3 Signs of a Miserable Life

In Patrick Lencioni's book "Three Signs of a Miserable Job," anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurability are identified as sources of unhappiness at work. This sermon explores how God doesn't want anyone to be miserable, in a job or in life. Listen in to find out how we've been created to be known, created with a purpose, and then shown how to be part of God's plan.

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Listening to God - Listening to Our Neighbors - Discernment Sunday

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Proclaiming Christian Values of Diversity and Love, Ending Food Insecurity, Supporting Education, Addressing Mental Wellness and Anxiety. These were the four areas that the Community Discovery Team brought out of their community listening.

On Sunday, September 30th, a special Discernment Sunday worship service was held in place of the regular 11:00 service. Surrounded by prayer, scripture and singing, we rotated through four different groups discussing these four different areas of need.

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Discernment - Friday

Fairview is currently a two week time of discernment. The Community Discovery Team has spent several months talking with our neighbors and community members to hear about the needs present in the Fairview neighborhood. Every person at Fairview is being asked to spend time each day in prayer, listening for God’s guidance for our church.

Friday - Proclaiming Values of Love and Inclusivity

Racism, hate, discrimination and violence are before people each day, in the news and sometimes in their personal lives.  Individuals are often left with wanting to do something positive to counter the negative, but they are often unsure of what they can do to make a difference or to make their voice heard.

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Parents want to instill in their children values of love, inclusion and celebrating diversity.  They would gladly welcome other adults, peers or organizations that will share or reinforce those values.  A need exists to help people proclaim and teach these values in their homes and in public, and to come together to raise voices together to speak out messages of love and inclusion.

Take a few moments to quiet yourself and then read the scripture below.  If it is helpful, get in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and concentrate on taking a few deep breaths before reading.

John 13:34
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

 

Take a few moments to answer the following questions. If it is helpful to you, feel free to write your answers down.

  • What is your personal experience with the need to proclaim values of love and inclusivity? 

  • Where in the community have you seen evidence of this need?

  • Why do you think it might be important for Fairview to have a part in addressing this need?

  • What do you think God might be saying to you or to Fairview about proclaiming values of love and inclusivity?

 

When you are ready say aloud or read quietly the following prayer.

God of love, help me love as you love today.
Help me to see as you see,
to notice those who need your love
and need to be included.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Discernment - Thursday

Fairview is currently a two week time of discernment. The Community Discovery Team has spent several months talking with our neighbors and community members to hear about the needs present in the Fairview neighborhood. Every person at Fairview is being asked to spend time each day in prayer, listening for God’s guidance for our church.

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Thursday - Working to End Food Insecurity

About 175,000 people in Indianapolis live with food insecurity.  Someone who is food insecure lacks the consistent access to enough food for a healthy and active live.  Almost 50,000 children in Indianapolis are food insecure.  These numbers include many residents in the community surrounding Fairview.  Many families and individuals south of the church towards 38th Street are in need, but so are many in all directions from the church, including seniors and college students.

Due to lack of financial resources and employment opportunities, alongside the scarcity of healthy food retail options, food insecurity remains an issue for many residents of our community.  School 43 provides free school meals to all students, The Boulevard Place Food Pantry serves thousands of residents each year, and many in our neighborhood receive government food assistance in one form or another.

Take a few moments to quiet yourself and then read the scripture below.  If it is helpful, get in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and concentrate on taking a few deep breaths before reading.

Matthew 25:44-45
When was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then Jesus will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

Take a few moments to answer the following questions. If it is helpful to you, feel free to write your answers down.

  • What is your personal experience with the need to work to end food insecurity? 

  • Where in the community have you seen evidence of this need?

  • Why do you think it might be important for Fairview to have a part in addressing this need?

  • What do you think God might be saying to you or to Fairview about ending food insecurity?

 

When you are ready say aloud or read quietly the following prayer.

