Faith Trip or Power Trip

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC July 9, 2017, the fifth Sunday after Pentecost.

Texts:  1 Samuel 16:10-13, Mark 4:26-34


There’s a reason a tiny Albanian woman has become a modern icon of what it means to follow Jesus.  This simple, common, unlikely woman, remembered and revered around the world as Saint (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta, once told her superiors, “I have 3 pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage.”  Her superiors chided her saying, “With 3 pennies you can’t do anything.”  “I know,” she said, smiling, “but with God and 3 pennies I can do anything.”  The Kin-dom of God is like’s like someone actually listening and watching for God’s leading, committing to work for that dream, taking whatever little resource they have, together with all the love they can muster and trusting God to do the rest.  //  Reflecting on the circumstance of this morning (travel woes! Bishop Hoshibata’s flight canceled!) and this middle of summer time when so many people are traveling, it made me think about travel and all the various trips we take.  This morning, I want to talk about two different trips:  the faith trip and the power trip. 


We often talk about our lives of faith in terms of a journey.  The Christian journey is all about trying to follow Jesus; and Jesus is all about living and proclaiming the Kin-dom of God.  Unfortunately, many folks have the reaction Mother Teresa’s superiors had at the invitation to get on board the journey of faith and are none too sure about life in the Kin-dom.  It is, after all, a bit of a hard sell when you stop and think about it:  you’re going to have to convince people to offer all they have to the work of God’s love and then put their trust in God instead of their own strength, skill, or wealth; to leave what they think they know for sure; to receive new eyes—a double eye transplant—that will make them see things from a very different perspective than they’re used to; to sacrifice and be inconvenienced for the sake of caring for others; to get on board a kind of metaphorical “bus” with a lot of other people (many of whom they don’t know and some of whom they don’t like); and to submit to a path that will take them on a life-long journey whose destination is known fully only by God.  Woo-hoo!  Who’s ready to take that trip?!


If we decide to take the journey of faith however, Jesus is the one to follow—our greatest tour guide for the faith trip.  Like his ancestor David before him, he was the least obvious or likely person to lead us into the Kin-dom.  He was a nobody from a town nobody had heard of unless they’d had some reason to go there—like the Kiefer, Oklahoma of Palestine…and yet this simple, common, unlikely man, went about telling stories and drawing crowds in the thousands.  By modern standards, he certainly could have used a good Press Secretary or marketing strategist.  His message wasn’t always clear.  He spoke of the Kin-dom in terms of what it is “like.”  Frankly, his parables raise more questions than they answer.  It’s as though Jesus wants people to engage the mystery that is life in God’s Kin-dom—and we sophisticated modern folk know that in this world we need to simplify and clarify the message if we want anyone to hear it.  These days, we are bombarded with 6,000 messages a day (according to one scholar). Soundbites are what we want…there’s no time for mystery.  There’s no time for what we don’t understand or can’t know.  We don’t want to know what something is “like” we want to know what it is.  And we certainly don’t want to wait.  We want what we want and we want it…NOW.


And yet the Word we are given from—arguably—the best faith trip tour guide we’ll ever get is found in little throwaway passages of an ancient text…The Kin-dom of God is like some old farmer who scatters seed, seed that could be used now to feed his family through grinding and leavening, but instead is sown into fallow fields…trusting that the harvest will come.  The farmer doesn’t know how it happens, but his act of sowing and trusting brings forth the crop that can feed not only his family now, but many families for months and months…  The Kin-dom of God is like that seed…it sprouts and grows…the farmer who plants it doesn’t know how but believes that the harvest will come…and the harvest does come.  The Kin-dom will grow…it is a mystery, but insofar as faithful folks plant seeds of love, mercy, and justice, the harvest will come as sure as the sun rises, as sure as flowers bloom every Spring.


Jesus says that the Kin-dom of God is like the small mustard seed that grows into a shrub with large branches that birds can nest in…a small seed that, if not planted dies alone…but when planted invites and sustains a whole ecosystem…and, of course, anyone who knows about the mustard plant knows that, when planted, it just seems to take over where it is not wanted, that it tends to grow out of control, that it tends to attract birds within cultivated areas where they are   not particularly desired.  That’s what the Kin-dom of God is like, like the smallest grain of trust or hope or kindness dropped into the hungry soil of the world, that then brings about growth that cannot be easily managed…growth that attracts life that isn’t welcome in more “cultivated” gardens.  It is a mystery, but it seems that God insists on—depends on—small things, small acts, seemingly insignificant choices to bring growth and life and sustenance into the world.  It seems that the Kin-dom of God requires that there be a willingness (enough faith in God) to let things grow a bit wild and to let that growth disrupt the order we so desperately want to manage and control.  A smile or a helping hand offered to a stranger can ripple through the world beyond your wildest imagination…20 bucks can get someone an ID and that will change their  life…the chaos and confusion of change (in our personal lives or in our church)—can bring about a new vision, a new vitality, a new space to support those whom others might deem “unwelcome” and “unwanted.”


The Kin-dom of God is where the journey of faith wants to take us…it is where following Jesus will lead us.  And to go there does not require or encourage naïve optimism or blind, uncritical thought.  To have faith doesn’t mean you don’t have questions or that you never doubt; rather it’s to simply take a step…to be willing to get on the path, to step onto the “bus”… The faith trip is NOT easy… Any teachers here today?  (Parents?  Others?) Ever had one of those days when you feel like it’s just not working?  Like they’re just not getting it and probably never will and don’t seem to care?  Ever wonder why you bother and knock yourself out?  And yet you continue to plant the seeds, to do the work, to offer your best, trusting that maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow—and maybe not even in this life—but trusting that the harvest WILL come.  No, following Jesus into the Kin-dom of God isn’t easy.  Those who engage the mystery of life in God’s Kin-dom will be working against the odds; they will put their very lives on the line for the sake of love; they will offer their own, seemingly insignificant gifts and small acts to the work of God; they will persevere even when they cannot see the growth or result they desire; they will risk disrupting the status quo; they will not discount or overlook the small things or the “little people”; they will be caught off-guard by the sheer numbers of those who need shelter and sustenance and who therefore flock to their sprawling, unruly branches.  And here’s the other thing:  those who engage the mystery of life in God’s Kin-dom will be tempted to abandon the faith trip in order to board the competition’s very well-funded and slickly advertised tour:  the Power Trip.  That’s the Trip in which you don’t have to trust God—because you are in the driver’s seat; it’s the trip in which you can live in luxury and bring as much baggage as you want; the power trip is one on which you don’t have to care about anyone else, you don’t have to be inconvenienced or bothered, you don’t have to be generous, you don’t have to be patient because you’re promised that you can have whatever you want when you want it…and after all, you’re worth it.


But the Kin-dom of God is not found by being on a power trip… The Kin-dom of God  is like a seed carried on the wind of the Spirit and planted in the soil of hope…the journey into the Kin-dom of God is full of twists and turns and questions and struggles…and perhaps one of the greatest mysteries is that through the centuries, folks just like you and me have been willing to get on board…because in our heart of hearts we know that within the confusion and pain and uncertainty of our lives and of the world, hope is found in God’s promised harvest…because in the deepest recesses of our souls, we cling to the words of Jesus that invite us to defy hopelessness and to believe that nothing will serve the interests of those around us, the planet, or our own selves better than to step on board that crowded, unruly bus that takes us only God knows where.