Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Recovering Hope
Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23[1]
During this season of Holy Week and Easter, we’ve been examining the fact that faith is not easy. We’ve been talking about how we have some challenges with our faith. I think one of the most difficult challenges we all face is that at some point in our lives we find the very clear, simple and confident faith of our childhood shattered. All of us have had the experience of saying “I had hoped …” with greater or lesser degrees of despair and perhaps even anger. Life is such that just about all of our hopes are at some point dashed. They wind up like “sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground”[2]!
This is perhaps one of the greatest obstacles to faith. Once our hopes have been dashed, what do we do? Once the faith of our childhood is shattered, how do we move forward into a new faith? I think the same thing we said last week applies here as well—just as when we’re learning faith for the first time, re-learning faith in a whole new way is a matter of learning by doing. When we are children, we cultivate faith by participating in worship, by learning the prayers and singing the hymns.[3] I think that applies to re-learning faith as well. We cultivate a new faith as we participate in worship, learning to say the prayers in whole new ways, learning to sing the hymns with a whole new meaning, learning to confess our faith with new substance behind the words. Worshipping with the community of faith is where we learn faith in the first place; it’s also where we re-learn faith after our hopes have been shattered.
At this point you might be scratching your head. You might be thinking that when you’ve lost your faith, the last place you want to be is in church, saying the same prayers that have lost their punch, singing the same hymns that have lost their meaning. And yet, even though a worship service is the last place you’d like to be, it is still the place to re-learn faith. In worship we’re essentially learning how to make all of our lives a believing and faithful response to God’s gift of grace and mercy and peace and joy and love and life to us all. [4]
I’m not saying it will be easy or that it will come quickly or that it won’t be frustrating. Losing faith and trying to get it back again is probably one of the most trying experiences anyone can go through. You feel very much as if God has abandoned you and you find yourself wondering what you did wrong, or why God won’t help you, or even if there is a God at all. Re-learning faith after we’ve lost the faith of our childhood can be one of the most difficult and painful experiences in life. But the plain truth is that the only way to re-learn faith, the only way to recover shattered hopes, is to go back to the place where you learned faith in the first place, and keep going through the motions until the breakthrough comes.
Where else do we have the opportunity to pray the prayer our Savior taught us, looking for God to bring peace and justice into this world? Where else do we have the opportunity to sing the words of faith in the hymns of our childhood? Where else can we experience the sacraments, which remind us of the grace of God, the love of Christ, and the fellowship of the Spirit in our daily lives? In fact, I would maintain that the sacraments may be one of the most important means of re-learning our faith. As “signs and seals” of what God is doing in this world, they both proclaim the gospel to us, and they also serve as a means of experiencing the grace of God and the presence of Christ again and again.[5] This is especially true of the Lord’s Supper. In Communion we experience God’s sustaining grace—leading us beside still waters, making us lie down in green pastures, restoring our souls.[6] When we come to the table of our Savior, we experience in a way that is like no other the presence of the risen and living Christ.[7] It is truly one of the high points of our worship.
In the previous context where I served, every worship service was supposed to end with an evangelistic invitation. While I understand that this came out of the revival tradition, I always felt frustrated with trying to find some logical or reasonable way to lead into a call to conversion, no matter what the topic of the sermon might have been. On the other hand, I never grow tired of inviting people to the table Christ has prepared for us. As we seek to recover shattered hopes, as we seek to re-learn faith in new ways, we come to the table and find the presence of the risen Savior. We find the gift of God’s unconditional acceptance, God’s sustaining grace, and God’s redeeming love. We come with our community of faith and draw our very life from the one who died for us. And we leave with our hope and faith renewed.

[1] © 2011 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 5/15/11 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] James Taylor, “Fire and Rain” from Sweet Baby James, Warner Brothers, 1970.
[3] Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, 325: “Faith in God is only possible when we live by faith.”
[4] Book of Order W-1.1001; cf. Karl Barth, Epistle to the Romans, 426-36. Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 109, says that new life in Christ is to be “celebrated as the feast of freedom, as joy in existence and as the ecstasy of bliss.”
[5] Cf. The Study Catechism, question 69: “add water, or bread and wine, to the word of promise, and it becomes a visible word. In this form it does what by grace the word always does: it brings the salvation it promises, and conveys to faith the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Cf. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 4.14.17.
[6] In the Lord’s supper, Christ may be said to “feed” us—that is he confirms and nurtures our faith, and he renews and sustains us in our service (W.2.4004).
[7] This is the distinctive Reformed view of the sacrament; cf. Weber, Foundations II:618.

No comments: