August 7, 2016

“Faith is Keeping Your Lamp Lit”

(prior to sermon, a clip from Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring was shown, where Elrond of Rivendale is speaking to Gandalf)

I tend to wince a little before reading the news of the day. I never know what event or speech or whatever will bring down my faith in humanity just a little bit more. We are barraged with negative images and new reasons to fear something. Elrond of Rivendale voices something I think many people either outwardly or inwardly fear or believe: men, as in humanity, is prone to weakness, and we fear each other and ourselves and have no way to overcome our biggest problems.

It is a problem that has been building for years. When we as a society do not have a common enemy, we turn on each other. We see it everywhere: amongst friends, strangers, people we see on TV. Even in church, when things aren’t going our way, we direct our anger on somebody.

While I think that problem could lead us in a multitude of directions, the one that seems to be at the bottom of it is faith. Faith in ourselves, faith in each other, faith in God. In the movie, they were to have faith in Frodo, and the way they showed that faith was by doing whatever they could to keep the armies of Dark Lord Sauron and Saruman busy while Frodo took the ring to Mt. Doom. It’s a long masterpiece of literature and cinema, but it does come to a satisfying, hero-wins-the-day end, which kind of goes against how many of us currently feel.

When confronted with this feeling of a lose-lose reality, we start looking for others to change things for us. We look for this person or that person to bring it all around. Oftentimes, these people we appoint to be our saviors are set up for failure, because even the smartest and most talented cannot do it all themselves. They need other people.

Faith to move everybody takes a certain relationship agreement between everyone involved; however, when things don’t immediately start going our way, we turn on our leaders. We try to get rid of them. Then, if that doesn’t work, we turn on the institutions behind those people – deeming them incompetent or unable to fix our problems.

The common problem we all face is, when something is not going our way, we pick up our stuff and leave. Happens all the time – jobs, church, relationships, etc. We see something we think is better and we walk away. I’m not talking about legitimate reasons like abuse. I’m talking about the tendency for people to look at what we don’t like and just say, “I don’t care anymore, I quit” I see it happening more and more.

It seems, to me, Elrond is right. Our weakness, our impatience, and our sense of my-way-or-the-highway leaves us incapable of handling our problems ourselves. That is why we need God.

I’m not saying that God is some kind of imaginary character for our own convenience, but in the sense that we must recognize that there is another force or being that formed the world that we live in and did it under perfect circumstances that we continually distort. The problem is, God gave us free will to turn away from the transformational relationship freely offered to us.

God wants us to be in relationship with us, because God needs us yet won’t force us to believe or participate in a faith community. But we know from Scripture and our own faith that allowing God to work in us and use us can have some pretty astounding effects. In the case of our lesson today, we see an example of someone who decided to believe in God even in the face of impossible odds.

A little background first: The writer of Hebrews is reminding the people of his flock that life will be tough for them as Christian believers in pagan Rome. They were monotheists at a time that it was really unpopular, and the emperor was not happy with dissension in his city. So the author is saying, “hey, this place seems impossible and beyond our ability to change anything. So let us look to times when God was faithful to our ancestors.” Those ancestors were Abraham and Sarah.

Abraham is often referred to as the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. His story is found in Genesis, and it details how he and his wife Sarah were called by God to create a new nation by having a child. One problem – they’re old, really old. So old the author even says they may as well be dead, a part I omitted from the reading because I didn’t want you to laugh. But it is am important detail.

By faith, the writer says, Abraham and Sarah were able to conceive children, and those children multiplied. A seemingly unknown couple doing something as normal as having children, under extraordinary circumstances, became the bearers of a whole nation. What the writer is saying is God can and will do incredible things through those people who keep their faith alive.

So, we are left asking, “What is faith today for us?” If we are so bleak, what kind of faith can I have that will make any impact? The answer to that comes from today’s lectionary text in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 12, verses 35-40:

“ Be dressed for service and keep your lamps lit. Be like people waiting for their master to come home from a wedding celebration, who can immediately open the door for him when he arrives and knocks on the door.  Happy are those servants whom the master finds waiting up when he arrives. I assure you that, when he arrives, he will dress himself to serve, seat them at the table as honored guests, and wait on them. Happy are those whom he finds alert, even if he comes at midnight or just before dawn.  But know this, if the homeowner had known what time the thief was coming, he wouldn’t have allowed his home to be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Human One is coming at a time when you don’t expect him.””

Keep your lamps lit. Be ready. Stay alert. What makes us faithful people is having faith that God still works in the world – a world deeply divided. And I’m not sure we believe that.

There are plenty of people out there who will, subtly or explicitly, tell you that your faith is silly or stupid.  You know the people I’m talking about – always seeing the downside and never willing to try anything new. The kind of people who are ready to pack up their stuff and give up whenever things don’t go their way. Even in churches we have people who don’t want the church to grow because it will upset their way of doing things.

These are the people that have let their lamp burn out. They have no faith in God’s methods to enact change or those people God chooses to enact change. They think they know better than God, so they lose their faith in God.

I hurt when I meet people who have no light left. For some of them, it is due to real pain in their past or present, and for others, it’s because they never learned how to be a part of a community where not everyone is the same. Our job is to, over time, help them find their light again. It’s tempting to, in the face of their anger or pessimism, to fuss back and get angry too, but I assure you, there is no place where Jesus says, “take the log out of your eye and beat ‘em with it.” No, he said “turn the other cheek.” It’s hard to let someone get away with beating you down, but it’s through the giving of ourselves that we can offer space for someone to heal and light their lamp again.

God needs us to be lamp people. We are to always be ready for when God decides to make an appearance. That means finding more and more people who can light their lamps for the rest of the world. It means helping folks from not letting their light burn out.

Do you want to be a faithful person? Do you want to be a lamp lighter? Call up folks you know need some hope and tell them that you want to hear them out. Bring them to church. For that matter, I hear y’all talk about folks who don’t come enough. I bet a lamp lighter phone call could be just what they need. What we want is a community of faith who calls upon, pushes, and supports each other to always be growing in love of God.

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