God of plenty,
help me be grateful for the blessings in my life,
and help me to be mindful
of those who don’t have enough today.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Discernment - Wednesday

Fairview is currently a two week time of discernment. The Community Discovery Team has spent several months talking with our neighbors and community members to hear about the needs present in the Fairview neighborhood. Every person at Fairview is being asked to spend time each day in prayer, listening for God’s guidance for our church.

Supporting Education

There are a variety of educational needs in the community surrounding Fairview. The ones that come to mind first may be south of Fairview towards 38th street.  School 43 is full of kids from our community. There are many committed staff and teachers striving to make a difference in the kids and families of our neighborhood.  Unfortunately, the school remains an underperforming and under-resourced school, largely due to factors outside its control.

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Its needs include qualified and appropriately-compensated teachers and staff, more involvement from families of students, and improvements in the quality of life for the families of the school so that students are coming from a positive home environment.  Advocacy at the district, city, state and federal level for proper education reform is also a need. Educational needs, academic, life skills, and vocational, exist within adult populations in our community as well.  Butler University provides many opportunities to support the educational journeys of thousands of college students. Spiritual education is also a need that Fairview can help fulfill by grounding people in a life-giving and supportive Christian faith.

Take a few moments to quiet yourself and then read the scripture below.  If it is helpful, get in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and concentrate on taking a few deep breaths before reading.

Proverbs 8:1-11
Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.

O simple ones, learn prudence; acquire intelligence, you who lack it. Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right; for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.

They are all straight to one who understands and right to those who find knowledge. Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.

Take a few moments to answer the following questions. If it is helpful to you, write your answers down.

  • What is your personal experience with the need to support education? 

  • Where in the community have you seen evidence of this need?

  • Why do you think it might be important for Fairview to have a part in supporting education?

  • What do you think God might be saying to you or to Fairview about supporting education in our community?

When you are ready say aloud or read quietly the following prayer.

God of wisdom, help me this day and every day,
to love you not only with my heart,
But also my mind and strength.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Discernment - Tuesday

For the next two week’s Fairview is entering a time of discernment. The Community Discovery Team has spent several months talking with our neighbors and community members to hear about the needs present in the Fairview neighborhood. Every person at Fairview is being asked to spend time each day in prayer listening for God’ guidance for our church.

Tuesday - Addressing Anxiety and Mental Wellness

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The number of Americans reporting increasing anxiety and struggling with mental wellness is on the rise. This is true of people in the community surrounding Fairview.  Our neighbors have reported anxiety related to crime, health concerns, finances, and worsening national and societal issues.  Butler students are feeling increasing pressures related to grades, paying for college, job prospects, and relationships with peers. Depression and other mental health issues are becoming more and more common on campus.

You may be dealing with your own anxiety, as you feel increased stress or worry related to a particular situation or relationship in your life.  You may be feeling anxious just reading these paragraphs. A certain amount of concern and worry in our lives is normal, but increasingly our anxiety levels are rising to unhealthy levels.

Take a few moments to quiet yourself and then read the scripture below.  If it is helpful, get in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and concentrate on taking a few deep breaths before reading.

Matthew 6:25-34
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Take a few moments to answer the following questions. If it is helpful to you, feel free to write your answers down.

  • What is your personal experience with the need to address anxiety and mental wellness? 

  • Where in the community have you seen evidence of this need?

  • Why do you think it might be important for Fairview to have a part in addressing this need?

  • What do you think God might be saying to you or to Fairview about addressing anxiety and mental wellness?

 

When you are ready say aloud or read quietly the following prayer.

God who calms the waves and the storms,
help me find your peace.
Help me to share your peace with those I encounter today.
In Jesus’ name, Amen

Discernment - Monday

For the next two week’s Fairview is entering a time of discernment. The Community Discovery Team has spent several months talking with our neighbors and community members to hear about the needs present in the Fairview neighborhood. Every person at Fairview is being asked to spend time each day in prayer listening for God’ guidance for our church.

Monday

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Over the next week, you are being asked to spend some time in quiet listening.  This activity will come easier to some people and be more difficult for others.  If it is harder for you, that’s OK. The goal isn’t to be a perfect meditative guru of prayer, but simply to take some time each day to be quiet, reflect, and listen. Sometimes, it takes us a little while until we are ready to listen.  This was the case for Samuel in the scripture below.

Take a few moments to quiet yourself and then read the scripture below.  If it is helpful, get in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and concentrate on taking a few deep breaths before reading.

1 Samuel 3:1-20
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.”

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Take a few moments to answer the following questions. If it is helpful to you, write your answers down.

  • How easy or difficult do you find it to sit in quiet listening?

  • What might make it easier for you?

  • As you listen, what are some ways you can distinguish between God’s will and your own desires?

  • Are there other thoughts or notes you’d like to write down?

 

When you are ready say aloud or read quietly the following prayer.

Ever-present God, I know you are always near to me.
You speak your will and guidance for anyone to hear.
Help me to hear you more clearly,
this week, this day, and always.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

"I Want to Believe, But...How Can A Loving God Allow This Much Suffering?"

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Message from April 29, 2018
By Rev. Shawn Coons


 “I want to believe in God, but…”  Week 2 of our series. Last week we heard what I think may be arguably the most honest and sincere prayer in the Bible, “I believe, help my unbelief.”  We heard that many Christians, today and throughout history have had doubts, questions, skepticism and objections to parts of Christian faith.

And do you remember what I said about those objections, and what I said about God?

Don’t dismiss your objections easily, *and* don’t dismiss God easily.

Your objections to God are important. When you have objections, doubts, questions, it is not a sign of weak belief or too little faith. It is a sign of just the opposite, it is a sign that you are engaging your faith.  So don’t dismiss your objections easily.

But likewise, don’t dismiss God easily. Don’t just walk away thinking because you have questions, because there are inconsistencies or paradoxes, that all this God stuff must be made up.

“I want to believe in God, but..” Over the next few weeks we will cover several buts. I want to believe in God but…

…I prayed and it didn’t work.
…what kind of God lots all this suffering happen?
...I’ve never felt God’s presence, I’ve never felt God is there.

But this morning we are going to tackle an objection that I believe is at the heart of many other objections to Christian faith.  I want to believe in God, but…there’s too much in the Bible that isn’t true.  There’s too much of the Bible that’s made up, or outdated, or event worse there’s too much in the Bible that is harmful and destructive.

I want to believe in God, but how can I when the authoritative book about God, some would even say by God, how can I believe when parts of the Bible may not be true?

Some of you may be wondering, “what parts of the Bible aren’t true?” In my experience and conversation people point to a number of different passages from scripture.  The creation story, how it happened the time frame in which it happened, miracles in the Bible, demons in the Bible, passages in the Old and New Testament where God seems to encourage, condone or even commit violence. Passages in scripture that support discrimination, sexism, racism, slavery, homophobia.

We’ll get to other examples but let me put forth a pretty basic one.

Psalm 137 begins with a lament of the Israelites who have been conquered in war, taken from their homeland and forced to live in exile in Babylon.  The psalmist speaks of how their Babylonian captors torment and mock them.  The Babylonians are shouting at them, “Sing us a song of Zion! Sing us a song of your home.” And the Israelites answer with sadness, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”

But then the psalmist goes on to write:

8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator!*
   Happy shall they be who pay you back
   what you have done to us! 
9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones
   and dash them against the rock!

This is the Word of the Lord?

Did you get that?  The Bible is talking about joyfully killing the babies of the enemies of Israel.  Most people would read that and ask how that can really be from God?

I want to believe, but there’s too much in the Bible that isn’t true.

Ok, let’s get real for a moment.  In many ways, this is one of the most important issues in all of Christianity.  How do we interpret the Bible?  Is the Bible true?  Do we take the Bible literally? Do we take the Bible seriously? Is it possible to take the Bible both literally and seriously?

Chances are, if two Christians, or two Christian churches, or two Christian denominations are arguing or disagreeing over some theological or matter of doctrine, it can be simplified to a disagreement about the Bible, how to interpret it, and what the Bible even is.

