The Rev. Steven C. Sterry, M.A./M.B.A.
This morning I was invited to preach the sermon at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Tustin, CA. The lessons for this Sunday that this sermon was based on are:
- Isaiah 25:1–9
- Psalm 23
- Philippians 4:4–13
- Matthew 22:1–14
Here is that sermon:
It seems like the creators of our Anglican Lectionary have, in the lessons for today, attempted to focus our attention toward our building and maintaining a right relationship with God through faith. Isaiah, in our Old Testament Lesson, for example, reminds us that
God has been faithful to those who have been faithful to Him. Those who follow and worship him will be strengthened, while those who oppose Him will do so in fear. We are God’s people and should rejoice in our salvation. In other words, those who have true faith in God will be rewarded.
The well-known 23rd Psalm reminds us that, like the good shepherd takes care of his sheep, the Lord always takes care of us. Those who loyally follow Him will dwell with Him forever. In other words, because of our faith in the Lord as our shepherd, we will be rewarded with eternal life.
The parable of the wedding feast then reminds us that when God invites us into a relationship with him, we must also be prepared to accept His call when it comes. Otherwise, we may find ourselves on the outside looking in. While many are called, few are chosen, says the Gospel for today. We are called to God, not on our terms, but through his grace and in his expectation of our obedience and faith.
Finally, like the Epistle cautions us, we should not be anxious about worldly things. The word “supplication” suggests that we humble ourselves, we are to pray, and we are to be content in all things and situations. We should always give thanks for what God has given us, even when it is less than we might desire or expect. If we practice what God teaches us, we will enjoy His peace. We can do all things through the Lord, because he will strengthen us in all things. In other words, we are saved through faith and our reward involves not worldly possessions, but, instead, God’s gift of eternal life.
During this past couple of weeks, I read several articles about the subject of faith. It was almost as if God had gifted me in advance with the materials for this sermon.
Faith is the complete trust or confidence in someone or something. And for our purposes, that someone or something is God. Faith is the basic ingredient to begin and maintain our relationship with God, and scripture defines faith as God’s assurance that all things revealed and promised in the Word, both seen and unseen, are true.
Faith comes from two sources:
- Our observation of the natural world and
- our hearing and acting upon God’s word.
As we live in this world, we discover that it is so well-ordered that a creator must have been present at the beginning. Molecules and atoms did not just happen to come together overnight to create complexity out of randomness. Everybody can see God’s creative actions, and they can experience the feeling of His presence as we observe the world around us. And, as we feel God’s presence, we are encouraged to learn more about Him.
Feeling God’s presence, however, is not enough to sustain our faith in Him. We also need the specific knowledge of God, which comes from Scripture. And, as Anglicans, we believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. As we read the Bible, we learn who God is, what he wants from us, when and where we should worship him, how we should love him, as well as how we should love our neighbors, and why He cares so much for us—for mankind/His creation. Faith, then, comes from actively studying and committing ourselves to God’s Word, as well as our commitment to a loving obedience of His Commandments. That doesn’t mean we will be perfect. It just means that we are willing without question to allow his grace to work within us.
Lately, I have been receiving the nightly GAFCON Bible devotionals. GAFCON, for those who are not familiar with this acronym, stands for the groups that make up the Global Anglican Future Conference. In their devotional for Tuesday, October 6, Simon Manchester, in talking about faith, states,
“When are we in most danger? Is it when everything goes wrong and we are in danger of doubting God’s commitment to us? Or is it when everything goes well, and we are in danger of ignoring God’s Word to us? Believers have struggled with both situations but surely the difficult times are more likely to drive us to Him, while the easy times are more likely to drive us to a sense of (naïve) independence.”
It is obvious to us, as we read the books of Judges, Kings, and Chronicles, thatwhat this author states seems to be universally true for both individuals and nations. When we are fat and happy, we tend to forget about God, but when we are struggling, we remember to put on our virtual sackcloth and return to Him. This is not how we want to define our faith.
Revelation Media, an organization that produces religious movies, including The Pilgrim’s Progress, tells the following story about how real faith can change even the worst sinners: “George Muller had grown up the privileged, arrogant son of a lawyer. He drank, gambled, stole money, and skipped out on bills which landed him in jail at the age of 16. After his father paid his debt and rescued him from prison, George tried very hard to “be good” to please his father. But, he still lived a secret life of sin that lead him to become very ill. He was confined to his room for 13 weeks. During these early years, he tried to change his conduct, and though he would succeed for a day or two, changing his behavior was just too difficult—impossible even—without a change of heart.
But then, in a small prayer meeting, George Müller found Jesus, and everything changed.
