Friday, June 01, 2007

Faithfulness - Fruit of Spirit #7

This is what I preached at Beresheth last night (a few hours ago). You should read Acts 10 before you read this sermon though...

Can you recite them with me? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Our 7th fruit tonight: Faithfulness.

What do you think of when you think of the word faithfulness?

I think of a husband and wife. Not gonna lie. I don’t think of God or Jesus on the cross or my walk in Christ or anything like that; I think of marriage. Will my husband be faithful to me someday? Will I stay faithful to him? What if he is unfaithful? What will I do?

It’s baggage. I have baggage with the word faithfulness. Faithfulness or unfaithfulness as I understand it is not just about possibilities or potentiality, it’s personal.

But of course faithfulness has much more to it than adultery or idolatry depending on who the subject is. If I were here to speak of my faithfulness to God, I would be shaking in my boots, shivering in my flannel, setting down my axe and removing the log from my own eye so I could see into yours. Fortunately, I don’t think faithfulness to God has to be compared to being married to your spouse. There may be some common threads, but truth be told, if I honestly look at my faithfulness to God and compare it to the way I plan on being and working at being faithful to my husband, God would have divorced me years ago. I am not a faithful Christian.

But what does it mean to be faithful? That your life is a “living prayer?” That serving others is always at the top of your list? That telling people about Jesus is your number one priority in life? That you are “in love” with Jesus who is the husband of the church and your one true love? That involvement in God’s church, God’s community means seeing the best in everyone - loving your neighbor but loving your enemies even more? Does it mean being loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind… hold on, hold on. You lost me at loving.

If that’s what it means to be faithful, then consider me divorced. If not divorced, at least separated. A marriage with God would never work with what I’ve put into, or rather, failed to put into it thus far.

Thankfully though, faithfulness is not necessarily about staying faithful to what you already know or feel to be true. According to the story we read from Acts, faithfulness to God means always being open to the new things God has to teach you, being open to the new calling God is offering you, being open to receiving the new, fuller life God wants to give you.

Peter thought he knew it all. He’d been with Jesus, he’d been misguided, he’d been forgiven and now he understood what it meant to be a Jewish follower of Jesus Christ the Messiah. But Peter had some growing to do, some ways to be more faithful to his calling in Christ. You see, Peter thought salvation was for the Jews only, he didn’t realize that the Gentiles, the outsiders were a part of God’s redemptive process as well. But after a vision of a meal and a visit to a stranger, Peter hears the testimony of the Gentile, sees the Holy Spirit descend on him and it is Peter who believes. Believes that God is bigger, believes that God is more faithful, believes that he himself has some growing to do. Because truthfully, Peter didn’t have it all down, and neither do we. Just when I put the book back on the shelf because I think I’ve mastered one truth about God, God opens a window to a whole new dimension of that truth. Just when I think I’ve got God’s character pigeon-holed, in flies a dove to lift my eyes up to a whole new, bigger God. Just when I think I’ve got the doctrine down, down fall the walls of my well-structured life, my expectations of tradition, community and the Bible, and suddenly a new understanding of God begins to be reconstructed.

I hope you don’t find this word overwhelming or crippling. I don’t mean to dampen your day, raining down discouraging news that we will never make it, that we are always falling short, are always changing.

Rather, this story is actually an encouraging reminder that we’re not God. And if we get to the point where we think we are God, we think we have the answers, we think we know the right way to live and we’re good at sharing that with others – if we get to that point, we’ve actually become unfaithful to the Gospel of Christ.

We’re not falling short when we discover that (truth be told) we’re always learning – that’s faithfulness. We are indeed always changing, and that doesn’t have to scare us. It’s okay to live day to day doing our best - that’s faithfulness. It’s okay to take one step at a time - that’s faithfulness. It’s okay to feel like you don’t understand it all. Neither did Peter, the rock of the Christian church! And you certainly don’t have to have it all together. None of the apostles did, and none of us do now.

We are all in community, seeking to be faithful even amidst change, and learning that transitioning through life may be the most faithful thing we can do as Christians. To be open to God moving in us – that’s faithfulness.

And so “just a closer walk with thee” is not what I’m looking for in my relationship with God.

“Faithfulness, faithfulness is what I long for.”

An openness to God, an ever-changing and ever-challenging sense of call, an exciting newness to my faith, a recognition that God will always work beyond my wildest imagination.

That’s what I long to be faithful to…

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