God Strengthened...many trust Let’s pray Rev. Stuart Buisch
God has come to help his people.
God strengthened the church
The church’s life was marked by reverence for the Lord
Many put their faith in the Lord
These are the phrases I would like to look at today.
A great crowd is travelling with Jesus in the area as the enter the city of Nain. A large crowd was traveling with the widow whose son is dead. Notice the staging of Jesus walking up to the widow and saying to her, ‘don’t cry’ and then to the dead body, touching the stretcher and the pall bearers stop. It is curious to me because, in my experience, there is a group of people who simply want a prayer from me. Many times, I hear of a death and I offer to pray, recently people put me on speaker phone to have that prayer. I am tempted to think that each of the individuals listening, including me, have a variety of experiences of faith. Some may attend worship; some may have some knowledge of God and some may be most faith-filled. There is no doubt many other possibilities. Sometimes after I pray the experience is finished. So, I wonder as Jesus moves toward the body what is everyone thinking. I wonder what each of us here are thinking. When Jesus starts talking to the dead body is there discomfort on faces or is there time because the dead body responds, gets up and the world is upside down. The headline we read in verse 16, “God has come to help his people”. Who are God’s people? Is it a list we make or do we need to check that out with God?
Saul is converted and sent off to Tarsus and “God strengthened the church.” When Ananias was sent to touch Saul how strong was his faith? Did he believe God? He certainly spoke back to God, as I expect we would like to sometimes and as many in our world do repeatedly. What is a sign of a strong church? One Christian church has raised money for Kyle Rittenhouse’s defense after allegedly shooting three people, killing two of them. Is that strength? In this time in our world here in Western NY, is God strengthening North Presbyterian? What does that strength look like? People in worship, money in our accounts, ministries going on, people watching or attending our services and online programs? I have no question that God strengthens us, but I do wonder how each of us would describe that. I read a poem recently that described the travelers in a train to death camps singing. One of my patients in the COVID unity was a religious sister who seemed exactly like other faith-filled religious in their community, except she was in a covid room with a positive test for the virus. I experienced her faith as strong. I felt I was entering a holy place of prayer, of faith.
Increasingly I experience, as I know you do, a secular neighborhood and household. Today many are not concerned at all to tell me that they are not ‘super’ religious, don’t mention God, ‘don’t bring religion into our house, but we believe and support faith.’ By the way those are direct quotes. It is surely not a great time to say you are Christian or a person of any faith. In the news over the last twelve months it is not hard to find this belief system’s followers killing that group. If they are not killing they are raping, abusing, dictating their beliefs on those unable to stand against their leaders or other religious leaders. Facebook and other social media provide ample examples of points of view that seem to me to be void of reverence for any ‘higher power’ and an equal disrespect for others around us. Listen in a meeting how people proclaim that which needs to be done with an authority that wells up from some invisible certainty grounded in their experience. In a few weeks we will practice reverence for COVID19 but will we display reverence for God as we enter the sanctuary? Some in Western NY and other regions will refuse masks and social distancing because ‘their God is greater.’
Tabitha, aka Dorcas, is brought back to life and many put their faith in God. I don’t expect to raise anyone from the dead, restore sight to the blind, speech to the mute etc. I am not sure if I met anyone who put their faith in God because of such a miracle. I will confess my own faith in Christ began on the school bus, when I noted that the days I prayed I was not beat up and the days I didn’t I was. Please note I can’t document that experience with data but it was real to me. Years later when my camp counselor ‘hero’ invited us to welcome Christ into our lives, I had a working experience with the God I was inviting in. Since then I have met people with experiences like mine and others with very different experiences. Some who use the language I grew up with also treat people like dirt, people different than them even worse and are quite happy to rely on the ‘God who is in their heart’ they say.
So, for me putting my faith in God is much more about God and much less about me. I continue to be in relationship with this God and learn and discover new things about the Trinity on a regular basis. I am increasingly uneasy with those who know everything about this God who continues to unfold to me in my soul. As we begin to worship together some may have more faith in their mask and social distancing than in God but you see that ‘faith’ is reliable. The assumption is that God, who ‘comes to the help of his people,’ yet has failed in Auschwitz, Selma or Hurricane Katrina, may not be reliable for faith.
We are indeed at a crossroads, in fact all people have been since the beginning of Creation. What is it we will believe? More to the point, who is it we will believe? I feel deeply called when I interact with ‘non-religious’ to be clear about who it is that I believe in, not slamming my view down their throats but living it as clearly as I am able with God’s help in front of them. Desiring to be sure that kindness and compassion are the first things that others encounter, that respect for the other in front of me is paramount. The respect that I meet in the staging just outside the city of Nain with Jesus, where the echoes of joy are still reverberating. Amen.