June 12, 2019- Who is the Object of Our Faith? Luke 22:31-33, 54-62, Ephesians 6:10-12

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(Jesus said to Peter: ), “Simon, Simon, behold- Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”… Luke 22:31-33 (ESV)

Then they seized him (Jesus) and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance.  And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them.  Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.”  But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.”  And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.”  But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”  And he went out and wept bitterly. Luke 22:54-62 (ESV)

Who is the object of our faith?

Faith is only as good as its object. We have faith that when we drive over a bridge that it will hold fast- at least until the car goes over it.  We have faith that the sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening.  Faith is backed up by past performance- we drove over that bridge yesterday and made it to the other side in one piece.  The sun rose and set yesterday, so it’s probably going to do the same today.

Sometimes we have a habit of putting faith in things that we shouldn’t put faith in- such as that sketchy tuna salad that’s been in the fridge how long? Our culture tells us to pull ourselves up by our boot straps, “tough it out,” “believe in yourself,” and culture gives us various other motivational mantras based upon the values of independence and self reliance.  Autonomy is not necessarily a bad thing- nobody wants to be a leech or a mooch, but humans were not designed to be lone rangers.  We were made to rely on God and made to serve our community.

In the first Commandment we are instructed to have no other gods besides God, but we fall into the self reliance trap pretty easily. We really shouldn’t have faith in ourselves, because we make pretty lame gods, but this was the sin of the Garden, the sin of pride that claims that we can be like God.

The problem with our illusion of self reliance is that we really aren’t self reliant at all. The saying, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” is very true.  The apostle Peter believed (read: Peter had faith in himself) that he could follow Jesus to His death in his (Peter’s) own strength.  He fell miserably, three times.  Peter’s faith was not in Jesus, but in his own willpower.

We don’t talk about Satan much in Christian circles any more, even though Jesus did talk about him. Jesus prayed for Peter that Satan would not prevail against him.  Jesus intercedes for us in the same way.  While we are in this world we, like Peter, are surrounded by adversaries, whether they are our own desires for control, the influence of other people, or the Adversary himself.  We cannot overcome the world by having faith in ourselves.  The apostle Paul teaches that we must rely upon God alone:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:10-12 (ESV)

The good news is that Jesus is faithful even though we are not. Our faith is not from us, but a gift from God. Jesus did not abandon Peter after His resurrection.  Jesus did not hold a grudge against Peter for his faithlessness and his denials.  Jesus was faithful to Peter and did establish him as the first earthly leader of the church as he said He would do in Matthew 16:18. We learn of Jesus restoring Peter to ministry in John 21:1-19.

Peter’s mission was not to believe in himself or his own willpower, but to have faith in Christ, and to lead others to that same valid, saving faith in Christ. (Acts 2:14-41)

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.”- Martin Luther, Explanation of the Third Article of the Creed

In Jesus – the object of our faith- we are forgiven for our sins.

Even when we are faithless and deny Jesus in our thoughts, words and deeds, He is faithful to us. He has paid the price for our sins, and only in Him are we made worthy in God’s sight.

In Jesus- the object of our faith- we are baptized and born into eternal life.

August 1, 2017 “Just Me-n-Jesus?” Philippians 4:10-15

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I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone.  Philippians 4:10-15 (NRSV)

I can do all things in Him (Jesus) who strengthens me. (verse 13)

Verse 13 of the above passage from Philippians is often picked out and quoted on its own. Yes it is true that Jesus is our Strength, but that shouldn’t make us infer that the journey of following Jesus is just a “me-n-Jesus” sort of proposition.

In our country we have been conditioned to prize our independence, which is not always a bad thing. No one wants to be a mindless lemming that just goes along with the group without thinking about what the group is doing. Many people are also wired to be introverted, which means a little socialization goes a long way, as introverts primarily recharge their batteries by getting away from people and being alone.  Jesus Himself did this at times.  He went off to pray and fast by Himself quite often.  Taking times of solitude- in moderation- can be a healthy discipline.

It can be unwise to think we are too independent though. Not only do we move and breathe and have our strength because those things all come from God, we were created to live and operate in community.  Not just “me-n-Jesus,” but “me-n-Jesus AND the greater community,” is how it’s supposed to work.

This means we are supposed to engage in dialogue. We are supposed to contribute to the life and the well being of our families and communities.  We are, like the apostle Paul did, supposed to accept help from others when we need it.  We are called to the drama and the messiness of belonging to a community and participating in the life of the community.

We do encounter Jesus in the solitude of prayer and study, and those disciplines are important to our growth in understanding and faith. Yet there are some who will say things such as, “nature is my church,” and who claim to not need the fellowship and the encouragement of a Christian community.  Unfortunately when we miss out on being part of a community, we miss out on a vital way of connecting with God, and we miss out on sharing the strength and encouragement of others.

How can we live out our lives as Jesus followers and rely on His strength both one-on-one with Him in solitude, study, contemplation and prayer, AND in community, alongside fellow believers?