March 27, 2022
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
For people of faith it seems the burden of proof has always been against us when it comes to presenting a reasonable argument for why we believe. After all we are talking about a God we cannot see or touch; and claims like resurrection, walking on water or parting a sea defy what our own sciences say is possible.
This is why renowned atheists like Richard Dawkins said “religion is a nonsensical enterprise,” or Daniel Dennett who declares “Christians are addicted to blind faith.” Sean McDowell, Is God Just a Human Invention?,p19) It can feel as though rationalizing faith is a contradiction in terms, as if intellect and reason are opposed to faith.
Until, you consider that some of the brightest minds in history have been people of faith. Albert Einstein once said that “God does not play dice,” and “science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind.” Or scientist Edwin Conklin who said, “The probability of life originating from accident is comparable to the probability of the unabridged dictionary resulting from an explosion in the print shop.” Ben Carson, brilliant neurosurgeon and presidential candidate, recognizes that none of these opportunities would have happened in his life apart from God.
Blaise Pascal was a 17th century mathematician, physicists, and inventor who did not believe in God, until he did. His need for evidence kept him from faith, but after a mysterious encounter that brought him to faith he said, “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.” His evidence was of a different kind.
In his scientific work Pascal determined that there is no such thing as a vacuum, an empty space. For instance, he said, an empty test tube is not really empty. It has air in it. So when he talked about faith he came back to this idea, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every [person] which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.” In other words the only thing that’s really empty in life is life without God.
There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person. It is a vacuum that seeks meaning and purpose, but it’s not a vacuum God forces God’s way into. We get to choose. And many people spend most of their lives trying to fill that vacuum with something that will make life full and rewarding. But anything other than God eventually runs dry and we feel empty again.
Jesus must have observed a lot of this in his day. He watched people chasing after things they hoped would bring them fulfilment. They worried over their appearance and looks, believing if they looked just right, that would bring them satisfaction. Others fretted over having enough, enough food in the pantry and wine in the cellar. But how much is really enough. They found enough never comes. And they just live life in a stew.
So Jesus said, “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!”(v.28) This passage is often associated with worry, and for sure, Jesus mentions worry four times in these verses, but the real issue is faith. And we come back to that expression, “little faith.” What does Jesus mean by little faith here?
Again Jesus isn’t talking about faith as a quantitative resource, as if there are amounts of faith. So what does he mean by “little faith” in this passage? New Testament scholar Eduard Schweizer suggests that Jesus is talking about a faith that compartmentalizes God and the spiritual life. There’s our spiritual life: we go to church, maybe participate in a small group or other religious activities; and then there’s the rest of life. There’s career and family and keeping a house and all of that is up to us. We live knowing there is a God, but live as if much of life resides in our shoulders.
What Jesus is talking about in today’s passage is a most practical aspect of faith. It is about bringing God into our everyday lives. (How hard or easy is it for you to bring faith into your everyday life?) Because if we don’t, our everyday lives can crush our faith. The daily pressure of life without God in it can make us feel as though God is helpless compared to our problems, or God doesn’t even care about them.
Maybe…that’s why Jesus told us to look at the birds. They don’t sow or reap. They don’t have to build storehouses or barns, but everyday God takes care of them. Just pay attention to the birds.
Last weekend I read an article in the Indy Star saying we should clean our birdfeeders very carefully to make sure there is not a return of the disease that killed songbirds last year. So I went outside while the weather was nice and started cleaning out my feeder. As I was doing this a little songbird flew up and stopped beside me and watched. Then he said to me, “What are you doing?”
I said, “I’m cleaning this feeder. I read in the paper I should do this so you don’t get sick like last year.”
The bird said, “Well would you hurry up?”
I said, “You’re a little pushy considering you’re getting a hand-out. You know how much this bird seed cost?”
He said, “Yeah, you get the cheap stuff. Your neighbor has better.”
I replied, “But at least I’m out here looking out for you. You know I’ve got other things I could be doing. I’m a busy person.”
The bird said, “Right. What are you so busy doing?”
I said, “Most of the time working on sermons. I’m preaching a series on faith right now and about trusting in God.”
Then he said, “Well, in that case you ought to be out here watching me more. Just look at me. I’m living it up. I know God is going to take care of me. I don’t worry. Do I look stressed out to you?”
I agreed he didn’t look stressed out.
Then he said, “You know, if you’d come out and talk to me more often I could probably help you with your sermons.” And he flew off.
Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air.” But then he said something even more important. “Of how much more value are you than the birds?” (v24) Of how much more value are you? Do you have any idea how much your life means to God? How important you are to God? (What does it look like for you to put God in charge?)
That’s what God wants you to know. That’s what God wants you to trust, his care and total commitment to you. But how? How can we know that? How do we develop that kind of faith? How do we deepen a faith in God that overcomes worry and anxiety over the daily pressures of life?
Jesus suggests two things:
1—"Do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying…Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (vv29,31)
Jesus’ advice is Strive for the kingdom. I admit that on the surface I’m not a big fan of this advice. When you strive day in and day out, going to work and taking care of family, the last thing you need is to come to church and be told you need to strive. Just what you need, right? One more thing to do.
But that’s not really what Jesus is talking about here. In fact, just the opposite. You see when Jesus uses the word kingdom he’s describing life when God’s reign is in full effect. That’s what is meant by “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven.” It simply means life when God’s in charge. That’s not something we do, it’s something we let happen. We let God be in charge.
