Grow In Faith

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 

 I. Christ Is Our Foundation

This week we begin our sermon series that digs deep into our mission statement.  We start our three sermon series that explores the three key points in our mission statement, the statement we have claimed should shape the work, we, Cheltenham United Methodist Church do to further the Kingdom of God.  These three points proclaim that we want to growth in faith, serve others, and share the love of Jesus Christ. We stand in the boldness that as people of God, God wants to Grow in Faith, Serve Others, and share the Love of Jesus Christ. 
We first and foremost center ourselves on the foundation that is Jesus Christ, the one who healed the sick, the one who affirmed the social outcast, the one who showed us how to love one another, the one who endured such pain for our sin, the one who was beaten for our transgressions, the one who died for our iniquities, the one who rose from the dead that we might find new life. If we were to look at a building the foundation is the solid base that reinforces the structure above it, it is the part of the structure that connects it to the ground and upholds the heavy load of the structure above ground. The foundation must not only withhold the weight of the structure pressing down on it, but it must disperse the weight throughout the base solidifying it to the earth and press forces up to keep the building standing.  If not for the foundation, then the building itself will not be able to sustain its weight and it would collapse upon itself.  The Church, the gathered people of God is just like that building, our central foundation, that holds us up, is and must be Jesus Christ.  If we do not center ourselves on Jesus, we fall apart.

 II. Our Mission is Our Framework

 But if we hold to this metaphor of a building, our mission is the framework, or the joints and the structure the hold and determine where the stones or building blocks go to make up the walls of the building. This means our mission is the framework that shapes the programs and ministry that we do.  The mission statement allows us to place ourselves as the “living stones” that work together to build the kingdom of God. So, our framework is the thing we hold in mind as we, the living stones, seek to pull ourselves together to do the work that God has called us to.  Our mission, our framework, shapes the work of the church, and guides us as the living stones telling us that God wants us to Grow in Faith, serve others, and share the love of Jesus Christ. 

And as we begin our series the first joint or piece of framework that guides these living stones, this grouping of the people of God, into place, we are vowing to grow in faith. To Grow in faith.  Growing in faith, we dedicate ourselves to a sense of discipleship to Jesus, to dedicate ourselves to Jesus Christ over societal structures and institutions, to really center ourselves on being followers of Jesus Christ, to grow in faith that we might make the ways of Jesus Christ our ways, to grow closer to God with intention.  As John Wesley might say to grow in faith is to grow in grace, that we might put on the mind of Christ, to grow toward perfection, not the perfection that comes without blemish but a perfection that makes us whole in Jesus Christ, a perfection that transforms us in Christ’s love, to grow in faith that we might fully love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. To grow in faith that we might do what God has called us to.

But our desire to grow in faith is not foreign because our scripture from 1 Peter, this morning, says, “Like newborn babies, we must crave spiritual milk.”  The text tells us that part of our being as Christians will have us turning to God to receive the very sustenance that not only keeps us alive but allows us to grow and mature.  We like infants know that we are completely reliant on God, who gives us life and sustenance, and in order to grow big and strong, we must turn to God that we might grow in faith to become greater disciples of Jesus Christ.  Because when we strengthen ourselves as disciples of Jesus Christ, we can then be used by God as living stones that build up the structure of the Kingdom of God.

But what does it take to grow in faith, what must we do in the here and the now to take in the spiritual milk that helps us grow, what must it take to grow that we might become living stones used by God to build up the structure that is the Kingdom of God which begins here on earth in the present?  What must we do to grow that we might work in partnership with God to develop that actualization of the Kingdom of God here on earth in the creation of the Beloved Community where the three evils of the world identified by Martin Luther King, Jr., racism, poverty, and militarism are torn down and God reigns in the flourishing of a community where love, peace, and justice exist; where everyone is cared for;  and there is an absence of poverty, hunger, and hate? How do we begin to grow in faith?

