Rising To The Challenge

the-temple-gateTo read this sermon from The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr. click on “Continue reading” below.

Sermon based on Acts 3:1-16

We had a wonderful celebration last week in worship as we remembered our 120th anniversary as a congregation. We have a lot to look forward to in the coming months with Thanksgiving, Advent and our Christmas Lovefeast Services. In between those times we have our Annual Church Council in a few weeks, and we have entered that time of the year where we often focus upon the subject of stewardship. In my four plus years serving Christ Moravian Church, I have observed that whatever challenge comes before us as a church, we always rise to the occasion. The reason for this is because of the subject matter of today’s sermon, our faith.

Our reading this morning from Acts discusses the subject of faith. Prior to Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus had felt dependence and loyalty but they had little faith. They had witnessed Christ’s death with anguish and His resurrection with amazement, but they didn’t really understand the personal meaning of it all until the gift of faith had been received. In this chapter Peter and John meet a crippled person, who every day is at the Temple Gate called beautiful. Here this person sits and begs for money. As Peter and John approach the Temple Gate, the crippled person believes that these two have something to give him. When Peter sees this person, he says, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” The crippled person rose to this challenge in faith and he stood up walked around and began praising God. As the crowd of people amazed at the wondrous act that just took place surrounded Peter and John, Peter begins to preach. The subject matter of Peter’s sermon is like many sermons in the book of Acts. His sermon addressed the historical reality of how people should have received Jesus as the Messiah instead of handing him over to the authorities to be crucified. Peter also addressed the issue of faith by saying in order to obtain faith they must simply repent and turn to God with all their needs. Peter’s desire was that these people accept the same gift he had received. This gift is the gift of faith.

Faith is the theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God’s will. Faith is an unquestioning belief in God that does not require proof or evidence. Many people find themselves asking whether or not they have faith. In a book called The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, it is written that we might as well shut our eyes and look inside to see whether we have sight, as to look inside to discover if we have faith. The founder of the Franciscan order for men, known as the Society of the Divine Compassion Father Andrew, wrote in the book, Meditations for Every Day the following concerning faith: Great faith is not the faith that walks always in the light and knows no darkness, but the faith that perseveres in spite of God’s seeming silences, and that faith will most certainly and surely get its reward.

As a pastor probably the biggest stumbling block we approach concerning people’s struggle in faith is to explain the presence of difficult times, those storms we face in life when God seems silent or even absent. In the book The Agony of Deceit, Dr. C. Everett Koop, the former United States Surgeon General wrote a chapter titled, “Faith Healing and the Sovereignty of God.” In this chapter he writes: A surprising number of Christians are    convinced God will not be believed unless God makes tumors disappear, causes asthma to go away, and pops eyes into empty sockets. But the gospel is accepted by God-given faith, not by the guarantee that you will never be sick, or if you are that you will be miraculously healed…

As we think of those storms in life that challenge our faith I recall a storm hundreds of years ago that helped shape World Missions forever as people rose to the challenge through their faith. Not long after the first Moravians missionaries had left for the West Indies, John Wesley, unconverted at the time, found himself aboard a ship alongside a group of Moravians in January of 1736. Three storms had already battered the ship and a fourth storm was brewing. Wesley who kept a journal wrote that this storm perhaps would be worse than the other three and he was very afraid. The Moravians aboard trusted in God completely and seemed to have no fear of the storm approaching. In fact plans to hold a worship service continued and in the middle of their singing, a gigantic wave rose over the side of the vessel, splitting the main sail, covering the ship, pouring water everywhere. Wesley wrote in his journal, it was, “as if the great deep had already swallowed us up.” A terrified Wesley hung on for dear life as the ship tossed and turned, but the Moravians didn’t miss a note and continued singing and worshipping God. Wesley was very impressed with their composure and later asked the leader whether or not he was afraid to which he replied because of his faith in God he was not afraid. Back in London, John Wesley continued to struggle as he sought a purpose for his life and in 1738 he attended a gathering of Moravians. He later said of this experience, “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given to me that He had taken away my sins, even mine.” Wesley became a famous evangelist and social reformer and one of founding fathers of the Methodist church. He himself though was persuaded and encouraged to follow Christ in his life by the power of a small group whose faith in God was strong enough to help keep them safe in a storm.

Likewise whatever storms we may face in life, we should seek comfort that we do not have to face these storms alone. In Scripture we are encouraged to turn to God for our needs. There is no guarantee that our faith will not be tested and that we will not suffer in life but we can trust that God is with us through each trial. Through our faith we can rise to the challenge. Since my arrival at Christ Moravian Church in May of 2012 the storms of financial distress have constantly been lurking. We are a congregation that continues to struggle financially, to support our ministries within our church and our denomination. This storm becomes even stronger and more dangerous when members choose not to help carry the load by contributing themselves. We as a congregation must rise to the challenge of finding ways to give more generously of our time, talents and treasure here at Christ Moravian Church. Bishop Rights last week in his anniversary sermon made reference to the fact that one of the great ways we can build up the body of Christ is through our gifts.

When it comes to financial stewardship we must be willing to take a risk and sacrifice perhaps for the first time to make a systematic effort and give financially to our church. There are far too many of us who are sitting in the pews who for whatever reason have chosen NOT to contribute financially to our congregation. By doing this some of us are ignoring what is written in our Moravian Book of Order (2014 edition pg. 72) concerning membership. Our Moravian Book of Order says that all members should be:

  • Responding to opportunities to grow in faith, love and hope as disciples of Jesus Christ.
  • Contributing as the Lord prospers them to the work of the congregation of which they are a member.
  • Supporting the work of the Moravian Church as a whole in a way that advances the mission and service of Christ to the world.

In thinking of advancing the mission and service of Christ, perhaps we are familiar with the story of a young woman who was going through a very difficult time and reached out to her wise grandmother for help. Her grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each upon the stove. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first pot she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word. In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed in a cup. Turning to her granddaughter, she asked, ‘Tell me what you see.’ ‘Carrots, eggs, and coffee,’ she replied. Her grandmother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noticed that they were soft. The grandmother then asked the granddaughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hardboiled egg. Finally, the grandmother asked the granddaughter to sip the coffee. The granddaughter did as was told, as she tasted its rich aroma. The granddaughter then asked, ‘What does it all mean?’ Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water. “Which are you?” she asked her granddaughter. “When adversity knocks upon your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Think of this analogy in relationship to our stewardship in the church: Who are we? Are we carrots that seem strong, but when hardship or difficulty comes do we wilt and become soft and lose our faith in contributing to our church? Are we an egg that starts with a hard heart, but have the ability to change? Yet after a financial hardship or some other trial, do we become hardened to the fact our church still is in need of our contributions no matter how big or small? Perhaps instead we are like the coffee bean. The bean actually changed the hot water. When the water got hot, it released the fragrance and flavor. If we are like the coffee bean in relationship to our stewardship, when things are at their worst, we remain faithful and continue our contributions trusting that God will see us through those trials. Are we a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

When we surrender our lives to God, our faith will grow and sustain us through all the obstacles life may bring to us. Faith is an openness and willingness to be led by the Holy Spirit. One of the ways we as members can be faithful is by giving regularly to the church through our tithes and offerings and contributions of our time and talent as well. Can we elevate our personal stewardship to another level?

If we are willing to rise to this challenge, take with you this morning the covenant card found in your bulletin and prepare to sign this card in a few weeks on our Commitment Sunday. We aren’t asking for a dollar contribution this year, we are simply asking that in faith each of us will make a commitment to give to our congregation during the year ahead.

Together let us rise to the challenge!

The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.

October 30, 2016