So this is where we are going to start.  And we are going to start “In the beginning,” not with Genesis, but with the passage from the beginning of the gospel of John. John 1:1-9.  Often in our Christian tradition, and many others, we refer to the Bible as the Word of God or sometimes just the Word.  In the passage we are about to hear, the author will refer to the Word, but won’t be referring to the Bible.  So listen to see who or what the author is referring to with “the Word.”

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life,* and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.*

Who or what is “the Word?” In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. Well, the Word is apparently a who. A who who was with God from the beginning, a who who was God. It becomes clear fairly quickly in the gospel that the Word is Jesus.

This is a fundamental belief of our Christian tradition, that when we speak of the Word of God we are first and foremost talking about Jesus?  So what does that mean. If we had more time we could go into the Greek word used here, Logos, and it’s relationship to Greek philosophy, as well as a belief system at the time called Gnosticism, which had a dualistic view of a world divided between flesh and spirit, and also involved a secret experiential knowledge. But that’s probably not the best use of our time.

So instead let’s talk about a Christian understanding of revelation. And I mean that with a lower case r, not the book of the Bible, Revelation.  One of the most important beliefs of our faith is that God has chosen to communicate with us, and that communication happens through revelation, through God choosing ways of making God’s self known to us. And we often say there are three main ways God has chosen to be revealed to us:

1.      Through Jesus
2.      Through the Bible
3.      Through the Christian community

These are in order of their fullness and completeness. The most full and complete revelation we have of who God is, is in the life and person of Jesus Christ.  The next best revelation we have of who God is, is the stories of people who encountered Jesus and who encountered God, and this is the Bible. But the Bible is derivative, and I don’t mean that in a negative or condescending way, I mean the Bible is derived from people’s experiences of God, it is not direct from God.

 So let’s pause there for a moment. Because what I just said is important, but it is also a matter of some Christian debate. In our Christian tradition, we do not take the entirety of the Bible to be the direct words of God, we believe the Bible is inspired by God through men and women who had real experiences with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but we don’t believe God dictated the Bible to those men and women.

So the Bible is a secondary source of revelation about God. We sometimes call the Bible the Word of God, but we don’t believe it is the exact words of God.

Let’s go back to our passage from John:

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

This passage is referring to John the Baptist, and it is making it clear that Jesus is the Light, Jesus is the Word, not those who testify, who speak, who share stories on his behalf.  There is only one true light and one true Word and this is Jesus.

But here’s the thing.  We don’t have direct access to Jesus any more. At least not in the way the people in scripture did.  So even though theirs is a secondary witness, it is still a witness without parallel and a witness with authority.

In other words, Jesus is the best revelation we have of God, and the best way we have to know about Jesus is through the Bible, so we need to take it seriously.

So are we any closer to dealing with this week’s objection?  I want to believe but what if parts of the Bible aren’t true?  I think we are, because we’ve said that the Bible are people’s real accounts of their experiences with God, but not God’s direct words. So within that is the possibility that people will be people, and in that there is room for their biases, interpretations, and misinterpretations. In short, there is a chance that when people write or pass down their experiences with God, they will get something wrong or incomplete or hard to understand.

Well, how can we know what to believe in the Bible then?  What do we do with a passage that we believe may be less than true to God.  I’ve got a video I want us to watch that provides a couple answers to these questions. It’s a video by Christian author and speaker Brian McLaren.

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I this idea of story being used as a theory to try to make sense of the world. It resonates with me. Someone thousands of years ago, experiences God as their source of protection from their enemies during a battle. So they tell a story of God taking their side against the enemy. It witnesses to their experience of a loving and protective God. God is loving, God is a source of protection. We can get behind that right?

But someone else comes along later and tries that story, that theory out. That God takes sides on the battlefield, that God helps me to fight my enemies, and that no longer tests out with their experience of God. So they tell their story of Jesus saying, love your enemies!