 III. How To Grow In Faith 

Our gospel reading gives us insight, as we watch a miraculous act of faith from a Centurion.  This is a paramount moment where we see someone go from no connection to the one true God, that we worship and claim, to grow in faith so much that he must be commended by Jesus for how much faith he has shown. We see a man who was a part of the Roman Empire, who likely in the past put his faith in the Imperial religious cult of multiple gods, which means he believed in the power of many gods and the power of the Roman Empire, he believed that they gods had favored Rome and bestowed great power on the Emperor to rule the world.  For someone in his place, he grew up in a context in which the gods had ordered the universe, the gods had ultimate reign, and the gods had affirmed the sacredness of the Empire of Rome and its Emperor.  And yet, we see this Centurion put down this religion, this structure that shaped his entire life, to grow in faith to the one true God, to grow dedicate himself to a monotheistic faith, and grow in faith in ways that acknowledge the holiness of Jesus, so much so that Jesus said, nowhere in Israel had he seen such faith.  An astronomical growth in faith, but how did this growth in faith occur? What were the steps taken to achieve such growth in faith?

 IV. Commit To Intentional Relationship with God

As we enter into our story, we encounter a Centurion, a solider of the Roman Empire who held such high rank that he commanded about 100 foot-soldiers.  His very presence commanded the power and reign of the Roman Emperor.  As he moved throughout the land others would have stopped and moved out of his way, because he was powerful, in control, and a symbol of the royal dynasty that was seeking to control the entire world.  He had the ultimate power because he was a representation of the Emperor, and what he told people to do they had to do, because he was the arm of the government and everyone else was just a subject of the Empire.  But in this moment, he came to the town of Capernaum, the town where Jesus lived, which means he had heard about Jesus, the streets were probably humming with rumors about who he was and what he had done.  The Centurion heard these things, and knew he could turn to Jesus in this moment.  He was so desperate for Jesus’s help he likely ran through the street, exasperated, heart racing, running through the street, losing his breath as he rushed down and through alleyways, knocking things over, running into people, looking for one specific person. And when he finally reaches Jesus, he has a request.  His servant is in distress, he is sick, he is paralyzed, he is in agony and he turns to Jesus for help.

But as this Centurion turns to Jesus, we must take inventory of what is happening here.  This man, who lived life as an arm of the Empire made a conscious decision to turn to and follow Jesus.  He had turned from his allegiance of the gauntlet of the Roman Empire to search out Jesus, a humble Jew in the town of Capernaum. But his search for Jesus went beyond just this day.  He had likely been following Jesus for a while, he likely had seen the things that Jesus had done, he had likely started hearing the teachings of Jesus.  And as he is following and listening to Jesus he is starting to realize that this man is different, teaching something new, something that is transformational.  We see this because he knew where to find Jesus, he knew where he was staying, therefore he had his eye on Jesus.  But when we look at this story, when we look closer, we see that he has started to become affected by the teachings of Jesus as well, and most likely wanted to learn more.  Because this man, who was a soldier, who held the power of the Empire, the one who made orders to oppress the lower class, the one who could command any person to do his bidding in the name of the Emperor was seeking help for his servant.  Jesus professed the personhood of all people by uplifting the poor and the rejected, and here is this man who is concerned about the well-being of his servant, concerned about someone who is ignored, rejected, and overlooked.  He sees the personhood of his servant, he sees his servant as a human being, he sees his agony and knows he needs help.  He knows that while the world might be unconcerned about his servant, he is concerned, and he must go to the one who might bring his servant help, healing, and renewed health. He had taken the first step to grow in faith, which is to turn to Jesus and commit himself to searching for intentional relationship with him.  He allowed himself to begin taking in the teachings of Jesus.  And as we seek to grow in faith, we must do the same.  We must be intentional about following Jesus and begin taking in the teachings of Jesus,  that means we must go to God in prayer, read the Biblical text that we might learn the ways of Jesus, and dedicate ourselves to true connection with Jesus by opening up our heart.

