Pastor Rich Knight
Central Congregational Church
Jan. 31, 2021
46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher,[a] let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
One of the best things about being a pastor is the fact that you meet the most wonderful, kind-hearted, courageous, interesting and inspiring faith-filled people . . .in church. I’d like to tell you about three of them, former parishioners of mine, three women that were very active in the church we all attended. I spent a lot of time with each one of them and have the utmost respect and love for each one.
Two of the women knew their Bibles inside and out. They could pray out loud very comfortably and talked about God quite naturally. You often heard them say things like, “I prayed about it and I sensed God wanted me to do this . . . and God made it all work out.” And when things didn’t work out they’d say, “God must have a reason. God will bring something good out of this.”
The third woman I’d like to tell you about I’ll call, Gail (not her real name). Gail didn’t know her Bible as well as the other two ladies. She didn’t talk about God the way they did. Gail had her doubts to be sure. God’s plan was often a little harder for her to see.
When it came to stories in the Bible, the first two women I mentioned took them literally – Adam & Eve, Noah, Jonah, etc. Gail on the other hand had her doubts.
Gail once said to me, “I don’t have the faith that they do. I wish I did, but I don’t.”
My heart sank when I heard those words. I was able to get these words out before I choked up: “Gail, you are a spiritual giant to me. You’re one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever known.”
You see, Gail has known more heartache that any human being should be asked to bear. She’s endured the death of her husband, 3 children and a grandchild. But she’s kept the faith, stayed close to God, sought God’s strength and trusted God through it all. And she’s living life with joy, with purpose, with service to others, and with faith.
Isn’t that the kind of faith God is looking for?
Think of the times Jesus said,“Your faith has made you well.”
In Mark 10 he said it to Blind Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus sat by the road calling out to Jesus. He believes Jesus can heal him. Jesus doesn’t quiz him on the Bible –
“Please recite the 39 books of the Hebrew Scriptures.
“What happened to the first set of the Ten Commandments.
“Name the 3 kings of Israel’s United Kingdom.”
None of that.
Bartimaeus seems to realize that Jesus is or is likely to be the Messiah. – he calls him, Son of David.
But Bartimaeus doesn’t understand the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, hasn’t memorized the Beatitudes. He just puts his trust in Jesus. That’s faith!
Faith is not having a large collection of verses & doctrines you can recite – though I hope there are some you can.
Bartimaeus’ faith was simply that he put his trust in the goodness, grace, and love of Jesus. That made him whole – and not because of the quality of his faith, but rather who he put his faith in!
In Mark 9 Jesus heals a boy who has horrible convulsions & seizures. The boy’s father says to Jesus, “If you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.”
Jesus says, “All things are possible to those who believe.”
The man replied, “I believe. Help my unbelief.”
Jesus didn’t say, “What? You have unbelief! I was going to heal your son, but not anymore. “I’m calling it off!”
No! The man’s doubt didn’t cancel out the faith!!! Jesus can handle our doubts, our questions & wonderings.
I’m reading a book called “The Shift” by Colby Martin.
Martin says that, as children we take things at face value. We take the stories of the Bible literally. But then we learn other cultures had flood stories. Hummm
Then we learn Genesis 1 & 2 are two different creation stories, from two different sources; and the order of what’s created is different, suggesting the stories were never meant to be taken literally.
We learn in science class that the universe is 13 ½ bil yrs. Old, and we wonder how God could create it all in six 24 hr days.
Then we learn that, yes, Leviticus speaks harshly against homosexuality but also forbids lobster, crabs, & shrimp (jumbo & regular). And we learn that the Apostle Paul didn’t understand sexual orientation. To him everyone was straight; so any variation from that had to be sin.
So, we make a Shift in our understanding – and sometimes the heart doesn’t feel totally comfortable with the head’s conclusions.
Is it okay to say that some verses in the Bible don’t apply to today? – that some of the writers of the Bible had limited understanding?
Am I compromising?
Am I putting myself over the Bible, or just interpreting it?
Where has the beautiful faith of my childhood gone?
My faith isn’t what it used to be.
But the number of Bible stories you believe literally happened is not a leading indicator of your faith!
God gave us hearts to believe and brains to think. God gave us parables & miracle stories and the miracle of grace and forgiveness and divine acceptance. And God also gave us science and reason. So, if I seem like less of a Christian to some just for using my brain, I can live with that! God gave us our brains and expects us to use them.
Love the Lord your God with all your . . . mind!
Your “Literal Bible Story Score” is not equivalent to your faith. Nor is the number of Bible verses you have memorized and the number of Christian doctrines you understand.
Faith is trust.
It’s not the absence of fear and anxiety.
It’s trusting despite of the fear and anxiety.
It’s trusting and walking in discipleship with God.
Listen, I’m all in favor of memorizing scripture and learning and exploring Christian beliefs and doctrines together. This Lent I have a plan to do a lot of that. But what God wants from us today is our love, our trust, and our discipleship.
In the book, The Shift, Colby Martin has an illustration that I thought was almost silly at first, but the more I thought of it, the more meaningful it became.
Martin says that faith is more a verb that a noun. Faith is something you do.
Faith is believing in what God has done for us, what God wants to do in and through us and then putting ourselves in position to commune with God and be empowered by God for discipleship.
He says it’s like his cat and the sun coming through the window. He says this –
“Faith is like a posture, a way we might hold ourselves in openness and trust. Faith is the conscious decision to say yes to the perpetual possibility of transformation and growth. Throughout the day, my family’s cat wanders around our house in search of sunny spots, bright spaces on the couch or the carpet where she might lay to warm her belly. Faith is kind of like that; an awareness that there is a brilliant light shining out there and we are constantly adjusting, shifting, and turning ever so slightly towards it, always staying open not just to the possibility of its presence, but also to the idea that the light can change us – and that change is good.” (p. 30)
Think about it. Let’s pray about it.
Thank you for Jesus’ words that all we need is faith the size of a mustard seed to please you. But of course we want more than that. We want more faith amid our doubts, more confidence amid our skepticism. But most of all we want more of you in our lives. Shine your light down upon us. And change us by the power of your light. Lead us by the power of your light. Shine upon us and shine through us this week as we live out our faith in trust and discipleship. Amen.