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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

How Do You Talk About Faith?

2011-03-06 Mt 17:1-9 How do you talk about faith?
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

How do you tell people about your faith?

In many commentaries, and in some sermons you've heard from this pulpit, poor Apostle Peter gets criticized for his out-blurtings.

"Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

The Gospel According to Mark even says it outright:
"He did not know what to say, for they were terrified." (Mk 9:6)

I think we've given Peter a raw deal. I mean, he and the other two disciples have just shared a vision where two of the greatest figures in their religious history have appeared with their teacher, Jesus. Maybe Peter was one of those guys who talked when he got nervous. But maybe he was trying to do his best to capture the moment, to preserve the magnificent epiphany.

Hospitals used to let you take video cameras into the delivery rooms so fathers would have a purpose. "Oh, honey, I forgot to put the tape in. Could you do that part again?" Maybe some of you videoed your children's births and the tapes are in the bottom of a closet, waiting for the right occasion to be shown. Graduation party? Rehearsal dinner? It's hard to know the appropriate venue for something like that.

Doubtless, if the Apostle Peter had a cell phone with a camera, the Bible would be a multimedia experience. We want to record and preserve the awesome moments of life. Births, weddings, mountaintop visions of God's glory.

But Jesus isn't into that. He tells the disciples, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." Which is to say, "People are just going to have to take your word on this." Faith is a matter of trust. Faith is a matter of word and a matter of trust. Faith is incredibly personal, incredibly live, and just doesn't always take to being captured.

Do you tell people about your faith? We're Presbyterian, so probably not. Presbyterians are really faithful people; but we're also really afraid of scaring anyone. You know, living in East Tennessee, I just don't think that's something we need to worry about. I got behind a van the other day with big, press-on letters on the back window: "Repent! or Die!" As long as you stay away from that extreme, I don't think you're going to scare anyone around these parts.

But it's hard to talk about your faith. It's hard to tell people about how God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit has changed you. And that's not totally unfounded. You start talking about seeing Moses and Elijah and Jesus on your trip up Mt. LeConte and people will back away slowly. Maybe that's another reason Jesus told the disciples not to say anything immediately. Sometimes you have to let these things simmer; the visions have to age before you can speak so other people will believe you. They say the art of poetry is not to say everything. Maybe that's also the secret of talking about faith -- not saying everything, all at once.

I think that's the mistake some people make when they talk about faith. They act like they have to give you the entire story, all at once, immediately. They want to convert you, right then and there. For your own good. In their own way, they're saying they care about you. But the thing is, God's not going anywhere. God is infinite; and so cramming the whole story down someone's throat (right this minute) is naturally going to be overwhelming. People also tend to forget that there's no one right way to have faith. Presbyterians MIGHT be going to heaven, too. God's in charge, not the Baptists, not the Methodists, not the food-washing-snake-handlers, and not us. God's in charge of your salvation. Salvation is in the hands of God Almighty, not yours and not even the hands of someone who really, honestly, like the Apostle Peter, is trying to be helpful. People have to be ready to change their minds before they're going to change their minds. An example: Have you ever tried to convince a Democrat to become a Republican? Or tried to convince a Republican to become a Democrat? Good luck with that. If you speak of earthly things and people don't buy your arguments, how successful do you think you're going to be in heavenly things?

The kids reminded us last week in their Youth Sunday service - which by the way, was most excellent - our thanks to them and to all their leaders - They reminded us that the Bible says there's a time and a season for all things under the sun. There's a time to speak and a time to keep silent. Sometimes what you don't say is more important than what you do.

Think about those disciples coming down the mountain after their miraculous vision. Jesus commanded them not to speak about it. So maybe sharing the good news with words wasn't as important as sharing it in spirit. Some things, there just aren't words to say. Describe why a sunset's beautiful. Describe why the Anthem made you cry. Describe why you love your husband. Some things can't really be explained. Some things you can't describe; you just know them. And in knowing, they become part of you, and part of everything about you.

We call this episode of scripture the Transfiguration of Jesus. But think about how those disciples themselves were changed. These guys who only sort of understood, had seen. These men who sort of got it, had experienced it. They had lived it. Those visions, that miracle transfigured THEM. You have to believe that from then on, when they did speak on Jesus' behalf, they spoke with heartfelt confidence. From then on, when they acted on Jesus' commands, they acted with absolute certainty. Jesus was part of their everything, like never before.

There's a wonderful passage of scripture in Matthew 10:19-20, where Jesus is talking to the disciples about the hard times to come, when they're going to be arrested and worse for what they believe.

"When they hand you over," Jesus says, "do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you."

I think what Jesus is trying to say there is there's a time and a place for talking about your faith. And when it's the right time, you'll find the right words. Or, rather, the right words will find you. Jesus himself says, "Do not worry" about these things.

And sometimes, maybe even more times, you don't need words at all.

I was having lunch with one of my mentors in the ministry last week. He's a minister here in town. And he was telling me about a time when he was at the church, leading a program one Wednesday night. The manager from the gas station down the block from the church called the church, and my friend answered. She explained that there was a couple with a baby at the gas station. Their car had broken down, and they needed money for a place to stay.

My friend looked in his wallet, and found some money. So he goes to the gas station. The manager takes him over to the couple with the baby at their car. As my friend is walking toward their car, with its hood held down by black bungee cables, he notices a guy filling up his motorcycle nearby. The guy's got one of those awesome motorcycles that costs more than a lot of cars. He's got a custom helmet on, and really fine leathers.

So as my friend is walking to the couple with the baby and the broken-down car, he realizes the motorcycle man is coming over, too. The manager introduces my friend to the couple, saying this is the minister from down the street. My friend gives the couple some money and then leaves.

It's one of those gas stations where you have to pull around to get out, so he has to circle the building. By the time he gets back around, he looks over. The motorcycle man has taken off his very expensive leather jacket, and is disconnecting the bungee cords from the hood of the car. And then, he starts working on the car. As my friend drives off, he sees the motorcycle man getting filthy, in what might turn into a long bit of service. At a service station. At a station of service to Jesus Christ, the Lord.

Sometimes you don't need to tell people about your faith. You just need to be an example, and the actions and words (if needed) will get where they're supposed to.

I want you all to consider this church your service station, your station of service. You're here to help people get to wherever they're going. Sometimes you'll give spoken directions, and sometimes you'll just work together to get things fixed up. God will take care of the rest.

If you find words to talk about your faith, that's great. And if you find chances to serve your faith, that's maybe even better. Eventually, words will find you. And always, God will guide you.