giving can do.  But instead the deeper point of all of this is the kind of lives we’re choosing to live.  It’s about what we’re here for.  It’s about our purpose, and discovering our deepest, richest sense of meaning in being who, and where, we are.  In other words, this is about our faith, and how we express it.

So far in 2017 we’ve been sharing a series we’ve called Making Our Way: 5 Disciplines for a More Meaningful Life Now. And in that time we’ve challenged all of you to be intentional to work to identify your own understanding of what gives your life meaning, and how you might live out your purpose here on earth.  And to help you do that, we’ve encouraged you to grow to become more attentive and intentional in the ways you invest yourself in five particular areas.  We’ve encouraged you to focus on the investment of your prayers, of your presence, of your gifts, of your service, and today we’re going to introduce the fifth investment, which is your witness.

Because all of our lives tell a story.  Our lives tell a story when we spend or give money.  Our lives tell a story when we serve our neighbors or when we commit violence with our words.  Our lives tell a story when our eyes are glued to a phone or when we’re fully present with those we share this life and space with.  Our lives tell a story when we pray, and when we worry.  And all of those stories speak of the truth as we know it –and they speak about our sense of purpose within our truths.  And so the question prompted when we call for your witness is this: what truth does your life and thought and action speak?

If your life were a testimony for the way things are, then what would it lead the jury to believe?  What verdict would all of your different stories suggest?  And is it convicting?

I want to let those questions settle into you for a moment, as we continue in our reading from the Gospel of Matthew.  Last week Jen shared with us a story of Jesus healing a Roman Centurion who had a paralyzed servant, and Jesus healed him. And the great shock of the story was that Jesus was impressed by the faith of this Roman Centurion.  He said “I say to you with all seriousness that even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this.” And in return, the Centurion’s servant received healing in proportion to his master’s belief.

So in our reading for today, I want you to try and pay attention –I want you to try and be present- as we see how faith works in it.  I encourage you to take notice of how Jesus sees the actions and reactions of the people he encounters, and I hope you’ll listen to how Jesus explains what kind of witness their actions are speaking.  Listen for how their actions testify to the powers of life and of death.  Our text for this morning begins in Matthew, chapter 8, beginning in verse 18. Jesus had just finished healing a whole crowd of people.  It says this:

18 Now when Jesus saw the crowd, he ordered his disciples to go over to the other side of the lake. 19 A legal expert came and said to him, “Teacher, I’ll follow you wherever you go.”

20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens, and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One[b] has no place to lay his head.”

21 Another man, one of his disciples, said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Calming a storm

23 When Jesus got into a boat, his disciples followed him. 24 A huge storm arose on the lake so that waves were sloshing over the boat. But Jesus was asleep. 25 They came and woke him, saying, “Lord, rescue us! We’re going to drown!”

26 He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you people of weak faith?” Then he got up and gave orders to the winds and the lake, and there was a great calm.

27 The people were amazed and said, “What kind of person is this? Even the winds and the lake obey him!”

Jesus frees demon-possessed men

28 When Jesus arrived on the other side of the lake in the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed came from among the tombs to meet him. They were so violent that nobody could travel on that road. 29 They cried out, “What are you going to do with us, Son of God? Have you come to torture us before the time of judgment?” 30 Far off in the distance a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons pleaded with him, “If you throw us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

32 Then he said to the demons, “Go away,” and they came out and went into the pigs. The whole herd rushed down the cliff into the lake and drowned. 33 Those who tended the pigs ran into the city and told everything that had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole city came out and met Jesus. When they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

Boarding a boat, Jesus crossed to the other side of the lake and went to his own city. People brought to him a man who was paralyzed, lying on a cot. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man who was paralyzed, “Be encouraged, my child, your sins are forgiven.”

Some legal experts said among themselves, “This man is insulting God.”

But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said, “Why do you fill your minds with evil things?  Which is easier—to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?  But so you will know that the Human One[a] has authority on the earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“Get up, take your cot, and go home.” The man got up and went home. When the crowds saw what had happened, they were afraid and praised God, who had given such authority to human beings.

 

Here we have what are typically viewed as four distinct stories, but I thought it was important to read them all together so that you could see that they all center around movement.  In the first part, two would-be Jesus-followers express their desire to go and participate in the life and activity of Jesus; but Jesus warns the first that there’s a price-tag attached to following.  And the price is your current home, and your dream of ever having one in the future.  To follow Jesus means you commit to a life of movement, which demands that we abandon all of our dreams of settling and long-term comfort.  With Jesus there is no safe-sanctuary of ‘Good enough’ but the calling is always onward.  There are always more people to teach and heal and serve. Always new lands to explore. Always more grace to grow into.  And so the reader, or hearer, of this story is invited to wrestle: do you want a life of safe predictability; or do you want a dangerous but life-saving adventure?  Because you have to pick one or the other.

And the second dilemma is also like that: another person –this time one who has already committed to the Jesus-journey- asks for a moment of pause.  His father had just died, and he wants some time to handle all of the responsibilities and emotional realities that accompany the loss. So in other words he wants to follow, but maybe just next week.  To which Jesus replies: “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Now if those words sound harsh because Jesus seems to be asking this man to leave his family business behind untended –I think it’s actually much worse than that.  I think here Jesus is illustrating the fact that he won’t wait for the right time or abide even reasonable excuses, and that indeed those who delay serving the living so that they can dig grave-houses for the dead might as well jump in one themselves. To adventure with Jesus is life and healing; and dwelling on the past and what’s lost is to be a zombie –a corpse in action.

