You may have heard that my husband, Howie, ran the Chicago marathon last Sunday. He did really well for his first time ever. He ran with a World Vision team raising money to bring clean water to those around the world without it. He followed a strict training schedule – running and diet – gradually increasing in miles, doing the most difficult runs as a group each Saturday morning in order to encourage each other and build camaraderie.
The week before the marathon, they were instructed to decrease the number of miles run each day until, two days before, they were to run only 2 miles, and none, the day immediately before the race. It felt counterintuitive to him. He said he almost felt mushy and was tempted to throw in a few more miles just to be sure. But he didn’t. Had faith that the thousands upon thousands of those who went before him on this training journey to run a marathon knew what they were talking about.
Howie adopted a disciple’s faith, the belief and hope that those who’ve run a marathon before – who were discipling him, guiding him, running alongside him – knew what they were talking about, and to trust the process.
He started off strong, a trajectory that had the potential for qualifying him for the Boston marathon. Until around the 15-mile marker… he hit the proverbial wall. His muscles seized and groaned, his feet burned, his body scream, “please, stop!” but, he pushed through. He ran the entire course, and really, it was still a very good run. But, he did not run like he had hoped. For a short minute, he felt like he failed.
We all fail. And we fail often. But the majority of times it is only a failure because we set a standard that nobody else had for us. Sometimes it is someone else’s standard – but on whose authority is that standard set?
Sometimes faith is believing that you are enough, that I am enough – believing that God’s love is the only true standard – and that if I fall short in loving others (or even myself), God’s love has covered even that. Because, you know, grace.
And there is no shame in grace.
So why is it that we feel it unacceptable to fail? Have we made appearances – how we appear or look to others – an idol? Does how we think others see us compel us to tape on a pretty got-it-all-together façade, and then wonder why we can’t change anything – paralyzed by fear that we might fail. (thanks to Pastor Brenda Byrns for this analogy)
Jeremiah tells the Israelites that because they didn’t trust the process, they let go of God’s hand as they were guided out of Egypt. They let go and turned to other idols, to appear like all the other nations. They broke the covenant made between themselves and God. But God still went with them, continued alongside them – sending prophets and leaders as mouthpieces, reminding them of God’s steady, sure presence. That there is always hope. If only they would have faith.
Last week the text seemed to say, “make the best of what you’ve got – what you have by dint of who you are already.” Today’s text tells us, “God still walks with us, and what is more, everything about God’s purposes and power and being is already written on your hearts.”
John Wesley, flummoxed by the trivial response to his ministry, went to stand out in the fields where the people were – all those who didn’t fit in at church, were shunned because of their clothing, or their socioeconomic standing, or their line of work. He developed close knit groups, intimately accountable to one another. And they went out and did the same. Discipleship.
For his developing method of discipleship and accountability, The first question Wesley asks is, “How is it with your soul?”
Faith = the courage to be vulnerable
To answer the question of how is it with your soul, you have to trust the process – to disassemble the façade of got-it-all-together and have faith that your companions will do the same. You have to be ok with others seeing your seeming failures.
“…the great Czech playwright turned dissident (turned, some years later, president) Václav Havel addressed the vital role of hope in steering destiny … Eventually published as Disturbing the Peace in 1990, his timeless insights into the inner life and civic purpose of hope were excerpted a quarter century later in Paul Loeb’s … The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear
Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well… rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. … Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. … the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts, is something we get, as it were, from “elsewhere.” It is also this hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually to try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.”Václav Havel
The Israelites were in Exile, the situation grim and seemingly hopeless. The church of today appears as if it is being exiled – grim, hopeless. But there is no one way to be church, just as there is no one way to be a Christian, or a physician or an architect, or a farmer, or a cook… or a preacher. We have no innovations if everyone tried to do what others are doing or what they are told they ought to do. We stand no chance of creating anything new if we only do or try what has been tried before or what other churches are doing. Because just as each person is unique, so are churches.
Jesus seems to intuit this when he uses parables and metaphors in nearly all of his speaking – and in many different ways.
So he teaches his listeners that they must pray always and not lose heart, and does so by telling them a story:
There was a judge who didn’t believe in God. A widow came frequently to beg for justice. At first he ignored her, but because she persisted he finally granted her the justice she required.
