"Tending to My Knitting"
Scripture - Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Sermon Preached by Thomas R. Stout
Sunday, August 11, 2013
When your pastor, Greg Jones, and your Session, invited me to become a Parish Associate for a season here at Westminster Church, I was honored and delighted. And all of you have made me feel most welcome. Before I accepted, I prayed: Lord is this what you want for me to be and to do in retirement. Please notice the word RETIREMENT, because I did, as did my wife and many of my friends. My wonder has been, how is this return to service a part of this segment of my journey of faith? What does God want me to uncover here?
I mention this personal exploration because it occurs to me that this may be , in some ways, parallel to the journey of faith some of you may experience in your own lives. Different events - crises, joys, challenges, the unexpected turn of events - these things take us to different stages on our particular journeys. When we are in such times of transitions, the anxiety is always to wonder about what comes next.
And what is true for us as individuals is also true for us in groups. Right now you all as a congregation are in such a time of transition. Just a few months ago you said farewell to a highly cherished and effective Associate Pastor. How do you replace such a person? For the time being you have a pastor, an educator, a parish visitor, and a parish associate. That covers the interim. But not so long ago, you had three pastors and a certified educator as your guides for doing church life and mission. Surely one of the issues before your leaders is what does our ministry staff need to look like for this next part of Westminster's journey of faith?
You see, whoever we are, wherever we are; we are all on this journey, this walk of faith. Do you ever wonder, as I often do, how I do this thing called "faith"? Not what is "faith", but what does it look like when you live into it? The people we find in our Bible, people of faith, are always on a journey. They are always going from the past, through the present, into the future. And this is our journey too: to discover what is to come. So what does it look like to do this thing called "faith"?
And in answer, almost the very first story the biblical writers give us is the story of Abraham and Sarah. In the words of our lesson, they were:
"called to set out for a place to receive..."
"he set out not knowing where he was going..."
"Sarah was barren [but considered} him faithful who had promised..."
In spite of all the comforts of the present that they had there in Ur of Chaldia, Abraham and Sarah set out on this journey of faith and in faith, at the call of, and in search of God and God's promise. But here is my question, the one I keep coming back to even as I continue on the journey: how did they do this thing called "faith"?
When we look at Abraham and Sarah, we know that they went out believing in things hoped for, convinced of things unseen. (Remember, that is how our lesson defines faith.) And throughout their journey, they wondered when will these promises come true? When will we get there? And what did God give them? Right, God kept giving them these challenging, disturbing, unexpected present moments. God gave them, as God gives us, the NOW. How Abraham and Sarah live in the NOW, what they did in the moment, is precisely what builds up, strengthens, makes real their "faith". Do you remember the story of the three guests who arrive at Abraham and Sarah's campsite out there in the wilderness of Canaan? Abraham greets these strangers, offers them the shade of his tent, and invites them to rest and to take refreshment with them. And Sarah gets busy with the campfire, getting everything ready to serve. After the visitors have rested and eaten, one of the strangers says to Abraham: at this time next year you will have a son. Outside of the tent we are told that Sarah chuckles to herself; and don't you wonder what Abraham's aged face looked like at that moment. The stranger catches them in their disbelief, and says: indeed you will have a son. And they do, and the boy's name is "he laughs". That is what the name Isaac means in Hebrew. By living into that moment, Sarah and Abraham give faith shape and form and substance. By doing what is before us in the present, you and I begin to uncover the presence and the promise and the reality of the divine in our midst and even within ourselves.
Even the vocabulary used in our lesson underlines this very point. The verbs the writer uses as the lesson begins are all past tense with present results, but they are past.
"Abraham was called to set out..."
"He considered him faithful..."
€˜He had been promised...'
But in the closing verse the verbs become present tense.
"They desire a better country..."
"Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God."
Yes, you and I are in a time in which to consider and to plan for the future. Where and to what is God calling us, a retired pastor, and congregation seeking full-time, multiple staff leadership? But, my friends, we will uncover the faith that takes us into that future by facing fully what God sets before us in the now, in these moments, in these days. Do you catch the point?
Let me attempt to put this in a less heady way. I came across a poem the other day that I think speaks to how we live faith in this, now time. It is a poem that was shared with me by the children of a 95-year old woman, who had just died, and we were talking about her and the funeral service that she wanted. This was a person who lived every one of her 95 years to the fullest, even in the final four, when she had to deal with the aftermath of a stroke. She was a woman of great faith, and this poem, I think, is an insight into how she did it.
When the folks next to you act like those in the zoo
a grumbling, growling and spittin',
it's a pretty good plan to be calm as you can
and do something useful - like knittin'.
When gossiping Susan with her poison tongue
comes into the room where you're sittin
and starts to defame some good neighbor's name,
count your stitches out-loud and keep knittin'.
When there's been a slight misunderstanding at church
and others hint broadly at quittin',
why the very best thing you can do is to sing,
and stay at your post and keep knittin'.
When Satan moves in with his co-horts of sin,
say, "You'll never find me submittin.
You irk me I find, so get thee behind,
and please don't disturb me, I'm knittin'."
In the middle of problems, the big and the small,
€˜Tis always proper and fittin'
To trust and to pray €˜till the Lord shows the way,
And go right ahead with your knittin'.
There, good people of God, there is faith at work in the now: "go right ahead with your knittin'." That is what I am working on in my time with you in this moment, as I move into my future, on my journey. What about all of you?
Prayers of the People
The Reverend Jill Getty
From the very beginning of creation, you have instilled the prospect of faith in our minds and our hearts. From chaos you created the heavens and the earth, the waters, people, and living creatures of all kinds. Your presence is always hovering, continuing to create and re-create even in these present moments of time.
Your Holy Spirit reaches out to us and calls us to trust in you; to believe that you, Our Creator, really exist, that we come from you and that we go back to you at the end of this earthly life.
Life has dealt many cards to us. We have known what to do with some of those circumstances, however, other circumstances have caused us to doubt our faith, to doubt that you hear us, to doubt your ability to intervene even though we see your intervention daily in creation's evolvement.
God, during those days of confusion and doubt which cause painful faith crisis in our souls, please be with us even when we cannot feel your presence - stay with us - just as you stayed with David on the battlefield, Daniel in the lion's den, the Jews in slavery and exile; and Moses at the Red Sea.
God, remind us of your son, Jesus on the cross who persevered for our well-being. Jesus, help us to cling to you, the giver of new and resurrected life.
Draw us into faith journeys where our roots run deep so we can be strong in the many phases of life. Grow and develop our spiritual lives and connect us to you and to each other with the power and work of your Holy Spirit.
Gracious God, in good and bad times, bring us back to a sturdy foundation in Jesus Christ that will help us keep moving forward.
When we are weary and tired and want to give up, give us enough faith to pray as the psalmist prayed when he sang:
"Hear my cry, O Lord, attend unto my prayer; from the ends of the earth will I cry out to you. And when my heart is overwhelmed; please lead me to the rock that is higher than I; that is higher than I. For thou, O Lord, are a refuge unto me; a strong tower, Lord, against the enemy; and when my heart is overwhelmed, please lead me to the rock that is higher than I; that is higher than I."
Jesus, in our quest to develop faith, give us a hunger to know you and talk with you. Lead us back to simple, authentic conversations with you that are reminiscent of and similar to the one you taught the disciples saying: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
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