Justified by the faith that God gives us.
March 23, 2014 First St Johns
We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and of God the Son and of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know the faith that God gives us, said … AMEN!
So Paul starts right out of the chute for us: “Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through out Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 5:1) Faith one of the four onlys. I got a little red line in my word processor when I wrote “onlys” there is only one only, yet in Christ, there are four onlys. Remember back in confirmation, the four onlys that guide our faith, yea, I don’t know how you can have four superlatives, there’s good, better, best right? Best is the superlative, the best, there can only be one best, yet in the mystery of the Christian faith, we have four bests, four ultimates. Go figure? Sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola Christi, sola fide. Only Scripture guides our life in Christ, only grace guides our life, only Christ guides our life and only faith/fide makes us righteous. Paul says we are “justified”, because of our faith in Christ we are justified, we are just. If we were brought to court, if we were accused, we would be found innocent, justified. Why? Because we are innocent? Ambrosiaster writes: “Faith gives us peace with God, not the law, for it reconciles us to God by taking away those sins which had made us God’s enemies. And because the Lord Jesus is the minister of this grace, it is through him that we have peace with God. Faith is greater than the law, because the law is our thing, whereas faith belongs to God. Furthermore, the law is concerned with our present life, whereas faith is concerned with eternal life. But whoever does not think this way about Christ, as he ought to, will not be able to obtain the rewards of faith, because he does not hold the truth of faith.”1 So, where do we get this faith? We have a lot of churches that teach that you are responsible for generating your own faith, if you aren’t stacking up, if you’re not healthy or pretty, or talented, or rich, it’s because you lack faith, they teach that God wants us to be happy, healthy, wealthy, pretty, talented, but if we can’t crank up our faith ability, well then it’s our fault and if we don’t make it in these areas it’s a sign that our faith is lacking. Can we, being sinner, somehow miraculously generate our own faith? By grace “sola gratia”, we are given the faith that we need through Jesus. God’s grace gives us the free gift of faith, nothing we can do can give us faith, or help us to increase our faith. We pray, we journal, we attend worship and receive absolution and the Body and Blood of Jesus, we study scripture and through these God gives us faith, God gives us what we need, when we need it. We can reject it, we can decide it’s not fast enough and far enough, like Israel in our Exodus reading. They decided, they wanted what they wanted now! It’s tough to be in the desert, no water in sight, wondering when you’re going to get your next glass of water. We’re all guilty of that, I’ve decided that this is what I need and I need it now. The Hebrew word hsn means to test, as the “Keyword Study Bible” points out: “the Lord has the right to test the faithfulness of His people, Abraham, Moses, David the people complaining to the leaders or the leaders complaining to God or both. And also the sense that God can test our faithfulness.”2 You probably saw the story in the last couple of weeks of the 18 year old daughter who sued her parents, because she felt she was entitled to support even though she was technically an adult. She picked up and left her home, but still expected her parents to foot the bill. The judge in the case according to the New York Post even “blasts her for gross disrespect”. Pretty much every article I saw about her described her as a spoiled brat. That is how the Israelites come off in our reading. God has miraculously delivered them from their grinding slavery in Egypt, he has provided them with food every day in the desert, He has provided them with clothing that for forty years will not break down, He has provided them with water and at the right time would have provided them with the water they needed, but because they were acting like spoiled brats and threatening to stone Moses, God gave in and gave them what they wanted. But they failed the test, God had kept them alive and promised to continue to do so, but they decided they were too important, God was continuing to give them faith, but they rejected it, got what they wanted, but failed. The Hebrew word ,byrI means to quarrel but has the same sense as the spoiled woman, that Israel was somehow entitled to plead their case in court against God, that they felt they were unfairly treated and “deserved” what they wanted.
If God is giving us our faith, we should know that God is faithful and therefore we really don’t have a right to test His faithfulness. The faith that He gives us is intended to be sufficient, when we presume to be above testing, we make an idol of ourselves, we decide that we are above that, too important for testing. Instead of looking for what God is doing in your life through this test, just like taking a history test to show how much you’ve learned in school, when we are tested we look for the lesson, the advancement in our life and grow in our relationship with God, in our ability to be a good disciple a disciple is a student, but he/she is also a teacher. We have to learn in order to be able to teach those who God gives us to disciple. What better way for someone to learn, then by you being able to say, this is how God taught me faithfulness, how God put me into a situation that tested my faith, this is what I learned, how I learned to apply the lesson and now I’m teaching you because of what I learned through God’s testing. Because at some point, that person that you are discipling is going to come into his/her own testing, and the hope is that they will remember what you taught them, see how God is working in their life and we pray their attitude will be, “ok God, I can see this is testing, help me to see what this is about and help me Lord to, essentially, pass this test.” Your disciple learns through your teaching, through the testing that God gave them and they grow as disciples and have something to pass on to those that they disciple. The cycle of life in the Christian life.
We see great examples of faith and we admire those who have lived a life of great faithfulness, St Patrick in last weeks sermon showed great faith in going back to dark, dangerous Ireland. Mother Theresa in the dark streets of Calcutta, St Paul going from city to city preaching a man who is God, who was crucified, and then resurrected. The suffering and testing these people were put through and to what end? None of them really knew in their lifetime, but years later we still remember and admire them, because they did not resist the faith that God gave them.
Chuck Swindoll writes about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn during his eight years in the Russian Gulag Archipelago: “…his parents died and his wife divorced him. Upon his release from prison he was dying of a cancer that was growing in him so rapidly that he could feel the difference in a span of twelve hours. It was at that point that he abandoned himself to God, in three lines of the incredible prayer that came in that dark hour: ‘Oh God, how easy it is for me to believe in You. You created a path for me through the despair … O God, You have used me and where You cannot use me, You have appointed others. Thank You.’” Do you want to be remembered as a spoiled brat? That it’s all about you and what God wants, what He is trying to do in your life doesn’t matter? Swindoll tells about a monument at Saratoga, the turning point battle in the American Revolution. The statue has four niches in it, one for each American general who participated in this vital battle, “the first stands Horatio Gates; in the second, Philip John Schuyler; and in the third, Daniel Morgan. But the niche on the fourth side is strangely vacant…” Anyone care to guess who should have been in that niche? … Benedict Arnold! “’The empty niche in that monument shall ever stand for fallen manhood, power prostituted, for genius soiled, for faithlessness to a sacred trust.’”3 We remember people like Arnold with contempt, we spit on the name when it’s mentioned. We remember the Israelites who so shamelessly rejected God’s faith and threatened His prophet and teach about them with contempt. We remember, someone like the Samaritan woman in our reading today and while she questioned Jesus, tested Him, she is remembered by us for her simple faith, she was the first woman evangelist. After she was given the faith to understand who Jesus is. She said to Jesus: “I know that Messiah is coming… and Jesus said to her ‘I who speak to you am he.” She rushed back to her village to tell everyone that Messiah was here and Jesus spent two days, with hated Samaritans and because of that many more were given the faith to believe “because of his word.” Do we want to live in faithfulness, to know true life in Christ, to daily remember our baptism in Him and His sacrifice for us and to trust in the hope and promises of our baptism? Or do we want to be remembered as the spoiled brat who sued her parents?
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.