Faithfulness, Saints, and Our Big Messy God

Preached April 30, 2017 at Thornton UMC
Link to Video Here



Now…faithfulness is the assurance of the things we hold out hope for, the trust and conviction in things that are Unseen.

Indeed, it was because of their faithfulness that our ancestors were commended.

Through faith we trust that the whole universe was formed by God, that out of things that were still invisible, God made everything that we now see.

It is such an honor to be with you today, Thornton United Methodist Church.  Although I am not a member of your congregation, Thornton UMC has been a place that has greatly formed and influenced me, by proxy, through the faith and faithfulness of your member and my grandmother, June Pennacchia, whose memorial we held in this very space just this last July. I have experienced Thornton UMC as a place of great faithfulness, not only the faithfulness of the saints like June and Louie and the other saints that came before us, whose witnesses still reverberate in this sanctuary, whose warmth still envelopes this fellowship hall, whose spirits still swirl around us and stir our hearts within us….Thornton UMC is not only a place where we can feel the echoes of the faithfulness of our ancestors and hear the wisdom our elders, but Thornton UMC is a place blessed with the powerful faithfulness of a great many living saints, like these young saints, who are leading us in worship this morning.

When I met here last month with these Junior High and High School students to discuss the planning of this service, my faith was strengthened by the kinds of questions they were asking God and one another.

“How is it?”  they wondered, “That we know God exists?”

I’ll tell you, it takes a great amount of faith to ask this kind of question.  It takes a lot of faith to have doubts.

That might sound strange….it takes a lot of faith to have doubts…It is so easy for us to get stuck in “this or that” thinking.  We think that something has to be EITHER one thing OR the other.  As if the cosmic answers to big messy questions can fit neatly into our teeny little boxes. Things must be either this OR that.  Doubt OR faith. Science OR God.  Creationism OR evolution.

I mention science here for a few reasons, number one being that because after talking with our youth a little bit more about where this question came from, “How do we know that God exists?” I found out that they were wrestling with how to fit the truths they were learning in their science classes with the truths they learned in Sunday School.

Yet God is less interested in this OR that.  We say, “Faith or Doubt?”  and God says, “Yes.”  We say, “Science or religion?” and God says, “Yes.”  God rejects our false dichotomies, our binaries, our belief that it has to be this OR that. You see, God is less interested in this OR that and more interested in the holy mystery of “both/and” which is why God came to us revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human neither JUST this NOR just that but a mysterious, wild, uncontainable, “Yes, yes, yes!”

If we are honest, the bigness of the mystery of faith and the unruliness of Jesus Christ is something that often makes us uncomfortable. We would rather that God be revealed in something a little simpler.  Something we could prove succinctly, like a geometry proof, or chart nicely like a pie graph or venn diagram.  We like God to follow our rules, heed our Judicial Council, adhere to our laws.  We want to reduce God to things that we can understand, to give us a sense of control.

But try as we might to keep God in boxes or in tombs, God is on the loose.

God was the loose during the election of UMC bishop, Karen Oliveto, challenging our limited thinking about what kind of person is called to leadership within the church.  God invites us out of a place of fear and into a place of courageous love, a love that –  as Karen has modeled for us –  can take many forms and can be embodied in many ways. A love that is not immune to doubt or disagreement, but that in the midst of uncertainty has the faith to trust Gods thunderous, “YES!” and answer, “Yes,” in return.

God is on the loose now, but God has always been this way. We remember that Genesis 1 tells us that in the beginning, that God hovered, in shimmering anticipation over the surface of the deep. In the places that feel like a formless void. In the midst of our questions, fears and doubts.  That is the nothing from which God brings something.  The tension of the not-yet.  The yearning of the “I don’t know.”  The lament of God’s people, crying out for a way forward.  God is in the mystery.  God is in the questions. God is in the tension.  God is in the doubts.

And dear people of Thornton UMC, God is not finished with us yet.  God makes all things new.  God makes something out of nothing. God makes a way out of no way. God is still creating, still working with materials that might be invisible to us yet.  God knows the way forward for you and for the United Methodist Church.

When we say, “No, these things cannot be true together,” God says, “Yes, yes, they can.”

And because God is so gracious to us, because God loves us so much, God hears our anxiety and trepidation about the future God is building with materials we cannot yet see, and so God has set before us on the path a cloud of faithful witnesses to guide us and accompany us on the way.  These saints are just as messy as the Gloriously Messy God who created them.  They are saints like Abraham and Sarah and Hagar. They are saints like Moses and Miriam.  They are saints like Deborah, saints like David and Jonathan, saints like Mary Magdalene, saints like John and Charles Wesley, saints like June Pennacchia, saints like Norval Brown, saints like Cecil Williams, saints like Karen Oliveto, saints like Graem and Jacob and Kelly and Katie.

God is not finished with us yet, and because that is both beautiful and terrifying, God gives us company on the journey. Praise be to the God who is bigger than the things we can understand.  Alleluia, alleluia, amen.

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