Faith of our Fathers
Hebrews 12:1-13 “Faith of our Fathers”
Some of you may have seen the pictures on Facebook. Over the weekend I took on a little project. I built an end table for our living room. I have to tell you if you look at the pictures on Facebook it looks pretty good. However, if you are a carpenter, or have done any wood working at all you will know exactly where to look to see all of my mistakes. You’ll know where the hardest cuts had to be made and yup, mine are crooked. You’ll understand how even though all of the pieces can be measured and cut exactly the same there is something that happens when assembling the pieces and by the end your table wobbles just a touch. I have the table all sanded and ready for stain, and that will be the next adventure. How do I get it to match the furniture in the rest of the living room? As I sanded and sanded and sanded that little table by hand yesterday afternoon I began to realize just how grateful I am that our Lord and Savior is a carpenter. We are actually not sure what was the vocation of Jesus’ earthly father Joseph. They Greek word used to describe his vocation could mean wood worker or stone worker. Either way Joseph was a blue collar tradesman and Jesus, as Joseph’s first born would have been apprenticed to this trade. I think this is really important because it does not matter if you are painter, a carpenter, or someone who works in fabrication it is hard to miss there is something important about the process. That something as been important to all of the church mothers and fathers going back to the beginning of time, and that something is important to us. Each and everyone of us is like that table I am building. We are works in progress. God is using a process to bring us into full faithful relationship with God’s self. And like that table which is waiting to be stained we are almost, but not yet where God would have us to be.
For the last several weeks we have enjoyed a sermon series on Baptism. We have talked about what Baptism is, and what Baptism is not. One of the things we talked about is how Baptism is not the end of the journey, but the beginning. Now that we have been blessed with so many who have recently been Baptized, and we have recommitted ourselves to lives of faithful discipleship we should probably pause to take stock and consider just what it is we have promised, and take measure of how we are going to fulfill our vows.
According to the 2016 Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church when people become members of a United Methodist Church, “they profess their faith in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; in Jesus Christ his only Son; and in the Holy Spirit. Thus, they make known their desire to live their daily lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. They covenant together with God and with the members of the local church to keep the vows which are a part of the order of confirmation and reception into the Church:
- To renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of the world, and repent of [our] sin;
- To accept the freedom and power God gives [us] to resist evil, injustice and oppression;
- To confess Jesus Christ as Savior, put [our] whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as [our] Lord;
- To remain faithful members of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world;
- To be loyal to Christ through the United Methodist Church and do all in [our] power to strengthen its ministries;
- To faithfully participate in its ministries by [our] prayers, their presence, [our] gifts, [our] service and [our] witness;
- To receive and profess the Christian faith as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.”
While this is a great list of things all United Methodists are supposed to profess and do the question remains; How is anyone actually supposed to do these things?
The author of the Letter of the Hebrews begins chapter 12 with, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Perhaps, maybe, just maybe the traditions of our faith will have some answers to inform our experience of those who have lived out their faith before us so that we may fulfill our vows to go therefore and make disciples of Jesus Christ.
When John Wesley saw people who were Baptized as babies and not living out their Christian witness Wesley preached against this behavior. (pause) It did not go well. After a series of rejections Wesley resorted to open air preaching and soon found people coming to him asking for help to flee the wrath to come. They were looking for salvation. Even having been baptized as babies they had NOT been taught or lead down the paths of spiritual maturity. They were still babies. Some had even resorted to claiming there is no God. However, now the Holy Spirit was at work. Now the Holy Spirit was moving people to the foot of the cross and using John and Charles Wesley to do it.
One of John Wesley’s many gifts was that of an organizer. Wesley organized groups of people into what they called class meetings. Those meetings were not Sunday school classes where one person lectured others about the Bible. Those meetings were about creating space for the Holy Spirit to draw us closer to the foot of the cross, and then closer to God. Wesley did not even begin by asking people if they had a saving faith in Jesus Christ, or if they were Baptized. Wesley started by asking the participants to obey three simple rules. Look for new ways to do no harm. Look for new ways to do good to others, both inside and outside the walls of the church. And finally, to attend to the ordinances of God. They could take these one at a time, but these ordinances included, attending worship, tithing, prayer (public and private), participating in the sacraments, works of piety, and works of mercy. Works of piety are things like attending a Bible study, fasting, keeping sabbath, searching Scriptures for answers to the things we do not understand. Works of mercy are things like visiting the sick, tutoring children in their studies, or being a mentor for a confirmand. Through these class meetings 1000s of people came to Christ and the Methodist movement birthed the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States of America in 1784. This methodical approach provided space for the Holy Spirit to work and a great revival of the Holy Spirit brought a spiritual awakening across Europe and in this country.
That is the tradition of our denomination. And, just like Abel, Enoch, Abraham and Sarah, Moses and a whole host of others it was the work of the Holy Spirit that brought change to their lives. It is the work of the Holy Spirit which brought us to the cross of Jesus Christ. It is the work of the blood of Jesus Christ which saves us. It is the work of God which draws us closer to paradise with God. However, it helps if we order our lives in such a way so there are fewer distractions and more room for God. Hence the reason for John Wesley’s three rules. It wasn’t about earning out way to heaven. Those rules were about trying to create more room in our busy lives for God. When we create more room in our lives for God then we find ourselves leaving those wicked parts of our lives behind. We find ourselves standing up against bullies and those who would trample the rights and privileges of others based on age, race, gender or economic status. We come to know Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior and find strength in God’s grace.
My sisters and brothers in this town where so many women are referred to by their maiden names regardless of how long they have been married; In this town where people know who is and is not from here by whether or not they knew your parents or grandparents; I am certain there are at least some of you who remember the faith of your parents, grandparents, and perhaps even great grandparents. This building serves as a witness of the people who have come and worshipped in this place. This building stands like one of the ancient stones of Israel bearing witness to what it has seen and heard. This building bears witness for us and against us for what this congregation and this build has stood for since it was build back in the 1950’s. There have been a lot of good examples set for us in this building. How are we carrying on the very best parts of our faith tradition? Are each and everyone of us moving forward with our faith? Can everyone here say we are looking for ways to draw closer to Christ? Are we creating space in our lives for the Holy Spirit to move us closer to God? (pause) Well…? (pause) I am going to take your silence as a, “No.” I guess that means we all have some work to do.
Since we are clearly surrounded by the work of such a wonderful cloud of witnesses as our parents and grandparents and all of those great heroes from Scripture we should follow their example. Do your parents make time to pray every day? Did your grandparents read their Bible everyday? Do we look for ways to declutter our lives so that we are better able to equip the poor and working poor for a better life? My brothers and sisters if we are going to keep the promises we made before God and to one another regarding membership in the church and our discipleship before God we are going to need the work of the Holy Spirit. We must be dedicated to disciplining our lives to create space for God’s Holy Spirit. We must discipline our lives to be able to hear God’s voice when God speaks. We must listen. We must serve. We must ground our lives in Scripture. This is the work of a disciple. Without this disciplined life – the life of the great heroes of the Bible; the example of our parents, grandparents and great grandparents we will become like the people John Wesley witnessed who claim to be cultural Christians without any of the form and power of the Holy Spirit to live out our Christian witness.
In the name of Jesus Christ,
 Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, (Abingdon Press: Nashville 2016) ¶217.