I like this idea for several reasons, first it invites us to understand why the problematic stories were told in the first place. Can we see the truth about God the storyteller was witnessing too?  Do we think God wants us to kill the children of our enemies?  No. But can we understand why someone who had been conquered, torn from their home in battle, and was a prisoner in a foreign land would tell a story of God intervening on their behalf?  Can we understand and believe that God sides with the underdog and the marginalized?

We can listen for the truth witnessed to in a story, without having to embrace every part of the story.

But here’s the thing. This doesn’t mean that we get to pick and choose what stories what parts of stories we like and don’t like.  When I was in seminary, Dr. Frances Taylor Gench was my New Testament professor, and I remember her telling us that when she was younger she took a scissors to her Bible and cut out the part in Ephesians that reads, “Wives obey your husbands.”  Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?  I can think of a few parts I’m ready to jettison.

But Dr. Taylor Gench said, she later realized she couldn’t do that.  We can’t pretend the Bible is something different than it is. We must wrestle with the whole of the Bible, the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

And that’s where our third source of revelation comes in.  And that’s us.  The church, the gathered community of faith. We believe that God is reveled to us, especially and most clearly when we are together seeking to understand God.  This is why we pray, every time before we read scripture. Because we believe that the Spirit will be active in our midst helping us hear and listen and understand.

This is why we gather together in classes and Bible studies to read scripture but then turn to one another and say, “What do you think that means?”  This is why we tell our own stories of how we have encountered God in our lives.

Let me close by reminding you:

Don’t dismiss your objections easily, *and* don’t dismiss God easily.

If you have problems with parts of the Bible, that’s OK. Don’t let go of that, but don’t let go of God. Instead wrestle with it, come together with other people like you who are wrestling with it. Share your stories, look for the truth you can find in the old stories, and if that’s not enough than write your own stories of encountering God for others to hear and believe.

"I Want to Believe, But..."

Message from April 22, 2018
By Rev. Shawn Coons

This morning we begin a new series called, “I Want to Believe, But…”  And I think this series will speak directly to three groups of people, and I’d be willing to bet there’s at least one or two people from each of these groups here this morning.

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The first group of people this series will speak to, is to Christians, but specifically Christians who have faith and belief in God, but also have doubts, questions, and even objections to certain beliefs about God or specific teachings of the Christian faith.  Shortly after the message today, you will be invited to join in saying our affirmation of faith. This is the part of the service where we draw on creed, confessions, and other writings of our tradition to express shared beliefs of Christians and Presbyterians.  Today we will be using the Apostles’ Creed.

In the last church I served in Florida, I had a member there whose name was Clarence.  Clarence was a very thoughtful man, in the sense that he gave a lot of thought to his faith and his life.  He was a career scientist and a man of intellect and reason.  One time as we were talking he told me, “Shawn, I can’t recite all of the Apostles’ Creed with integrity.  On my good days I can get through most of it but when I come to “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,” I stumble. I can’t say those words, because as scientist I feel that belief of the church just goes too far.  You’re asking me too ignore science, biology and reason.”

Clarence died a few years ago, but this series speaks to all the other Clarences out there.  Those of you who have a sincere Christian faith but also question the miracles and demons in the Bible, or can’t quite understand or put trust in prayer having power in the actions and events in people’s lives.

The second group this series may speak to, is those who wouldn’t call themselves Christians.  Maybe they would say they are agnostic, or maybe they don’t choose any label.  In the churches, there have always been people who are interested in Christianity, who are drawn to the church for some sense of belonging and something greater, but they can’t quite bring themselves to buy into the whole system of Christian faith.  They are intrigued, and often very knowledgeable about Christianity, but there are questions and objections that keep them from calling themselves Christians.

They like the idea of a loving God, but then they look around and see so much pain and suffering in the world, and it’s just too much for them to believe that it can exist along with a God who should be doing something about it.  If you are one of these agnostics maybe you appreciate the good that can come out of a gathered community of Christians, you like this Jesus guy they talk about, until you they talk turns to all those who will go to hell if they don’t believe in Jesus as “lord and savior.”  And then you think, what kind of God sets up that system?
 

