Just sharing some words from the pulpit in Maine this morning.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
It’s Father’s Day, so Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there. I thought before I get into the meat and potatoes of today’s homily, I would share some experiences with my Dad in his later years while confined to a nursing home in upstate New York.
It had almost become a ritual going over his funeral plans. For days on end he would ask me to go over the plans … plans he made.
One day, he said to me, “I just don’t understand it.” Dutifully I responded, “Don’t understand what?”
“What happens,” he said.
“What happens about what?” I asked, completely lost and not knowing where this conversation was going.
“You know, when I die.”
It caught me off guard. I told him I didn’t know, but figured this could be a “faith” moment to discuss ethereal things like heaven and relationships with Jesus. So I started, “Well, you have a deep relationship with God so …”
He cut me off mid-sentence. “I’m okay with God,” he said. “I mean, how am I going to get back to New Jersey?”
Again, we had been over this about 100 times already, and it was just one of about 100 more. But I pressed on. “The nursing home will let me know. I’ll let the funeral director know. He’ll pick you up, get you ready and drive you to New Jersey. We’ll have the funeral there and you’ll be buried by mom.”
He thought for a minute. “The undertaker will drive me there?” he asked.
“Yes,” I responded.
He had a glazed look on his face, so I asked him what was wrong.
“Nothing,” he said. “I just thought you were taking me down in your truck.”
All I could do was laugh as visions of the film Weekend at Bernie’s flashed through my mind.
Another time, he told me he dreamt he had died. He said it was so real, so I naively asked him, “What was it like,” to which he responded, “I don’t know. I woke up.”
Then there was the time he asked me if I saw his name in the newspaper. I said no and asked him why his name would have been in the newspaper. He said, “Because I died and my obituary was supposed to be in the newspaper.”
I assured him he did not die because we were talking and he seemed to agree it must have been a dream. But he told me to check tomorrow’s paper. “Okay,” I said, “Why?” He answered, “Just to make sure. It’s after lunch so maybe it was too late for today’s paper.”
That spring, I was complaining about gas prices. A couple of days later, he asked if prices were still rising. I said yes and he shot back, “Is that going to make a difference for my funeral.” I didn’t understand where he was going so I asked him what he meant. He said, “You said everything was paid for. Do you have enough to get me back to Paterson?” In one of my flippant moments, all I could say was, “No, we just have enough to get you to the Delaware Water Gap.”
As I said during his eulogy, “Dad, we had enough.”
If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you. (Luke 17:6)
If we’re honest — notice how I linked the sermon topic — do we really believe that? Do we have the power to make extraordinary things happen? Can we change the natural order of things?
I believe we do and can, although I say that with a little caveat. We cannot do it, but our faith can. That, my friends, I believe, is what Jesus was saying in the opening words of today’s gospel. And Matthew (17:20), Mark (4:30-31) (9:23) and (11:22) echo Luke’s words, All things are possible to him who believes!
All my life, I’ve been a pretty positive guy. I always looked at the “half full” side of the glass. Even in dark days I could look beyond the storm. Okay, some times I had to be forced to be still and remember God is God and in control. And I will never say I totally understand the whys of life.
But I have learned to accept the daily ups and downs and recognize I am not in control. I want to be, Lord knows, but I’m not.
After we learned the prognosis of Karen’s illness, my mantra song was Dare To Believe by Ray Boltz. I would crank it up when it played on the radio or if I had popped in the CD. Everyone knew I was coming … they could hear me.
There’s a miracle inside you
It’s just a mustard seed of faith
But by the mighty hand of God now
You know that tiny seed was placed …
For the God that we serve
He is much more than able, yes, He is
So don’t be afraid
Stand up and say, I dare to believe
I dare to believe
That miracles happen, yeah
That mountains still move
And demons must flee …
I believed that with all my heart. I still do, although God’s results didn’t move my mountain.
There are many other traditional hymns and contemporary Christian songs that address God NOT moving mountains. They are reminders to me to keep the faith … to trust … remind me who is in control … and most of all to look forward, not back. A contemporary favorite of mine is Trust in You by Lauren Daigle. The chorus says it all …
When You don’t move the mountains
I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You
Let’s be honest. THAT is extremely difficult. Our faith does get shaken. Our focus does get diverted. We retreat into ourselves or we lash out at others. We get hurt. We get disappointed. We get disillusioned. We can’t make sense of the violence or abuse or illness or even the death of someone close.
