Lent 2, 2015
"The ebb and flow of faith"
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
A number of summers ago, as Alicia and I vacationed in California, I had the opportunity to go to a tide pool for the first time. We didn't have the most time there as the tide would soon come in. It was amazing to see anemones, hermit crabs, barnacles, and other sea life that you would never see during high tide. Sure the crabs rushed to hide as well as other sea creatures...but how amazing it is to see the different creatures God created. Without the low tides we would never get to see this life that is exposed but that life does indeed need the high tide to live.
The ebb and flow of the oceans...high and low tides...is also something that happens to each one of us in this life. I remember back when I was in college the questions they asked us when we joined Youth Ministry teams. Looking back on those silly question I am reminded about how frustrating they were. They didn't make much sense to me then...and some still do not. If you were a shoe...what kind of shoe would you be? (I still don't know what they were looking for in that question!) Another question however that I have adapted and periodically ask of Confirmands: "How strong is your faith on a scale of 1-10?"
How would you answer? In the society that we live in faith is still pretty important. There are many so called Pastors out there that make a lot of money talking about faith. Some proclaim that if your faith is strong enough, if you pray hard enough, you can have your best life right now! Other church bodies teach their members that if you take the right steps, follow the right method, and act correctly your faith will grow and grow and grow. Wouldn't it be great if your faith had an arrow that started at 1 and pointed straight up.
So what do you think? How strong is your faith on a scale of 1-10? Before you answer...let's look at the faith of Saint Peter from our text. "And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:27-29) In Matthew our Lord says of this confession: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 16:17)
What a beautiful and strong confession of faith in Jesus. On the scale of 1-10 it seems that Peter's faith as He confessed Jesus to be the Christ was a 110! But notice what takes place...just moments after that sound confession. Jesus goes back to teaching His Disciples..."And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Mark 8:31-33)
One minute we see a faith as strong as any recorded in all of Scripture in Peter's confession; a confession given through the Holy Spirit as a gift from God. And the very next moment we see Peter's faith come crashing down as He is called Satan; focusing on earthly wants, dreams, and desires. How quickly Peter's faith went from 110 to negative 10!
How strong is your faith on a scale of 1-10? When I ask confirmands it usually starts pretty high...some 8's, 9's, and every once in a while a 10. Really. That high. Have you obeyed your parents as you should? Do you do your chores and homework when they ask you without question? Do you lie? Do you say things to others that you shouldn't? Do you covet what others have? Do you go to Church every Sunday...and with want, joy, and desire to be there? Do you sin? Do you sin often? How strong is your faith? The answers change.
How strong is your faith on a scale of 1-10? Maybe the question isn't fair. So instead of having you answer (even though your already pondering the answer in your heart) I'll answer the question. I'll answer it the same way I did back in college. My answer isn't a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10. My answer is that my faith is like a roller coaster. My faith has some wonderfully awesome highs. And my faith has weak, pitiful, saddening lows. My faith has ups and downs. My faith has ebbs and flows. The only constant...and I thank God for it...is that faith remains.
I will never have my best life now...in this world...for I am a sinner. And I don't want my best life now. I want my best life to be in heaven. I want my best life to last for eternity. And that is a promise from God. Our lives in this world will contain hardships, tragedy, suffering, and death. To be sure we have many blessings from God in this life that bring us hope and joy. This life is filled with ebbs and flows.
The ebbs may expose things we try to hide. The ebbs may expose things we aren't proud of. The ebbs might be times of hardship and tragedy. But the ebbs are also reminders of how much we need God. They are times when God shows great mercy and love for us. The flows are wonderful times of hope and joy. Some of the flows of my life were my wedding day, the day Aaron was born, and maybe most joyous of all the day I baptized my son.
We are sinners. Sin hurts. Sin destroys. Sin causes the problems of this world. Sin causes our faith to have lows. Sin constantly attacks. While I none of us will have a perfect faith or life in this world...we do have a gift that makes our faith stronger. Christ Jesus has given us His very Word and Sacraments. In Baptism we are given the gift of faith. In the Lord's Supper we are given forgiveness and strength. Through Word, Bread, and Wine our faith is strengthened. Our faith is strengthened...to resist sin, to love one another, and to trust in God. We are given the strength we so desperately need!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Your faith will have ups and downs, ebbs and flows. Give thanks to God for the gift of faith. For no matter how low or high your faith might rank on a scale...it is still faith; it is still God's gift given in Baptism, it is still living and active and the work of the Holy Spirit. That faith of yours...no matter how big or small...whether it is weak or strong is saving faith. Saving faith. It's not about big or small. It's not about strong or weak. It's all about God's promise. And that promise is that all who believe in Christ Jesus shall be saved. That promise is for each of you. That promise is guaranteed. That promise is yours already. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.