Don’t lose heart. Keep praying. Why is it that we can do this? (not lose heart and to keep praying) Well, we have to believe there is a righteous judge, a good and gracious being that is all about making things right between us and God and between us and each other: faith.
And when you and I pray, and others see, and we invite them to join, and they pray with still more people – what has happened here? Discipleship.
God promised all the way back, through Jeremiah to the exiled Israelites that there will be this new covenant. It will no longer be like what you have experienced in exile. There won’t be plague and wars and ruin because some didn’t understand God’s will for them and acted counter to what they were created to be.
God promised that this new covenant will mean that every bit of who God is and God’s intention for creation will already be writ large on their hearts. This hope is timeless. As it was for the Israelites, so it is for us. Faith is what got them through it all, and it is faith that moves us now. Discipleship happens when one whose faith is strengthening, brings another along for the ride. In faith you minister with your gifts in creative ways that don’t require extra funds – and do it with a young person or someone new to faith. You just step out and do it. With someone.
Building relationships. Building – and doing so, with someone new… Building up the Kingdom of Heaven. Again, Jesus knew he needed to frame things in many different ways.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like:
The sower of seeds… like a mustard seed… like a costly pearl
Like yeast that a woman hid…(Matt13.33) or, Like a woman – who hid leaven … in three measures of flour” (Connected to Gen18.6)
We’ve been talking about some of Jesus’ parables in our Bible Study. Last Wednesday we investigated this one. The yeast is hidden (the Greek word is incorrectly translated “mixed” in most contemporary Bibles), the yeast is hidden in three measures of flour. Well, three measures is meant to indicate 40-60 pounds of flour – enough to not just feed a family, but an entire community! The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman hid inside 50 pounds of flour..
Hidden inside an abundance of grain, the little bit of yeast will cause the dough to rise – fragrant, sustaining – bread enough to feed everyone. We can be fewer in number, decreasing in mobility and endurance, and permeate the community, disciple with nothing but who we are. And that is enough. Because God alone, is enough.
That the Word of God is Written on their hearts – can expand our view of this parable, as well as our faith. The yeast can be understood as two-fold. The Word of God is the yeast already seeded in the heart of all creation, every human being. Christ’s act and being – life, death, resurrection and continued imprint on the very earth – Jesus activates the yeast in our hearts. And we are more than enough to live out God’s purpose – 3 measures of it (maybe some more doughy than others?) 40-60 pounds of flour, enough to feed an entire community. Each one of us is enough.
So the Word of God is the yeast,
And, as a community, as a body – the Body of Christ – we are the yeast already hidden in Durand. Even in our everyday activity – Dee and Christy have a couple of ideas for us to get the creative juices flowing…
In our everyday activity – the kneading of yeast into flour, baking, “apple day,” repairing the church’s roof, gardening, crocheting… banking? What if we started a crocheting club? I would totally join that group! What if… we hold our crocheting club at Refs or Hogs and Hydrants?!
Share bread. Don’t eat your own. Offer yours, receive another’s and take a piece. When you give, say something like, “you are uniquely God’s image” and if you know the person say, “you are really great at _____.” Or, “I see Jesus in you.” Or, “I know God better because you ____.”
The yeast is already causing the loaf of our church to rise, the fragrance is wafting through the air – can’t you smell it?!
Faith is something that is a challenge. To walk in faith isn’t necessarily comfortable. In fact, being comfortable doesn’t really require faith. To grow as the Body of Christ you have to do hard things. But we do this as a body, as a community – we are not alone. And God holds our hand through it all.
For a moment, Howie thought he failed. Then he went into the World Vision tent and we heard over the PA all the ways the varying levels of runners raised money for this cause. He told me that together they raised just over $3m – which will bring clean water to 60,000 individuals around the globe. He broke down weeping, “this is why I ran, this is what I ran for,” he sobbed.
What at first felt like a failure because of all the times he told people his goal, was in truth an amazing feat of mission and compassion, discipleship and faith that God continues to walk alongside us as we conspire with God to make things right in this world.
How will we reframe what is failure and what is not? How will be disciples of faith and disciple others to faith?