Hebrews 5:12-6-12; Mark 10:46-52
If you are not familiar with an American pastor named Francis Chan I’d like to introduce him to you. In 1994 he planted a church in southern California, beginning with 30 people. By the year 2000 the membership had exploded to over 1,600 people and he oversaw a multi million-dollar budget. In spite of his apparent success he had the courage to ask himself if he was truly doing what the Lord had called him to do. So he took a sabbatical to figure it out and upon returning he resigned from the church, gave away 50% of his income, and donated his book royalties of about $2 million to various charities that rescued sex slaves around the world. He then moved to San Francisco to lead a ministry that planted churches in the inner city.
You have to admire such courage to follow the Lord wherever He leads, and while I’m not certain that everyone could respond with such radical obedience, I do think Pastor Chan’s model of self-examination is a healthy one to follow. The writer of Hebrews certainly points us in this direction.
In the passage before us He moves from his earlier teaching to a mild rebuke. He challenges them to take a hard look at themselves. He says by this point in their journey they should be teachers and yet they still need someone to teach them the first principles of God’s Word. This would be the rough equivalent today of me saying that it is time for our parish to move beyond Anglican 101 in our faith. He rebukes them for still needing milk when they should be ready for meat. He’s telling them that it is time to grow up spiritually.
If we will apply this rebuke in Hebrews to ourselves it could lead us to some healthy self-examination. We do this not in some morbid introspection but for our own good. for the good of the kingdom and for the greater glory of God. So let’s ask ourselves the hard questions. How am I doing on this Christian journey? What is my maturity level? Am I ready to be a teacher or am I staying a perpetual student? Have I deepened in my understanding of the faith or am I still at the “Jesus love me this I know” stage?
On way to answer the question if you are a teacher or a student, if you are on meat rather than milk, is to reflect on whose life you are impacting or to put it another way, whose feet you are washing.
The Anglican Church in Nigeria takes this challenge very seriously and it is one reason why the church is exploding there. In fact it is growing so rapidly that they are having a difficult time producing shepherds fast enough to keep up with the ever-increasing flock. Their approach is that it is each Christian’s responsibility to lead at least one person to Christ per year. Additionally they are to disciple that person for a year in the fundamentals of the faith. At the end of the year it becomes the new converts responsibility to do the same for someone else. So now both of them are evangelizing and discipling two others and the two become four and the four become eight and the eight become sixteen etc. Thus their growth is exponential.
But how do we get there? How do we come to the place of greater maturity and responsibility? One step in the right direction is seen in our collect for the day where we pray that God would increase in us the gifts of faith, hope and charity. A great lesson from sports is that if you want to improve you go back to the basics. So it makes sense to focus our attention on the three basic thing things that St. Paul says will abide to the end. We don’t mature by receiving some special revelation or by finding some spiritual silver bullet. We mature by growing deeper in faith, hope and love. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
First we pray for an increase of faith. We do so because the Scriptures say that without faith it is impossible to please God. We can also see the importance of faith in our Gospel lesson where Jesus tells the blind man that his faith has made him well.
But we need to be careful here because if we get this wrong, even in a small way, we will miss our intended goal by a mile. It has been said many times that all heresies contain an element of truth and that is so for the heresy of the health and wealth gospel. The truth they highlight is the importance of faith in the life of the believer. But where they go wrong is that their emphasis is on the quantity of faith. If you have enough faith you will not get sick. If you have not been healed it is because you don’t have enough faith. The right amount of faith will result in you being rich and successful. They may spin it in different ways but it keeps coming back to the quantityof your faith.
But Jesus informs us that faith is not about quantity. Remember He spoke of only needing the faith of a mustard seed to move mountains. True faith is in the OBJECT of your faith not the QUANTITY of it. And the object of our faith is Jesus. We place our trust in His nature, His character, His compassion, His love. Faith is reaching out and touching the hem of His garment. It is lowering your friend through the roof so that Jesus can touch him. It is the blind man asking Jesus for his sight.
