Year C Proper 28, 13 November 2022
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Faith Is Built In Adversity”
Collect: Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."
They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!' and, `The time is near!' Do not go after them.
"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls."
Good morning, friends. Today we are going to explore one of the harder sides of living a life of faith. When does belief become faith? When do we shift from it being in our heads &/or hearts, and into our actions?
We say we are a faith community, those who come together under a common understanding of what it means to follow Jesus in his way of loving God, and our particular flavor of that is from the stream filtered through the English, or Anglican, Church and its American substream. As our presiding bishop says, “We are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.”
Our uniqueness in that movement is one of common structure (liturgy, polity, and theology), as well as an open interpretation. As Bishop Shannon said, “There are many right ways to be Episcopalian.” I have always loved that. We try to be open enough, or rather wide enough, in our belief that many can find their way in and grow in Christ, but not so far that people cannot get a handle on what we are about. We are here to be the Church, Christ’s called-out ones from the world, following in his way of loving God with all we are and in all that we do.
An impossibly simple task that is simply impossible to do, under our own steam that is. We are enabled and empowered in this endeavor by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We do not do this alone.
This year we have been working hard and keeping things going. However, we had incurred some significant costs that were unanticipated. We had a major leak in our water line, but in a place where we did not know, we could not know, that it happened until we had an astronomical increase in our water bill. It was literally going straight into the drain. Thankfully the county worked with us, and reduced SOME of our bill.
This year we had our 70 year old furnace finally reach the point where it was no longer safe to continue using it. Tomorrow new high efficiency heating and air units will begin being installed. But this is another unexpected, or to be more honest, an unplanned for, cost. But through good stewardship in planning, we were able to handle these unexpected expenses.
Finances since COVID have been on par with expectations. People were extremely generous during COVID, giving above and beyond. But looking at historical trends, there is always a dip post-traumas, and guess what? We are normal. There are many uncertainties right now, and anxious people hold back. It is hard to step out in faith on shaky ground. We recognize that.
Last year’s pledges dipped, just as anticipated, and to balance our budget we were planning on using savings to cover a portion of our budget. Having a deficit budget is a practice that cannot be maintained for long, but we also did not want during our reopening and rebuilding to lessen our ministries, when the need and felt need are even greater. We work very hard to not live above our means. And there will be necessary belt-tightenings and new revenue streams sought.
Inflation does not just affect your bottom line, but the church’s as well. Our bills are increasing as with all of ours individually. We have not done Cost of Living adjustments for our very dedicated and talented staff in my time here. Their bills are increasing, but their pay has not. This year’s budget is being created at a hard time to know what more we can cut. That is why this pledge campaign is imperative. The Vestry, in coordination with the Finance Team, will do the hard work of crafting a budget, but we cannot do it without all of us pulling together to make this church reflective of our values and common commitments.
Nonprofits are not businesses. Of course, we follow good business practices, but our budget is not only a monetary document. It is a statement of our values. Nonprofits exist to fulfill a purpose. Our budget is a moral as well as a mission document. Our bottom line is lives affected and changed. NEVER LOSE SIGHT OF THAT.
I believe that God provides us with all we need. Hard times are given to us to learn to rely more fully on God. This may sound harsh. But repeatedly through Scripture, we see God’s chosen called to move from belief to faith. We can say we believe all we want, but until we commit to it with our actions and our very lives is it faith?
Forgive this old preacher’s story, but I checked, and I cannot find that I have ever used it here. A tightrope is stretched across a wide canyon, and a world famous acrobat tries to make his attempt to cross even more dramatic by walking back and forth with a wheelbarrow. It is an amazing sight to behold.
Once back across, he calls out to the crowd after silencing their applause, “Who here thinks I can do it again?” Everyone in the crowd raised their hand enthusiastically.
“Who here is willing to climb in the wheelbarrow?”
Crickets could be heard.
And that my friends is the difference between Belief and Faith. We may find God’s handiwork and miraculous feats amazing, but are we willing to get in the metaphorical wheelbarrow? Are we willing to act on our beliefs?
Today we are calling you to do that. Today we are calling you to put your belief in the good work of this church into a commitment to your time, talent, and treasure. All three. We need you here, actively participating and doing your good works out in the community. We need the unique gifts that only you bring to the table. We need your tithes and offerings to support the work God has given us to do. We can. Will we?
Stepping out in faith these days is so counterintuitive. As I said, it is hard to take a step of faith on shaky ground. But when asked to take a leap of faith, it is like a child in a burning building with a parent down below yelling jump. We may say from the confusion, the darkness, and smoke, “I cannot see you!” But the loving parent urging us to have faith merely states, “But I see you! And I am here to catch you!” Friends, as I started, this is an impossibly simple task that is simply impossible to do under our own power. Thank God, that God our loving Father has us in clear sight and promises to catch us if we but jump. If he knows the number of hairs on our head as Scripture states, how much better does he know our thoughts, our fears, our wants, our worries? He has plans for us, and to get there God calls us to Faith. He is with us always, and wants us to move our belief into our actions. God never once calls for us to be successful, but EACH AND EVERY DAY God calls us to be faithful. The seed you plant, let God use to the best way God knows how!
Stephanie and I give our pledge this year in faith. I ask you to do the same. And our faith is built in times of adversity. An old camp I used to serve had this poster up in the kitchen, a silly way to remind us how much we did and how much we could do in faith:
We the Called have done so much for so long with so little, we are now perfectly qualified to do absolutely Anything with Nothing!
Oh, how I wish it were true. We do so much with so little. Our property team, mostly four guys, save us tens of thousands of dollars a year if we had to hire and outsource their work. Time and Talent at work there saves our treasure. From choir to altar guild to children's ministries to stuffing envelopes, to working in the Clinic to making meals for the meal train, all of this collectively enables us to make this special place happen.
But let us get back to the text for the day. Jesus warns us that there will be hard times. There will be dark, and scary, and tension-filled times. These are the times when we not just develop our faith muscles, but we use them.
We build up our faith muscles by doing the regular spiritual exercises of steeping ourselves in Scripture and Prayer, through service and sacrifice, through walking with God in the good times so that when the bad times come we know that God is with us, even to the end of the Age. Our Faith is Built in Adversity. But more, our Faith is SHOWN in Adversity. In the Letter of James, maybe even written by our namesake, St. James the Less, it reminds us:
2 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face various trials, consider it all joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.
That “complete and whole” is the same word Jesus used when he told us to be “perfect as our heavenly father is perfect.”
Friends, what we do here today, in our ordinary, day-in, day-out lives, is preparing us for what is to come. What we do here today echoes through eternity. We are preparing to live and move and breathe in the presence of God. And I do not know about you, wouldn’t it be nice to begin living in the abundance and the ecstasy right now?
That is what the Kingdom of God is, and it is at hand. And as we move into now, how glorious will our eternal now be!
The theme for our Pledge Campaign is “Do Not Be Afraid,” a message from the angels and from Christ himself. The Prophets echoed it, too. And weekly I try to find a way to say it again and again and again. The World wants us to fear, because if someone is afraid they can be controlled. Perfect love drives out all fear, and God is not in the Fear business. Ever. God is in the Faith business, and that is ours as well. Always.
Thank you for your faithfulness! May God bless the Time, Talent, and Treasure you give, and may your faith only increase! May we “Not Be Afraid,” and may God be glorified! Amen