And then the stories go on for those who have chosen to join the adventure.  They got in the boat to move on  —but what happened?  A storm arose on the lake and it looked like it might kill them!  This journey turns out to be dangerous and they don’t want to die!  So they wake up a sleeping Jesus and say “Lord, rescue us!  We’re going to drown!” And Jesus asks: “Why are you afraid, you people of weak faith?”

It’s a good question, isn’t it?

Why are you afraid?

Because don’t you know that your fear bears witness to your truth? Don’t you know that your fear testifies against your faith?  So if you’re afraid of dying in a storm, or in a car-accident, or from paralysis, or from embarrassment, what does that say about the truth of your relationship with God?  If a literal or metaphorical storm arises, does that mean God disappears or becomes absent for you?  Or when death threatens you, do your guts testify to the possibility that you’re about lose your greatest treasure?

“Why are you afraid, you people of weak faith?”  Your fear bears witness to your presence: and it testifies that your attention is invested in a death that hasn’t –and may not ever- come.  You’re living in an alternative reality.  But of course, you’re in the boat in the first place, which means you have some faith –it’s just not a lot.  And it’s not very powerful.  Meanwhile Jesus, who was inwardly calm the whole time, commands the winds and waters to follow his example.

And then there’s this great story about violent demons and a baptism of pigs; but we don’t quite have enough time to unpack all of that this morning –but  I hope for now we can at least see how Jesus clears an obstacle from the road so that others might be free to travel it once more. And while we’re there, maybe we can also notice how the curiosity of the neighboring city compelled them to meet Jesus, but that nothing much seemed to happen happened, and soon these Gentiles were anxious to have Jesus gone.

But the story that I wanted to spend most of the rest of our time on is this last one, about the paralyzed boy and his carriers. Here’s this guy, just lying on a cot, and some people bring this guy to Jesus.  Now, as a quick aside, if you’ve been paying close attention to what’s been going on in the Gospel of Matthew thus far, you’ll notice that there must be something of an epidemic of paralysis.  Up until this point, we’ve directly heard about three other specific instances of healing.  And the very first healing was of a guy who had a skin disease.  And then the second was the paralyzed servant of the Centurion, and the third was Peter’s bed-ridden mother-in-law, and here is number four with yet another paralyzed man.  So in three out of the four cases thus far, Jesus healed people who couldn’t move.  They were stuck.  And the biggest problem that comes along with being stuck is that you can’t help yourself. Right?  If you can’t move, you can’t go get help.  True story.  That’s why they invented those Life-Alert buttons ‘-help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!’  –because sometimes people need help just getting help.

Can I get an ‘Amen?’

A quick fun fact: do we actually know what’s wrong with this paralyzed guy in the story, other than the fact that he can’t move?  No, we don’t –because it doesn’t really matter.  Of course, growing up I had always assumed that this guy had some kind of debilitating disease, or maybe he had broken his neck or something –but this isn’t necessarily the case. And what I’ve come to realize is that paralysis can have a really wide array of causes, and probably most of them have little or nothing to do with the health of your body.  As a teenager I got so severely depressed that I practically couldn’t get out of bed.  And I’ve known lots of people with severe depression who were completely immobilized by what’s commonly called their mental illness.  And all of my anxious friends out there –I feel like I can call you out because I’m one of you; I got the membership card a few years ago—anxious people, how’s your fuel economy?  By which I mean, how much distance do you cover, as compared to the amount of energy you exert?  My experience has been that anxiety is kind of like having a seizure: there’s a lot of activity going on, but it takes me precisely nowhere.  Anxiety is like a vibrating paralysis.

And then of course there’s the more metaphorical kind of paralysis too –being stuck in a job, or stuck in a dead relationship, or stuck from fear or uncertainty or simply a feeling of a lack of options.  All of those things can lead to a condition of paralysis.

Now, how many of you know some paralyzed people in your lives?

How many you feel like you are that paralyzed person, at least from time to time?

But this particular paralytic had some people who cared enough about him to pick him up and take him to Jesus.  And it was their faith that Jesus noticed, and it was their faith that created an opportunity for Jesus to look at the man on the cot and say “Be encouraged, my child, your sins are forgiven.”

And as the conversation turns out, this is about the same thing as saying “get up and walk.”  Because there’s this connection between the hidden state of this paralyzed man’s spirit and his ability to move.  And since he couldn’t help himself, he needed some people of faith to notice his problem and take him to a place where healing could happen.

So very quickly, this is what it takes to have a witness for a powerful faith:

Step 1: be present with other people and their needs.

Step 2: Support them.  Encourage them. Allow for the possibility or even likelihood that healing can occur.

Step 3:  If you don’t have the stuff required to facilitate healing, then help them move to a place where that can happen.  Because the blessing comes with moving closer to Jesus.

That’s it.

And here’s the surprise and our good news: that God has given this authority to human beings. It sounded like heresy to religious professionals; but the fact that God has empowered humanity to forgive and bring healing and movement by no means diminishes who God is or what God can do.

So this is our call: to have the kind of faith that moves.  So as we continue to move into the future, may our faith grow in courage and power.  So that we might not be afraid.  And so that the world might be restored.

And I leave you with these words from Rabbi Akiba, he said that all people should become accustomed to say: “Whatever the All-Merciful does, He does for the best.”

Let us pray for faith like that.

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