 V. Make Ourselves Vulnerable

As we continue with our narrative, we see that as the Centurion meets Jesus his journey of faith continues. He has asked Jesus to save his servant. But as he comes to Jesus, it is clear that he has made himself vulnerable, he is allowing himself to be transformed by Jesus.  His first point of vulnerability is that he as a Roman citizen, and a soldier at that, and has come to a Jew, an oppressed class, for his help. Even when we look at Jesus’s response to the Centurion telling him about his servant, in some translations, Jesus’s response could be interpreted as a question. “Will I come and cure him?” Almost as if to say, you are the Centurion, are you ordering me to come and heal your servant, must I do this?  But the Centurion acknowledged that society might say he has the power, that he has the authority, that he can say to one, ‘Go,’ and they go, and to another, ‘Come,’ and they come, and to another, ‘Do this,’ and it is done.  But society has it all wrong, he is making himself vulnerable by giving up all his rights and privileges to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, but that he is unworthy, and Jesus can wield power far beyond his control.  But in this moment of vulnerability, in this moment of opening up his heart he has allowed himself to be transformed because he has acknowledged that the societal structure of hierarchy no longer holds up, that the world must all turn to this man from Nazareth in Galilee because he was the savior, he was the one that could bring new life, he was the one that could heal the world, and the oppressive force of the Roman Empire was of no consequence in the face of Jesus Christ.  So, as we seek to grow in faith, we must make ourselves vulnerable and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord because he endured a cross for our sin and early Sunday morning, he rose from the grave granting new life to all that might accept it.  We must open ourselves to admitting that we need God.  We must give up certain rights and privileges to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord and that those of with lesser privileges deserve dignity and respect.  We must make ourselves vulnerable before Christ. We must lay ourselves before Christ as an open vessel to be filled with the ways of Christ. So we turn to God, asking, how must we grow? What must we do to turn to you? We must open up ourselves, our hearts, our souls to allow ourselves to be transformed by Christ to let ourselves take on the ways of Christ that reflect love and peace.  In the midst of violence let us declare peace, in the midst of poverty let us work toward responding to systemic issues that perpetuate those in that current state, in the midst of hunger let us feed those in need, and in the midst of those that are rejected by society let us see their person hood and show them love and kindness.   Let us be vulnerable and hear from Christ.  Let us be vulnerable and let ourselves be transformed by Christ.

 VI. Pray Expecting God to Do Something

But as we turn back to our narrative, we see one more point on the journey of growth in faith.  We see that the Centurion’s faith was marked by the fact that he knew Jesus could make a difference, he knew that Jesus could heal his servant, he knew that Jesus could transform the world.  Which meant he came to Jesus knowing that he could change things.  Too often we go to God in prayer, and we are hesitant of what will happen.  We pray for things and because they don’t happen the way we expect it, we think that God has left us, God has forgotten us, or God has abandoned us. So, when we pray, we doubt that God will do something and we pray half-heartedly.  But God has not abandoned us, God answers prayer.  And when we pray, we should pray expecting that God it going to make changes, God it going to make a transformation, God is going to make things happen that bring about the Kingdom of God, God is going to move in ways that bring about God’s will, which sometimes looks nothing like our will and what we want.  It is God that can answer a prayer of depression with a sense of support and resources for therapy and medication or God can answer with release of depression – but both are a response to prayer.  God can answer a prayer of sickness with a miraculous healing or God can answer that prayer with doctors that have a strategic plan to respond to the illness.  God can answer a prayer of finances with an influx of money or God can respond with a job or financial plan to reach your goal.  And God answers a prayer of growth in faith by showing us the path to get there.  God answers prayer! And part of growth in faith is to understand that when we pray, when we sit before the Lord in prayer, we must expect that God is going to do something.  What God does may not be what we expect, but we must know that God is moving, God is answering prayer, and God is changing things.

As we turn to Jesus, to grow in faith, to become those living stones situated in the framework of our mission statement, and reinforced by our foundation of Christ – as we seek to Grow in Faith, Serve others, and share the love of Jesus Christ let us be reminded by the actions of the Centurion that show us how to grow in faith.  We must 1) commit ourselves to an intentional relationship with Jesus that we might begin to take on his ways, 2) we must make ourselves vulnerable and allow God to transform us, and 3) we must pray, believing that God is going to change things. Now let’s go out into the world and dare grow in faith. Amen.