I often wondered why Jesus would ask folks who were in obvious need of healing what they needed from Him, as He did with the blind man in today’s Gospel. I think that He does so for a couple of reasons. First to ask Jesus specifically and directly is an act of faith. That seems so obvious but how easy it is to miss that point. I have missed it many times. It used to irritate the dickens out of me when I would express a concern to my Mother and she would say “Well have you prayed about it?” And the reason that irritated me so badly was because that is such an obvious thing to do and yet in actuality I had not done it. I had thought about it, I had worried about it, I had wondered what God was going to do about it, I considered how I would receive direction or a solution. But I had not stopped and said, “Master let me receive my sight.”
Secondly I think Jesus asked them what they needed from Him so that they would know who to thank when their request was answered. So it is equally important that we ask directly and specifically so that we too know who to thank. Things didn’t just work out, it was not fate, it was not karma nor was it coincidence. When we cry out for mercy and He hears our voice and grants us mercy we are to respond with praise and thanksgiving. This is how our faith matures.
Next we pray for an increase of hope. Hope is the Willie Wonka Golden Ticket of Christianity. It is the gift of God that we should be shouting from the rooftops because all around us are people trying to live life without it. So many are in a very hard place. It is especially true for those who seek to live a meaningful life that goes deeper than eating, drinking and football. When you ask the hard question about the purpose of your life and existence you had better have hope or you will go down a very dark hole.
But first let’s be sure that we distinguish secular hope from biblical hope. Secular hope is wanting something to be so without any assurance of it happening. Think of all the people who were hoping to win the recent power ball and mega millions. And of all those millions of folks who were hoping only one person had it happen.
Biblical hope is much different. It is not wanting something to happen, it is the assurance of what is going to happen. Secular hope is wanting to win the lottery. Biblical hope is wanting the sun to rise tomorrow.
What is this biblical hope about? Our hope is about the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Our hope is that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us so that where He is we will be with Him forever. Our hope is that we will live in a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more sin or sickness or sorrow or death but life eternal. It is this certain hope of tomorrow that puts life today in its proper perspective and we understand that this life today is a preparation for the life to come tomorrow. That is how our hope matures.
Lastly we pray for an increase of love and you will remember that St. Paul says that this gift is the greatest of all. But as we just did with hope, we need to distinguish secular love from biblical love. What is secular love? The Righteous Brothers told us.
You lost that lovin’ FEELIN’
Whoa, that lovin’ FEELIN’
You lost that lovin’ FEELIN’
Now it’s gone, gone, gone, woh, woh, woh
Secular love is FEELIN’. And so when the feelin is gone you are justified in breaking your promises or being unfaithful or acting selfishly.
What is biblical love? How did Jesus define it? “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lays down his life for his friend.”Love is sacrifice. “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” Love is faithfulness. He commands us to love our neighbor and then He gives the parable of the Good Samaritan. Love is action.
I was following a debate on line about immigration laws and the mass of immigrants that are making their way through Mexico towards the United States. As folks were lining up on either side of the debate someone commented to a person who was pro open borders, “Please post your address because they will need a place to stay when they get here.”I’m bring this up not to make a political statement or to take a side. My point is that this comment goes right to the distinction between love as a feeling and love as action. Too many think that expressing a feeling of compassion goes far enough. No doubt the priest who passed by the man in Jesus’ parable who had been beaten and robbed offered up a prayer for him. But it was the Good Samaritan who rolled up his sleeve and got his hands dirty that truly expressed love.
Earlier this year we had a team of folks go to Puerto Rico to help them rebuild after the devastating hurricane. One of our members was so moved by what he saw there that he has gone back almost weekly to organize teams of builders to get the homes of the poor habitable. He has done this on his own dime. He did not come to the Vestry for support. He did not form a committee because they would still be talking about what to do. He didn’t get on Facebook and complain that the government is not doing enough to help these folks. He rolled up his sleeves like the Good Samaritan and love was evidenced by his self sacrifice, his faithfulness and his action. Immature love says, “Somebody needs to do something.” Mature love says “I’ve got this”and then does it.
By the grace of God we have been given some great models, like Pastor Chan and the brother that I just mentioned, to challenge us to ask ourselves some hard questions. Let’s set our hearts to move from student to teacher, from milk to meat. Let’s commit to deepening our walk in the kingdom by growing in faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these……….Amen.