Remember Moses and the Israelites at the Red Sea? Pharoah’s army had them trapped and the people panicked. Ever felt trapped in life? Ever woken up in the middle of the night with your mind turning over all the things you are facing, and you don’t see a way out? And it just keeps you in turmoil?
What did Moses say to the people? “The Lord will fight for you and you have only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14) Faith is trusting in God to do what we can’t see and being okay with the outcomes. Striving means stopping and putting attention on God and letting God be in charge.
I shared in my Friday email the other day about going up to the art gallery here at the church this past week. As a part of my Lenten discipline this season I fast during the daytime and don’t eat lunch-most days, not all of them. And so about midday my stomach really starts and I use that like a beeper on my phone, to do something that feeds my soul. So the other day I was going to go to the sanctuary and pray but I saw the brilliant colors of pictures in this month’s display in the gallery, and since I hadn’t seen them yet, I went up to walk though.
I was immediately taken by the written piece that sort of explains the theme of the Gallery, “Seasons of Wonder.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel suggest that to die is no longer to be surprised. So often I am too busy, too pre-occupied with worries, goals, hopes, anxieties—the appointment this afternoon, the deadline I just missed, what to prepare for dinner tonight—that I miss seeing, hearing, feeling, touching, tasting what is all around me. How can I ‘see’ more often? Wonder? Be in awe? Be surprised?
Thomas Merton, the 20th-century monk, speaks of “the sacrament of the present moment, suggesting that the present moment is deeply spiritual, meaningful. The car I’m walking past, the honking horn, the splashing reign, the distorted reflection in a window, the wind blowing in the trees, the smells right now—for the rich contemplative traditions, these are sacraments, holy, sacred.
And what I did for the next 15 minutes or so was just look at each picture (gallery picture) and ask myself, “What do I see?” (gallery picture) And it was like this mini-worship time that filled me, where I allowed God to offer beauty and wonder (gallery picture) and His presence to me.
What does it look like for you to do that? How can you “strive for the kingdom?” What can you do, not to do more, but less, and put yourself in touch with the reality that God is in charge, and you can have peace?
And the second thing Jesus advises: “Sell what you have and give to those in need.” (v33 LB) In other words, Jesus’ advice is: Do something regularly for someone less fortunate than yourself. If that sounds a little simplistic, just consider the advice from a former president of the United States. A few years ago Jimmy Carter wrote a little book simply titled Faith. He shares about the importance of his own Christian faith and what it has done for him throughout his life.
In one place he tells about a time early in his career when it was easy for him to compartmentalize his faith. He wanted God to be there for him when he needed help but hadn’t been so focused on being available to help God no matter what. He lost the race for governor in Georgia to Lester Maddox and avowed segregationist whose symbol was a pick handle which he used to drive black customers from his restaurant in Atlanta. Carter says he’s embarrassed to admit that he was so proud and arrogant he couldn’t understand why God would allow Maddox to win instead of him.
He confided in his sister Ruth Stapleton who was a Christian evangelist. He said to her, “My political life is over. God has rejected me through the people’s vote.” She tried to encourage him and said, “You have to believe that out of this defeat can come a greater life,” but Carter told her, “Ruth, you and I both know that is nonsense. There is no way I can build a worthwhile future on such an embarrassing defeat.”
Then she stung him. She asked, “Have you ever gone out of your way to fulfill your obligations as a Christian?” That was a turning point in Carter’s faith. He was proud to be a Christian, but he wanted a God to be there when he needed God’s help. Being available to help God was a new idea.
But he tried it. He went on a mission team experience with his church that changed his life. The reality of God and the foundation of his life significantly shifted. Focusing on others’ needs changed his faith.
Now I started this sermon thinking about the evidence for faith and what that looks like. Let me share mine. I saw God this past Wednesday just a few blocks off East Michigan Street downtown.
I was with Jay Height the Director of the Shepherd Community Center. Every Wednesday morning he delivers food to people in the community and he invited me to go with him. So I met him at the center and helped load his car with food and we got in and began delivering. One stop was at the end of street. Our of about 15 homes 9 of the people on the street all have cancer. This first home on the street we delivered to was a couple who both are dying of cancer. Their treatment and care options are very limited. The wife was not having a good morning and couldn’t come to the door. Jay talked to the husband for a while catching up on everything and then he asked me to lead a prayer as he did at each stop.
Then we went next door to the home of a woman named Donna. She’s in her 70’s and was getting ready for a trip to Texas the next day. She would be riding with someone, the only way she’d be able to go. Jay told me she’s been looking forward to this trip for months. One week out of the whole year she’ll get out of town.
She’s sort of the mayor of the street. She looks after everyone. Jay sat down the boxes of fruit and vegetables. I put a gallon of milk and baloney and hotdogs on top of them. Jay got caught up on how everyone in the street was doing, then I prayed. When we got in the car, Jay said, “Now because she’s leaving tomorrow, she’ll take the smallest amount of food to eat in the car on her trip, then she’ll spend the rest of the day dividing it up and taking it to everyone else on the street to make sure they have something.”
I know leading up to Wednesday morning I had been dealing with some worries that made me wonder where God was. And all I needed to do was drive down to a really poor alley just off East Michigan Drive to find God.
That’s my evidence.