Scripture Readings: Micah 6: 1-8, Psalm 15, Matthew 5: 1-12
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Living our faith is about our deeds, not our dreams.
Living our faith is about our actions, not our money.
Living our faith is not about yesterday, and it’s not really about tomorrow; it is about today.
One day a long, long time ago, I flunked out of college. My last grade report from the University of Florida said I had a perfect 1.0 average… and I was toast. Expelled permanently for violation of academic probation, the only way I could get back in was if I petitioned the University Senate for re-admission — and the very thought intimidated me. My academic life was over and I was barely 18.
Well, here I stand before you, a college graduate, with two masters degrees and a doctorate. Clearly something happened. Well, nothing happened for a good long time. By the time I came back to education, I’d been in the Marines for a couple of years. In those days, you could take correspondence courses, and I signed up for one. Then I took an extension course offered at my base by a local college. But in those days, what I was doing was more like idle recreation; it was definitely not the pursuit of any organized education.
In fact, I was out of the Marines before that happened. First, I signed up for a local business college, because I wanted to get a job. It went awfully well, and I began to re-think the picture I had of myself as someone who couldn’t do “education”. I began to think about going back to college.
There still were a lot of roadblocks…. I didn’t really think anyone would want me; I actually thought the only school I could go to was the University of Florida, and only if I petitioned that University Senate, whatever that meant. But there was a professor in our church, a man I sang with in the choir, and he helped me understand that just because I’d been expelled from one school, didn’t mean I couldn’t apply to another.
Well, then I thought, how will I ever complete a degree — if I transfer in my courses from Florida, I have to transfer that 1.0 gpa — and it is almost impossible to bring that low a gpa up to a graduation-eligible level. But my professor friend persisted; the school where he taught — Castleton State, in Vermont — would transfer courses, but would not transfer the grades. So, if I went there, I’d start off with no gpa at all, and could re-build my record.
And there was one final roadblock. I kept thinking, gee whiz, it’s going to take forever, if I do this while I’m working. Why, I’ll be 40 before I finish. Then, one day, it occurred to me — hey, I’m going to be 40 anyway, some day, and would I rather be 40 with a college degree, or 40 sitting around waiting for something good to happen?
So I went back to college, and graduated when I was 33, on the President’s List, with a BS in business administration, and went on to Andover Newton and all the other degrees.
All because I was able to change my picture of myself from a person who could not learn, into a person who wanted to learn.
Living our faith is about our deeds, not our dreams.
Don’t get me wrong; dreams are very helpful. But if we live only in our dreams, we’re like the person who bought a whole closet full of new clothes to wear to parties, except she never went to parties.
Micah wrote to a people who’d gotten themselves mixed up in a similar way. They thought that the only deed they needed to accomplish to realize their dream of good living, was to fulfill the outward requirements of religion. They wanted to build a Potemkin village of faith — you remember the story about the Russian bureaucrat who’d put up false front villages to fool the Empress? Well a faith that’s all about outward signs is nothing but a Potemkin village. Real faith is about deeds of love and mercy. Real faith is about doing justice, and loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God.
Jesus might well have been reading off Micah’s page when he offered the disciples the Beatitudes. You’ll note he doesn’t say, “blessed are those who believe this, or pray that way” but “Blessed are those who…. are poor, who mourn, who are meek, who are merciful, who are pure, who make for peace, who are persecuted…” All… all are ways we live, all are about the qualities of our lives, all are firmly anchored in the hear and now, not the dreamt of tomorrow, or even the beloved yesterday.
Living our faith is about today, not yesterday, and not to be put off until tomorrow.
This is a Christian church. You knew that, right? <smile> But I mean by that is, we are Christian in background, not Congregational…. we were formed by people who had had it with lengthy tests of faith, who weren’t comfortable with creeds, or catechisms, who really disliked the idea that some one could claim to be a believer on Sunday, and then not allow that faith to govern their daily living. That’s why our Christian ancestors, when they organized, said that one of the sure principles of the denomination was that “Christian character is a sufficient test of fellowship and church membership.” How you live is more important than the theological details. Or to put it another way, theology follows faith; it doesn’t drive it.
I don’t mean by this that theology has no importance; I only mean that the particulars of our beliefs are secondary to the living of our lives.
That’s a long introduction to the heart of this sermons: so, if living out our faith is about our deeds, not our dreams, how are we doing?
Are we actually doing?
Are we extending mercy to those who don’t know it? Are we building peace — here in our fellowship, in our community, in our world? Are we kind and gracious to our neighbors? Or are we offering lip service, letting the members of the SAM Committee and our pastor do the real work of ministry?
Is it possible that when we think of “doing something” for others, that our imaginations are restricted by our grasp of our limitations? That like me, when I thought of going back to school, all we see are the obstacles and not the pathways?
Of course, I’m posing a question I can’t answer. I can’t answer it because it’s your question to answer. And, I’d bet you aren’t ready yet to answer it, if only because we’ve been going along, doing what we’ve always done, and trying to do that as well as we did it before.
The challenge before us is simple. The world for which our current picture of what ministry is, what service might be, that world doesn’t really exist any more. Think about it: When we put those models together, Fall River was prosperous, the mills were still running, and every high school grad who wanted one, could get a job there. When we put those models together, veterans of World War II were raising their 10 year old children. When we put those models together, everyone belonged to a church; you really had to go to church to be seen as a respectable person.
And none of that’s true any more.
In the Boston Globe this week, Fall River was the 7th poorest city in the state, only because New Bedford beat it out for sixth place. Our World War II vets and their spouses are increasingly leaving us. Being a part of a church is an option these days, not a requirement, and in some groups, a distinctly odd thing to do.
But in that new world, there are still needs, still opportunities for us to serve God and serve our community.
There are still opportunities to make the truths of the Beatitudes real in someone’s life.
What are the needs you see in our community? Where are our ministry edges? How can we best serve God and our world? Let’s talk about what you see and hear and know, and let’s pray, that out of all that, we will see our way into the future.
© 2011, Virginia H. Child