SERMON 10/3/10 Pentecost 22C – St. Mary Magdalene, Bradenton, FL
When I was a kid, I spent many afternoons and summers working in my father’s television and electronics store. Back then, I had the opportunity to explore the latest techno gadgets as they hit the market. In the 1970’s, I listened to music on LP records, 8-track tapes and AM radio. In the 1980’s, I listened to music on FM radio, cassettes, and I watched my favorite videos on MTV and VH1. In the 1990’s, I bought CD’s. Today, I download my music on my IPhone and can listen to it on my Mac, my IPad, or listen on my Apple TV device at home. The music we listen to, as well as how we listen to it, sure has changed over the past 40 years, and it is so much different than even 50, 60, or 70 years ago.
For example, one day while working in my father’s store clearing out some old boxes, I found hidden in a corner a beautiful, antique Victor Victrola. If you’re not familiar with what that is, it is record player popular in the early 20th century. This beautiful machine was huge and it had a wind-up motor, a felt covered turntable, a large metal needle and records that were so heavy, they felt like bricks. As I explored the device, I found an old gospel album inside the storage drawer, and I decided to try it out. I wound up the crank on the side of the music box, placed the record on the table, the needle on the record, and suddenly I was whisked back to bygone days.
There was an unfamiliar tinny sound to the voices and instruments, but the sound was absolutely wonderful. The song on that record was one very familiar to me, and I imagine most of us here today know the words. “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now am found, twas blind but now I see.” Though the old Victrola was early technology and the song it played was a good old traditional hymn, it was as dear to me that day in the 1980’s, as it was for the family who heard it fresh and clear on that machine back in the 1930’s and 40’s. In a moment, I was whisked back to a time when a family sat together listening to that old record player, enjoying a song that spoke volumes about a faith that informed their everyday lives, a faith that was passed on by generations before them, and to generations after them, a song of faith, millions of people still sing today.
We sing a lot of songs in church but all share a glorious song of love that has remained the same for centuries; the song of faith. Now, the song remains the same, but what has changed over those years, is the medium through which the song has played. From the early church, to the medieval age, enlightenment, reformation, to the modern era and now postmodern culture, the church has had to respond to cultural change, so that the song of the gospel might be heard in the world.
The world is changing at a pace like never before. We relate through social media, and technology. Using the internet we can access information like never before. We’ve changed in other ways too. Religious institutions do not hold the influence in culture that they did just 30 or 40 years ago. Over the past 20 years, the number of people who claim no religious affiliation has increased from 8% to nearly 20%. Nearly 33% of all adults under 30 are religiously unaffiliated. Most of them have never stepped into a church, ever and many never will.
Here is the rub. The Church, not merely clergy, is charged with the responsibility of passing the faith onto others, others who are seeking a community with whom they might find their spiritual identity, where they might join in the ancient spiritual practices of that community of faith, and where they might come to a spiritual place of conviction. Our mission is not as easy as it was just a few decades ago, but we are still in the business of “faith passing.” Our legacy of “faith passing” is a part of our tradition, which stretches as far back as the early apostles. Faith passing is at the heart of the apostolic nature of the Body of Christ.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” Theologian Alcye McKenzie asserts that this faith that lived in previous generations and now lives in Timothy . . . is made alive and powerful for the present so that it can shape the future.” (Alyce McKenzie, Perkins School of Theology, July 2006 Interpretation Journal)
Our faith is a gift from God not merely for ourselves, but a gift, which we must pass on, through the power of God’s Spirit working in and through us. Faith becomes alive in us and by our example it becomes possible for it to become alive in those after us. Today, we are gathered here in this place today, worshipping, singing, and praising God because of the Spirit’s power working in and through the faithful lives of grandmothers, grandfathers, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, friends and mentors bore witness to God’s amazing grace to us. We are people of faith today, because someone before us passed faith on to us.
In a culture that is more and more irreligious, we need to go back to this simple practice of meeting others where they are, developing relationships of trust so the basic conversations of faith, might emerge organically, grow without a membership agenda, and transform the lives of others. We must be people of faith and people able to talk about it, without seeming to merely want to fill the pews. We need to be seed planters of faith who toil the soil of relationships, and we need to trust the Spirit will do the rest. To do this we must recognize the signs of faith emerging in others. Many of wrestle with the very basic question of what is faith?
Faith is a way of life, it is a way of being. Faith empowers, strengthens, and encourages us to face each day. Faith makes it possible to experience the joy, peace, love in moments of fear and uncertainty. Faith is facing each day peering through the lens of God’s amazing grace. Faith simply said, is trusting in God’s promises in all things. Trusting that the way of justice, love, mercy, reconciliation and grace, changes everything. Trusting God makes it possible to embrace joy, to look with anticipation to a new day, to embrace the present, even in the midst of circumstances we cannot control. Trusting God helps us to recognize that fear binds our hearts and spirits. Fear is the greatest enemy of faith. Faith is looking at fear in the eye and trusting that “nothing stands between us and the love of God.”. Faith is like a mustard seed. It only takes a little faith to recognize the nearness of the Kingdom of God.
Some say the opposite of faith is doubt. I believe the opposite of faith is certainty. When we are certain, when the facts are clear, and we know without a shadow of doubt; there is no more room for mystery. Where there is no mystery, we begin to rely on ourselves, and what we can control and thus, there is little room for faith in God. The disciples wanted certainty. They cried, “INCREASE OUR FAITH.” Faith is not about certainty. Faith is living life, putting trust not in ourselves, not in human institutions, not and in our financial portfolios. A life of faith is putting our trust in God.
God puts a song of faith in our hearts and the Spirit whispers that tune every day. We have to be willing to allow the faith in us to grow wild, to be organic, so like the mustard seed, it will grow and flourish both in those who are gathered here today, and in those to whom we are called to pass the faith on. Don’t let your faith sit in a corner behind some old boxes, covered in dust and silence. You also don’t have to broadcast your faith on YouTube, ITunes, or social media. What you can do to participate in the work of “faith passing” begins with your closest friends, with unexpected people in those chance encounters at the store or pharmacy, with your daily work colleagues. It really is very simple. Let your life be a song of faith. Let your life resonate the grace in you, so others may join the chorus, “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound.”