March 3 2013 Covenant United Methodist Church, Helena, MT
March 3 – Covenant
Title: Disbelieve Much?
I bring you greetings from St. Paul’s. I know they are thankful that you are in the Helena community doing ministry alongside them, as we create places to share God’s love and grace with the world.
For those of you who don’t know me I am Tyler Amundson, I am the Associate Pastor of Young Adult Ministry over at St. Paul’s. Many people are curious what that title means. St. Paul’s created the position and asked the cabinet of our conference to fill it, in attempts to reach to folks in the age demographic from 18- whenever you consider yourself no longer a young adult. I am reaching out to the most common demographic of individuals not to go to church, in attempts to share with them the difference, sharing in spirituality and community can make in their lives.
I grew up here in the Helena community, so it is a pleasure to return and serve here. It is also a great honor to be reaching out to my peers, to share how faith in community has changed my life. I am excited about the work we are doing as Methodists in this community, as we have a unique message to share about how God’s love is available to everyone, no matter who or what you are.
Now, many people assume because I am clergy person, that my faith is unwavering. It seems as though a perception most people have of Pastors is that they have some unchanging, unmovable connection with a divine power source. The truth is that Pastors are human just like everyone else. Myself included, and when it comes to faith I would challenge that I question God more than almost anyone I know.
Last week I was setting up for a prayer service and a young man approached and asked me what it meant to be Methodist. I shared with him that the major belief behind Methodism was a belief that all people are capable of receiving God’s love, and able to share it with the world.
The young man then proceeded to tell me his faith journey. I was quite taken back, because I had never met this young man before. There I stood as he shared with me that he believed being mad at God is what had separated him from God the past few years of his life. That his simple anger for things that had happened were the dividing factor.
I did not disagree with the young man openly then, for this young man just needed affirmation that a faith walk was important. I gave him a hint of what I am about to say.
I do want to share with you a fundamental flaw in this way of living. To believe that anger is an inappropriate reaction to the struggles of life is wrong, and most importantly having that emotion with God is not true. To believe we should not question God, would be to deny us one of the most powerful pieces of the Christian faith.
The ability to question God is our strongest tool to create renewed faith in God.
Too often people are told that questioning God is dangerous and it leads to losing faith.
This simply is not true.
When we question God we are allowing ourselves to grow in our faith. Our perception and understanding of God has to take on new forms to understand and to feel God again. Just as we have to understand new ways of doing things as we grow from a child to an adult, we too need to develop our understanding of God.
Being a young adult clergy I am asked to do funerals for young people. Every time I work on one of these services I have to question my God. The truth is I have to do this because my own mortality comes into question, and in the case of these young people I have to wonder why they had to miss out on the amazing experiences of life.
I am compelled by these questions to question God and my faith in God. God which we believe to love all and care for all, and wonder how these horrible things happen that rob young people of a full life.
I find my faith again, but it really is a taxing and challenging experience to engage in this ministry.
My faith rises from a reality that I help the other young people, children, and adults that have relationship with the deceased to start the process of experiencing life without their loved one. Not that I help them move on, but instead how I begin help them begin their process of living this new reality. I share with them a message that God’s love is a part of us always, no matter who or where we are. I share that I don’t pretend to know what happens to people after their lives, but I do share that I have experienced glimpses of a God that walks with us through all of life and death. Sharing the stark reality that I have felt the presence of a loving God who experiences us with us all of life’s fears, joys, pains, exhilaration, sorrow and grief.
I find my faith return not when I share these words, but when I am able to use these words to carve out a space for people to start to feel God’s love. When we are able to use community to remember a life, and to heal from loss.
The stark thing that comes from these experiences is that many of the people I encounter that have no faith community, really are surprised when I say these words….
“Your loved ones death, was not God’s will.”
I literally tell them as part of my theology and message, that God did not will this death.
I do this not to rattle them or make them doubt, but to give them hope, and a chance at faith.
You see for many people God is still some man in the sky. God for them is the boy with a magnifying glass burning the ants on the anthill, as he pleases.
Yet as Methodists we believe in a God of love, that shares love no matter what. What God of love would burn whom he chose and spare those he chose?
A God of love is with us throughout our lives, loving us. God is by our sides when we are living and when we are dying. God experiences our pain and our Joy. As Methodists, as Christians we believe God became vulnerable and near to us. That God lived among us and lives through us.
