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Living by Faith | Taking Risks

Sermon - First United Methodist Church, Brookings, South Dakota.

Luke 14:25  Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 
Luk 14:26  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 
Luk 14:27  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 
Luk 14:28  For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 
Luk 14:29  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 
Luk 14:30  saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 
Luk 14:31  Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?
Luk 14:32  And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 
Luk 14:33  So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. 

Text: Hebrews 11:1  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen 

Intro:

Hello everyone.

My name is Pete Grassow and I have been appointed as the new pastor of First United Methodist in Brookings, South Dakota. I was appointed to begin on 1 July, and it is now 1 September and I am still waiting for my US Visa – so when I was asked to preach today I knew that there was really only one thing I could preach on: which is  “Living by Faith”.

My text for today is Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen

I am inviting us to think about God’s call for us to live by faith: I am going to use the Scripture Passage set for today in the Lectionary: which is a story of Jesus challenging his followers to think about their commitment to God.

I want to speak about three things:

  • Taking a risk with God
  • Taking a risk with the people around me
  • Taking a risk with myself

Take a risk with God

Jesus spent most of his ministry in the fishing villages of Galilee, and on the farms of rural Israel. Here he saw the suffering of the poor people, the people who lived on the margins of society. He prays with them, and he gives then encouragement – and tells then that they are God’s beloved.

Luke then tells us that Jesus takes a decision to move from the rural areas into Jerusalem. As you know, Jerusalem is the seat of decision making – the temple was the place where the rules were made that caused so much suffering for the people in the rural areas. Jesus wants to talk with the country’s leadership about their laws – and how the rule of God is a better way to live.

In Chapter 13 he is on his way to the capital city: which was a risky move:
He was accepted and loved by the rural people. Wherever he went he was welcomed, and people loved his teaching.
But now he was choosing to give it all up and go to Jerusalem – where he would not be welcomed.
In fact if you read Luke 13:31 you will see that Jesus was warned to get away from Jerusalem because King Herod wanted to kill him.

Here’s the point – following God is risky business. Because God leads us out of places that are comfortable into places where we are uncomfortable. God leads us from shallow water into deep water.

We hear Jesus speaking about wide and narrow gates. And challenging those who followed him to be willing to step out in faith.
He asks who is willing to follow him to Jerusalem. This invitation offers no guarantees: those who followed him could not see where this call would take them: to use the words of our text from Hebrews:

This call is all about “things hoped for” …but completely unseen.

I want to use this moment to allow the question of Jesus to resonate through 2000 years and speak to us today. We have come out of the summer break, and Labour Day weekend, and are back at work, and back at school and……back at church. Are we willing to hear Jesus asking us to follow him?

As a church we have plans for the next few months – and we need people to do the work of Jesus
I make no apology in asking for volunteers to work in the life of this church:
There are a range of activities that you can volunteer for: I think of the Harvest Table, or the Grief Support Group, or the Wednesday Afternoon Childcare, or ministry on the University campus – these are just some amongst many other things that this church does.

I think too of living our lives faithfully at work, or in our neighbourhood, or when shopping.

Jesus is looking for people who will take a risk: who will put up their hands to follow him – who will step out in faith. There are no guarantees – this is the stuff of “things hoped for – but yet unseen”.

Take a risk with the people around you

Let me take us back to the story of Jesus: Luke tells us that when Jesus enters Jerusalem, great crowds followed him. I have a sense of the diversity of these people. Not everyone in the crowd was on the same side:
Some were disciples, who followed him all the way from Galilee.
Others were the city crowds: here were people who found Jesus a distraction from the daily grind of life. They see the rabbi who had been so popular in the rural areas, come to town. So they tagged along out of curiosity.

And the amazing thing is that Jesus chose to include everyone – both those who had travelled the journey and those who now joined the crowd. He could have chased away the newcomers – which would be perfectly understandable. In fact I suspect that his disciples probably looked at the newcomers with a measure of disdain: I can almost hear the words: who are you? You were not with us from the beginning – how dare you arrive now?

But instead Jesus says that they are welcome: He tells a story of a wedding feast, and of a great banquet – both of which emphasise that everyone is welcome in the Kingdom of God: both poor and rich, both those who deserve to sit at the top of the table, and those who sit right at the bottom end.

Allow me to skip forward to today – and remind us that the message of Jesus has not changed: we are still challenged to take a risk on the people around us. And the people around us are diverse. I am sure that in this church – some have been here for a life time, while others are much newer. Some have deep knowledge of the teachings of Jesus and others have a very sketchy understanding. Some come every Sunday and some come occasionally….

There are old people and young people, farmers and academics, gay and straight, Democrat and Republican – and everything in between. And so we can endlessly divide ourselves – unless we hear the challenge of Jesus: who tells us that each one here is God’s beloved. The Kingdom of God includes both those you like – and those that you think are dodgy. Jesus challenges us to take a risk on the people around you.

Taking a risk with myself

To go back to the story: Jesus says a startling thing to the crowds who are following him:

Luke 14:26  he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 

Surely Jesus should be encouraging family values – rather than saying we should “hate our families”? Jesus is not teaching people to destroy families – but he is challenging the place of deepest security in each person’s life. Jewish culture emphasises belonging to a family. As a child you grow up within the family, who provide for you and nurture you; as adults you rely on the family network to survive - and when you become old and frail your family keeps you safe.

Here is Jesus saying – if you follow me I will ask you to risk your security.
Perhaps some of us find security with family, and it is hard to step outside of the family values, even when these values are prejudiced and bitter.
I suspect many of us find security with our money, our investments, our property. And so it becomes difficult to share our wealth.

So here is the question: Are you willing to let go of all that keeps you safe – and step into the unknown.

Let me close by returning to the beginning: Our text from Hebrews speaks of things hoped for – but yet unseen. We cannot see the future – but we choose to step out anyway.

  • Take a risk with God – choose to risk your life by placing it at the disposal of God. God is in this church, and in this state, and in this country and in this world: as that old song goes: “He’s got the whole world in his hands”.
  • Take a risk with the people around you – I challenge you to risk taking hands with each other: take hands across the ally and see both the Well service and the Sanctuary service as your church family.
  • Take a risk with yourself – I have had to do this in my own life: I believe that God has called me to join you in Brookings. I cannot see where this call takes me – but I have an assurance that this is a call of God. I am yet to see the Visa, but I am choosing to continue to live in the belief that it will come.

I am inviting you to step up with me – and commit your time and energies and finances to the work of Jesus in and through this church.

  • Sign up for one of the ministries of the church
  • Pledge a regular amount to financially support this church
  • And show up for worship, and for those moments when the church serves the community.

Remember: faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen

Let us all put our faith into practice.

“To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” Finley Peter Dunne (1867–1936)