“I gave myself fully to the Lord. Honors, pleasures, money, my physical powers, my mental powers, all were laid down at the feet of Jesus, and I became a great lover of the Word of God.”
Once a man that was corrupted with money, George had only two shillings (about 50 cents) in his pocket when God pressed on his heart to found an orphanage in Bristol, England. After a life of stealing money and asking for it from men, he was determined to rely on God alone. In every need, from building structures to food for the many orphans, he always presented his prayers to God, and never once to other people. In that time, over $7,000,000 was sent to him for building and maintaining these orphan houses. In all the years since the first orphans arrived, the children never had to go without a meal. Not once. Sometimes the meal time was almost at hand, and they did not know where the food would come from, but the Lord always sent what was needed in due time.
George Müller had complete faith that God was good, and he sought to do all that God called him to do. In his time, he built 5 large orphan houses and cared for 10,024 orphans. He began his life giving in to greed and self-satisfaction, but God transformed him to be self-sacrificial. His chief passion and aim of his ministry was to “live a life and lead a ministry in a way that proves God is real, God is trustworthy, God answers prayer.
It may seem easy to trust in the Lord when things are going well in our lives, but when things are uncertain, it can be hard to commit to prayer and trust in the Lord. George Müller exemplified in his life what the Bible calls believers to do: to serve others who need help, and to trust the Lord for His provision to do so. His faith did not waver when met with adversity. Instead, he continued to believe that God his Father would provide—and He did! May we all find this steadfast confidence in God, and may we encourage it in our children.”
Canon Mark A. Pearson is a Reformed Episcopal Priest who operates a Christian Healing Center, called the Institute for Christian Renewal, in Kingston New Hampshire. He visited my former Episcopal Home Parish, Blessed Sacrament, several times, and I always look forward to receiving his newsletters four times a year. In his Late Summer-Early Fall 2020 newsletter, Canon Mark discusses faith in the context of Mark 12, where Jesus tells his disciples, after they see the fig tree which He cursed, that if they have faith in God they can do anything in His name. Canon Pearson then goes on to define faith, and what we must do to maintain it. The following is my understanding of what I think that Canon Mark is trying to tell us. He first asks, “How do people define ‘faith’? He says that in the Bible, it means “The faith” or the body of true as opposed to false doctrine. These truths, as our faith is concerned, consist of statements that are objectively real and are propositional statements given by God which are valid across all ages, and apply to all different subcultures. Jude, for example, exhorts his listeners to contend earnestly “for the faith which was once and for all delivered unto the saints”. Therefore, our faith embraces the “truth” that is given to us by God. And, it is God’s “truth” that sets us free.
So, how do we establish our faith and make it grow?
- We must embrace Scripture as God’s infallible Word to humankind.
- We must honor both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds as the definitive summary statements of our church.
- We need to read classic books, like those written by C.S. Lewis, which hold to the historic faith, without compromise.
- In order for us to properly grow in our faith, we must accept God’s truth before we understand it. As St. Anselm said, “I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order that I may understand…If I did not believe, I would not understand.”
- We need to study and share our faith with other believers who, like us, are committed to the Christian faith.
Besides our faith being defined as the acceptance and application of biblical truths in our lives, it is also defined as our “trust” in what God promises to us, even though what we need seems to be impossible to achieve. Not only must we trust God in the small things, we must also trust him in the big things, as well. Whatever God tells us is truth is also achievable. God does not try to fool us. We need to trust Him even if we are unable to grasp the big picture.
We can only trust God by knowing about him— by reading about him in scripture, by understanding what he has told us throughout history, and by what he has done for His people. We can also learn to trust Him through the testimony of our Christian brothers and sisters.
In our faith-life, sharing is important. It strengthens us, as well as others. Our daily prayer lives enable us to deepen our relationships with God, and through our daily online prayer sessions, we are also learning how to pray with each other and to share our concerns about those who are less fortunate than us. Praying together also encourages us to share our own concerns with God. And, as we serve others in His Name, we allow Him to work through us, as well as in us. We grow in our knowledge of Him, and we begin to more clearly sense his presence and hear His voice.
As we grow in faith and the trust that it engenders, we begin to see God as He acts in the world around us. We also begin to recognize those special moments of divine intervention in our own lives.
Faith is, therefore, much more than just mild hope. As evidenced in the above stories, it is a commitment to something much greater than ourselves. It is a change of heart that makes us willing to accept the fact that God has a plan for us, and it encourages and prepares us for the obedience to what God both desires and expects in us. It inspires us to seek God’s Grace and accept a right relationship with Him; and as we grow in knowledge of God, we begin to see His works around us and then His work in us.