Truth is we don’t have to. There is a greater Power who has all the answers. My job — your job — isn’t to figure out the answers. My job — your job — is to trust in the God who has been there through the good and bad times. Isn’t it exciting to know we have an anchor in the storms of life?
That’s what makes it all worthwhile. That spurs hope for a future. That’s the seed of faith germinating inside you and me.
Scripture often heralds that. In our first reading, we’re shown how faithfulness to God led to David’s rise from shepherd to eventual king. David also tells us in today’s psalm, Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the Lord our God. And Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, shares we walk by faith, not by sight and if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
But, again, let’s be honest. We can hear the words, but do we HEAR the words? Do we believe them? Do they resonate with us? Do they change us?
Well, maybe … or least for an hour on Sunday morning with perhaps a short bump as we walk through the everyday, mundane tasks of our lives. But generally, and unfortunately, Scripture words are just words and not life changing. When we leave here we return to the “real world” and revert to our “real lives.”
Jesus’ tells us if you want to increase your faith, have faith the size of a mustard seed. Believe in that power. Believe while we may not be able to move mountains, God can. And, sometimes, maybe He doesn’t want us to move the mountain but figure out a way around or over it or through it that gives us the opportunities to shine His light.
In the agrarian nature of the time, those listening to Jesus’ words, would have understood the significance of the mustard seed, one of the smallest of seeds which can overtake a garden and have been known to blossom to a large shrub that commonly reached the height of eight to ten feet around the Lake of Galilee.
Today’s parable is almost like Jesus telling the apostles — and by extension, us — “You already have faith you silly disciples! You just aren’t using it!” A little faith can go a long way.
See, the disciples were asking for the wrong thing. They didn’t need to increase their faith — they needed to increase their faithfulness. They needed to increase their faithfulness. There is a big difference.
Faith is a gift from God. He gives us the amount of faith we need and it never runs out. Actually, to ask God to increase our faith is kind of an insult.
Faithfulness, on the other hand, is our response to our faith. It’s what we do with our faith. And that is entirely up to us.
Faithfulness is defined as being loyal and obedient to the person we put our trust in. If we put our faith in Jesus, then we also have to be faithful to Him.
When we accept Jesus as Savior, we put our faith in Him. When we accept Jesus as Lord, we put our faithfulness in Him. Those who know Jesus as their Lord and Savior can sleep when the wind blows. Their salvation is assured.
Now the challenge. We live for Christ, and to do His will, not for reward, not for praise, not for gain, but because I am to love God and to love my neighbor as myself. It isn’t the things you do, it is the things you leave undone which will give you heartache. The message is easy to read over.
Again, let’s be honest. That’s our nature. We do what we ought to do and often very little else. We — you and I — are broken and we — you and I — often let that brokenness pave our path. We — you and I — often look for the praise and adulation and forget our purpose in life, to shine the light of Christ in a dark world.
If we’re honest, we would see how God has taken us on our individual journeys. Whenever there were difficult encounters or joyful events, we can — or should — see Him at work. He has taken us from our youth to today — 10 years, 20 years, 50 plus years. Remembering His faithfulness is like looking at the mustard seed to remind us He is real. He gives life its purpose. Our heavenly Father provided our sacrifice for all times — His Son — as redemption for us all! That’s why we are reminded to give thanks in all situations and to praise Him for all He is and does.
You and I have a chance to change the trajectory of our lives, right here, right now. As you heard in our special song from Francesca Battistelli,
“Bring your brokenness, and I’ll bring mine,
‘Cause love can heal what hurt divides.
And mercy’s waiting on the other side
If we’re honest. If we’re honest.”
Our lives may be the only sermon those around us will ever hear or, more important, will ever see. We say things like, “I’m not ready yet. I’m not prepared enough. I need to learn more. I need God to give me more faith.”
No. Show grace to the world around you, to those God sends into your life and make your broken life a glorious sermon.
Faith. Belief. Trust. Hope. Grace. Honesty. Brokenness. Love.
Personally, I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day.
Amen and Amen!
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Don’t take your youth for granted. Travel while you can.