Pentecost 19, 2015
"Don't neglect your faith"
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I have to admit that at many points during my academic career that I neglected my studies as a student. We all have times in our lives when we wish we could go back and make better decisions. There were many times during my K-8th grade years at St. Paul, Oak Lawn that I was close to being held back. Teachers became more frustrated after learning the results of my test scores when I began taking Standardized tests...and testing post high school. In high school I maintained a B average...a huge improvement...that I credit to tests being more heavily weighted for the final grade. I neglected studying...because I could get by without. College brought new challenges and temptations. It was more fun to stay up late playing video games and hanging out with friends...then to study and get up early for classes. My neglecting of studying caught up to me. I had failed classes. I was academically dismissed. If not for a special hearing...influenced by a District Vice President...that granted me to continue the next semester...as long as I pulled my GPA up...I have no idea what would have happened with my future. Because of neglecting my vocation as student...and my studies...I almost lost my future.
Our Epistle lesson says, "Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will." (Hebrews 2:1-4)
Our text speaks about neglecting something even more than academics...its speaks about neglecting your faith. The words are straightforward: Pay much closer attention to what you have heard, lest you drift away from it. How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?
We have seen it all too often. Children get confirmed and we rarely see them again...if it all. Families fall away. Loved ones have other things to do. We know the faith. We've been confirmed. We believe in God. We believe in Jesus...what's the big deal about going to Church anyway? Why can't I just worship God at home...at the golf course... or wherever I happen to be?
Those are valid questions. Or are they? In fact they are the wrong questions. We live our faith within and without these walls. We live our faith within many different vocations. We live out our faith as husbands, wives, brother, sister, father, and mother. We live out our faith in the world...a world that is becoming much more openly hostile to Christians.
You have seen the horrific news of the mass shooting in Oregon. "The gunman, while reloading his handgun, ordered the students to stand up and asked if they were Christians, Boylan told her family." And they would stand up and he said, 'Good, because you're a Christian, you're going to see God in just about one second,'" Boylan's father, Stacy, told CNN, relaying her account. "And then he shot and killed them."
Christians...specifically Christians were killed because of their faith. Is the end of the world coming in our life time? It sure seems like it. There are wars and rumors of war. There are natural disasters all around. Christians are being persecuted around the world...and within our own country. Scripture tells us "Don't neglect your faith!" So that you may "always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." (1 Peter 3:15)
A quote that is making its rounds on Facebook: "The bravest person in America? The 2nd to admit to being a Christian after the UCC shooter murdered the 1st." And the third and the fourth... "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life." (Revelation 2:10)
Don't neglect your faith! Be faithful unto death! Don't drift away! But how do we do that? We learn from our mistakes. These past few days have not been fun. I woke up during the week not feeling well. I was achy all over. I had a headache. I took a shower in hopes it would make me feel better. I had to vomit. I had a fever... 99 degrees... 100 degrees...102 degrees... and then it started going back down. I took Tylenol for the fever...and drank lots and lots of water. I had learned a lesson from college.
Not only did I neglect my studies that first year of college...I neglected my own health. I had the same symptoms of the flu...but I ignored them. Instead I went out to play some football with friends, ate an unhealthy meal...and then collapsed in my bed. I could barely move. I don't recall how bad my fever was...but I went to the emergency room where they gave me Tylenol and put me on an IV to hydrate me.
We are all sinners. We have all made decisions we would like to change in our past. But we can't. At one moment or another in our lives...our faith has been tested. Often, even for just a moment, we start to drift away from the faith. Many have drifted very far away. So what do we do? We ask God for forgiveness. We go to Church...regularly. We receive forgiveness of sins and strength to overcome this world as we receive the body and blood of Christ each Sunday. We study God's Word. We hear God's Word. We gather together as a community and family to support one another. We pray. And we go back out into the world. We go back to our vocations...we go back to our friends, families, and neighbors, we go back to our jobs. And we share our faith. We share the hope that we have in Christ. We forgive. We love. And by the grace of God we remain faithful unto death and receive the promised crown of life. 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.