We are being called to create places for people to develop their understanding of God. The world is full of places willing to tell people the requirements to receive God’s love, but this is not God’s message. As Methodist people we need to share that God is to be questioned, explored and understood. That faith is not static, but instead a process to be lived. A process through which God shares love through us.
The ancient writer of Isaiah understood this. The scripture today comes from Isaiah and it illustrates an invitation to know God is near to us, that God is with us and not out to get us.
The Message (MSG)
Buy Without Money
55 1-5 “Hey there! All who are thirsty, come to the water! Are you penniless? Come anyway—buy and eat! Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk. Buy without money—everything’s free! Why do you spend your money on junk food, your hard-earned cash on cotton candy? Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best, fill yourself with only the finest. Pay attention, come close now, listen carefully to my life-giving, life-nourishing words. I’m making a lasting covenant commitment with you, the same that I made with David: sure, solid, enduring love. I set him up as a witness to the nations, made him a prince and leader of the nations, And now I’m doing it to you: You’ll summon nations you’ve never heard of, and nations who’ve never heard of you will come running to you Because of me, your God, because The Holy of Israel has honored you.”
6-7 Seek God while he’s here to be found, pray to him while he’s close at hand
This text from Isaiah comes from the end of section calling the Hebrew people to come back from exile in Babylon. You see the Hebrew people had been conquered and their leaders, artisans, architects, there gifted had been sent away to live in exile. Now they had been released to return, but none wanted to go. They had been given comfortable lives in Babylon and the risk to return to a place that they no longer knew was high. Though it had long been their home, and the place that God had promised to them, they were unsure. The words Isaiah writes here are ones that would inspire, and push people to see God’s generous love was worth returning to the land of Israel. It would be a huge risk, but one the prophet believes will allow them to connect with their God again.
Faith involves risk to us. When we step out to share faith through kindness we make ourselves vulnerable. The Hebrew people were scared to step out in faith. I don’t blame them they had been beat up, and carried off to Babylon. Then suddenly they were asked to go back and create their community again. They would go back to their homeland and would find it much different because it had been multiple generations, since they had last been there. Different people would own the land, old relationships would be gone, but God was calling them to return to re-create their community.
Now I know that there were other realities facing these people. They literally would be leaving a land where they had homes and returning to a nearly foreign space. I don’t mean we literally need to reclaim land, because implicit in Isaiah’s call is some violence to reclaim what was lost. However, I do believe Isaiah’s words have meaning for us as we openly share the gifts of God.
I must admit knowing the Hebrew people’s predicament, that I would cower where it was comfortable too, but Isaiah writes these brilliant words to remind the people of God’s gift to them. God loves them so much that he risks being vulnerable with them, and in being vulnerable he shares his gifts. God does not hoard his power, but instead shares the life of faith with us all. God calls all people to share God’s love with the world.
Christ demonstrates that to return the kingdom we are called to share God’s love, for our greatest commandment is “love our neighbor.” Living the faith of Christ is to trust that by doing this one act of loving our neighbor, that God will be present in the world.
You see in sharing with others we find our faith. When I share with others I find my faith again, in how God’s love is present in myself. I also receive God’s faith through the compassion of others, shared with me.
We must encourage people to question their faith and in turn share God’s love, so that faith can be felt.
Pistis is the greek word for Faith, its meaning is that faith flows from God, not from us. You see we can question faith, because it is not ours to build or destroy. God is the source of faith, Martin Luther shared this, because he believed people did not need to do good works to receive God’s grace. This is true, but in doing good works we can feel and see God’s grace and love better. Pistis gives us hope that faith will be there even if we need to take time to question it. Like a mustard seed, it will remain there small and steady.
We are a people that believe in a God of love. And the best part is our faith comes when we share that love with people. Listening to them, helping them when they are in a bind, creating spaces for learning, and places for healing. God’s love comes to us despite what we do, however when we share God’s love we will feel Faith.
The reason I share the story of the funerals I have done isn’t to be a downer, it is to share that as Methodist people you create space for Pastoral leaders like Su and myself to be with people in times of pain. By doing this we live out our Faith as leaders and guides with God. You create communities like Covenant that seek to share God’s love with people. By doing this you live out your Faith as leaders and guides with God. You are a covenant in this community that God is here and God loves us all. We together are creating a better world by simply being people that love others, that are willing to reach beyond our differences as Jesus did, and risk changing the world.
I look forward to being in ministry with all of you, as we risk our world to change the world.