Then there’s a third group of people this series might speak to, and I might be stretching it with this one, but hear me out.  I think this is a series for those people who reject Christianity, who reject belief in God.  For you, there may be some good things in the teachings of Jesus, but by and large it seems like a big bunch of hooey.  They think it’s ridiculous to believe in some god up in the sky who has a an undead son, they’d just as soon believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster as the God of the Bible.

Someone may ask, Shawn, are those people even here this morning?  Why would someone who doesn’t believe in God come to church.  Well, people are funny, and who knows you may be here this morning.  But often, this describes a husband or wife who comes with their believing spouse or partner.  Maybe it’s a child who comes with their parents.  Maybe someone came into use the bathroom and we started while they were walking through and their too embarrassed to leave.

So how does this series speak to them?  Maybe what we discuss what convince them, and honestly the point of this series isn’t to convince anyone.  But maybe, just maybe it will help them understand how others can believe with sincerity or integrity.  Maybe, that person who doesn’t believe at all can say after listening to this series, “I don’t agree with your belief, and I’m not going to become a Christian, but I used to think that any Christian must be crazy and have to give up their reason and intellect to believe. But now, I can see how someone can have some of the same questions and skepticism I have, yet still choose to believe.

Because that’s what this series is ultimately about. Having belief and having doubt.  Having Christian faith and having objections to Christian faith. Believing in God, and believing there are valid questions about God.

“I Want to Believe, But…” We are going to take both parts of the series title seriously. We are going to take your belief seriously, and we are going to take your but seriously.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

At the end of today’s message, and at the end of this series here is the bottom line, here is what I want you to take to heart:

Don’t dismiss your objections easily, *and* don’t dismiss God easily.

I am convinced that the Christians with the deepest most meaningful faith and belief in God, have some of the deepest and most profound questions and doubts about faith as well.  And I believe they can co-exist, and I believe they should co-exist.

Don’t dismiss your objections easily, *and* don’t dismiss God easily.

Ok, so I’ve already preached about half of my morning message and we haven’t even gotten to scripture, so let’s do that. Because our passage this morning speaks directly to this main point – Don’t dismiss your objections easily, *and* don’t dismiss God easily.

We are going to read from Mark 9:14-29 and it is the story of Jesus casting out a demon from a young boy.  And some of you are rolling your eyes a little bit and saying, “Alright, Shawn, here is objection #1, I want to believe in God, but demons?  Really?”  Hold on to that, don’t dismiss it, we’ll get there in the next couple weeks. But for now, stick with me.

14 When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. 15When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. 16He asked them, ‘What are you arguing about with them?’17Someone from the crowd answered him, ‘Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; 18and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.’ 19He answered them, ‘You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.’ 

20And they brought the boy* to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it threw the boy* into convulsions, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21Jesus* asked the father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. 22It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.’ 23Jesus said to him, ‘If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.’ 24Immediately the father of the child cried out,* ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’

 25When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You spirit that keep this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!’ 26After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ 27But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. 28When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ 29He said to them, ‘This kind can come out only through prayer.’* 

There’s a lot going on in this passage.  But at it’s heart is a father and a son.  What’s more is a father whose son is not well, not well at all.  Parents, you know how it feels when your child is sick. When your child is hurting, is suffering, and you can’t figure out what to do. You feel powerless to help them.  That’s what is going on here. It is easy to get distracted by the talk of unclean spirits, possession, and exorcism. We can speculate, was it a demon, or was it some sort of disease or condition that wasn’t understood then.  Was it possession or seizures? But it all boils down to a father who loves his son, has seen his son suffer for years, and only wants his son to be well.

So this father brings his son to Jesus’ disciples. He’s heard or even seen that they have healed other people, cast out spirits like the one that has a grip on his son.  He makes his way through town, maybe even from another town. Maybe he’s traveled miles with his son. Keeping the boy safe while traveling. Stopping on the road whenever his son has an episode, stopping wherever they are at that moment, in the countryside, in the middle of the city.  Focused on keeping the boy from hurting himself, keeping him from throwing himself into fire or water like has happened in the past.

