November 2 Sermon

WHY I BELIEVE: FAITHFUL WITNESSES

A sermon preached at Lyonsville Congregational United Church of Christ on November 2, 2014 (Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time/Communion Sunday/Observance of All Saints Day)

Psalm 1

   I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.

6For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

   8Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.            – 2 Timothy 1:3-14

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I have been doing a series of sermons on “Why I Believe…,” in which I have shared some of the reasons I have come to believe in God and Jesus Christ, and to be a minister of the gospel. We live in a time when many people may sincerely wonder why anyone would believe in God. Almost seven years ago, Richard Dawkins, a prominent scientist, published a very popular book called “The God Delusion,” (2008). I have not read it, but from the summaries and reviews I have read, he makes the claim that belief in God is not just illogical — it may even be dangerous.

So, why do I believe? Why should anyone believe? I have talked in some earlier sermons about how faith in God offers us hope in the face of death, and hope that life is not just some cosmic accident. God gives us hope that we might eventually learn to love others and live in peace. Only the power of God can explain how the Christian church ever got started, and how it has survived this long.

Today, on this day when we remember some of those folks who have been a part of this community faith that have now gone on to their rest, it seems a good day to say that I believe because of faithful witnesses – folks who have gone before who have passed their faith on to me.

Many people come to faith and come to be part of the church because their parents and grandparents have shared their faith them. Blessed are you parents and grandparents and guardians who do that – you probably have a much greater impact on your children and grandchildren than you think. We should probably do more as a church to give you help with that important task. Let me know if you would like ideas or resources for doing that better and more intentionally.

Young folks also learn from Sunday School teachers. Blessed are you saints who do that! But I don’t remember my parents being strong people of faith. They took me to church on Sundays if I wanted to go, but they didn’t really push me if I didn’t want to go. I don’t have any real memories of Sunday School teachers, other than a man who tried to teach us about John Wesley in my Methodist confirmation class. I had no idea who John Wesley was, or why we needed to know about him, but I guess he thought it was important, because it seemed pretty dull to me!

Some of the faithful witnesses who have made a big impression on me are people who lived long ago, and so I have never met. I have shared the story a few times in my sermons of a woman named Vibia Perpetua, who lived in the Roman Empire during the second and early third century. She was a Christian during a time when being so was illegal, and Christians were occasionally persecuted. She was arrested, along with several other believers, and given a chance to deny her faith, but she refused. Her father tried to dissuade her. And she even had a young baby she was still nursing! But Perpetua was condemned to die in the arena. Her baby began to eat just before she was put to death.

Imagine that – a woman who found something so valuable in her Christian faith that she was willing to die for it! It was more valuable than family. That is a powerful witness! If we have not understood what a young woman would find so precious about belief in God and the good news of the gospel, then perhaps we have not really understood what the gospel is!

Many other unknown believers have risked much in the past – young Perpetua left a written account of her ordeal and faith. I believe in part because of her faith.

And I believe because of great teachers I have known in my adult years. Emerson Shideler was a friend we got to know in the church in Boulder. He was a retired professor of Philosophy and Religion, and he was one of the smartest people I have known. He knew Philosophy, Theology, Science, and a lot of other things. He could think logically – just like Richard Dawkins. But he was still a believer. He actually started his working life as a pastor of a church in Indiana, but he always knew he wanted to be a professor. He taught Bible classes at the Boulder church, and practiced contemplative prayer. I’m sure he could have read Dawkins’ book and critiqued it – noting where good points were made, but also where some evidence was not considered. Emerson was a believer even when he was dying of lung cancer.

I believe because of faithful witnesses — people I respect who have believed. And more than believed – they have lived their faith and held it even in the face of great challenges. In moments when I have my doubts (as I sometimes do), I remember them.

What about you? Who are some of the faithful witnesses – the saints – who have given you reason to believe? (Invite folks to share)

May we live our lives in such a way that we might be faithful witnessed for generations to come!

Amen.

Robert J. von Trebra

Copyright 2014 by Robert J. von Trebra

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