The boy and his father come to Jesus’s disciples, hoping beyond hope that there is something that can help the boy, but probably not having too much hope, after all, they’ve tried so much and nothing has work yet. You can only get your hopes up so far when they’ve been crushed so many times. So now a boy and his father, hope and skepticism, stand before the disciples. And they pray and the lay hands on the young boy, but nothing happens.

The father is crushed.  The disciples are confused; they’ve done this before? Why didn’t it work? So they go to Jesus. And Jesus asks the father what’s happening, what’s wrong with the boy. The father patiently explains and then says to Jesus, “if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” And Jesus says - and I love this because it feels a little sarcastic to me, and it makes me feel better to think that Jesus used sarcasm – “If you are able!”  He basically says, do you know who I am?  I don’t think he says this in a mean way or a mocking way.  I like to think it’s joyfully sarcastic yet confidently.

When the father heard this, he probably had a little hope. Jesus is laughing like this is a trivial thing for him. “Can I help you?  If you only knew!  Of course, I can!”  The dad has to be thinking this might be it, but then comes the next words of Jesus, “All things can be done for the one who believes.”

I don’t know how the dad hear Jesus words, but what Jesus says is basically, “I can do this, I can take care of this, I can make your boy well again!  As long as you believe.”  And it’s not longer about the power of Jesus, it’s about the belief of the father.  For years, his son’s health and happiness were beyond his control, now Jesus says that the boy’s healing is in the father’s hands and will be done as long as Dad believes.

And then he makes what I think, is possibly the most passionate and most authentic prayer in all of scripture.  He says, no, he doesn’t say, the Bible says he cries out, “I believe; Help my unbelief!”

“I believe; Help my unbelief!”  That’s the best he can do.  He can’t with integrity say, “Yes, Jesus, I believe 100%. There is no doubt in me.  I am rock solid in my faith!”  He can’t go there.  What he can say, what he can give to Jesus, is his belief and his doubts, his objections, his questions, his unbelief.

Writer Frederich Buechner says that “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief' is the best any of us can do really, but thank God it is enough.”

I believe; help my unbelief. Don’t dismiss your objections easily, *and* don’t dismiss God easily. That’s what this series is about. That’s what our Christian faith is about. 

Last week, you heard a message from Rev. Jim Pfeiffer about a similar subject. Do you remember it?  He preached on the ending of the gospel and Matthew, where Jesus disciples and followers were gathered with Jesus and he gave them the great commission, “Go into the world, baptize all nations, teach them what I’ve taught you, and I am with you always, always to the ends of the age.”

This fantastically powerful moments, and the scripture says, “They worshipped” I’ll bet the did. But that’s not all the Bible says, it says, “They worshipped, and some doubted.”  Even at this pinnacle moment of our faith, Jesus closest followers, the resurrected Jesus right in front of them, they worshipped and some doubted.

Jim told us last week, that when we doubt, when we have objections, when we have questions, this passage from Matthew reminds us that we are in excellent company.  The saints of our faith, had doubts, just like you and I.

Don’t dismiss your objections easily, *and* don’t dismiss God easily. I believe; help my unbelief.
It truly is the best any of us can do, and truly Thank God that it is enough.

Spring Day of Caring

On April 8, Fairview didn't gather for its regular Sunday worship. Instead over 40 people were commissioned to love God and love neighbor by:

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  • Restocking shelves at Boulevard Place Food Pantry
  • Cleaning and weeding the grounds at the MLK Center
  • Serving meals at Wheeler Mission
  • Decorating drinking glasses for school children in Ghana
  • Writing letters to Congress to advocate for those in poverty
  • Cleaning chairs for A Caring Place Adult Day Services
  • Sorting and shelving books at the School 43 Media Center

Thank you to all who participated!

The Big Read, Day 35: John 1-2

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2 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Read all of today's reading here

The Big Read, Day 34: Luke 22-24

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13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.”

Read all of today's reading here

The Big Read, Day 32: Luke 20-21

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 He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; 2 he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; 4 for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

Read all of today's reading here