(Click here to listen.)
Before I get started, I want to make a quick correction about who Simon Peter was. Peter was a fisherman with a bad temper and had no love for the Romans, but there were no known ties to the Zealots. I got my Simons mixed up during preparation for the sermon, on a related note Analise now has many more teeth than she had a week ago. Let this be a lesson to each of us that it is important for everyone to know the background info on the writings of our faith and not take everything someone says about them at face value. There is no one immune to errors, me least of all. So, sorry about that, while I won’t make that mistake again, no guarantees on others. What does remain as true is that we see a dramatic change in the way Peter interacted with the world as he followed Jesus, and to go from a Galilean fisherman to a missionary extending the good news beyond the Hebrew people is amazing.
Today we catch our first glimpse into the situations faced by the churches Peter was addressing. The early church had a lot of struggles to face, everything from hostile governments to being accused of atheism since they didn’t worship the many Gods everyone else did. Christians and Jews were considered lazy since they only worked six days a week, and it was even rumored that they were secretly cannibals, eating the body and blood of their victims. The Christians were ridiculed and generally misunderstood. Many struggled with doubts about whether this all was worth the harassment. Peter writes to them:
6In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:6-9
Doubt is a word that we don’t like to apply to ourselves. There has been a stream of Christian thought that has told us that doubting is sin, and that if we can’t trust God with our little problems we must not have much faith. I will say that it seems to make sense on the surface, but let’s look at the way gifts from God work. First off, the bible is clear that faith is a gift from God.
Paul tells the Corinthians that there are many gifts of which faith is one.
7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 1 Corinthians 12:7-11
Faith is not something that we can will ourselves to have, the source of faith is God, and when that mustard seed is planted it has huge effects. When God gives us a gift, it usually requires work on our part to use and grow the gift so that we may mature in our use of it. When we first get a gift, we often just whip it out in any situation regardless of whether that gift is what is needed. “When your only tool is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail.” No, we have to learn restraint, to focus our gifts in the most constructive ways for building each other up. This takes time and practice as we get used to the tools God has given us. Speaking of hammers, I have a friend named Eddie who has been a carpenter for 50 plus years. One day I was helping on a church project and as we put together a wall, Eddie just went down the line grabbing a nail, hitting it with a hammer precisely and driving the nail fully in with one perfectly placed hit over and over until the board was nailed in place. I said to myself, that doesn’t look too hard, and I grabbed a nail and proceeded to make my thumb swell up to twice its usual size. When Eddie first started he fumbled with the hammer and hit his thumb just like everyone else, but through his constant exercise of the use of a hammer Eddie knew exactly how to use it with precision and skill. As with Eddie’s hammer, gifts of God are tools used for the common good and, as Paul says elsewhere, for the building of the church. Now let’s explore what it means for us to see faith as a tool that needs us to practice with it so that like Eddie with his hammer we can employ our faith with precision and skill.
The gift of faith has many uses: bringing healing, connecting us to God, connecting others to God, building trust, sustaining our hope in the face of suffering, and even is used by God to cleanse our hearts and tear down the barriers that exist between us. “8And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; 9and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us.” (Acts 15:8-9) Each one of these uses has a common element that runs through them. In each use we are facing doubts. When bringing healing we can doubt whether our prayers or work will have results. When connecting to God we can doubt if there is a connection, whether the connection really is two-way and whether there is someone to connect to. When connecting others to God the same doubts as with our own connection to God are compounded by further possible doubts in the motivation and redemptability of the other person. When building trust we can often doubt whether others are operating in good faith or if we are just going to get taken advantage of again. When God uses it to cleanse our hearts, we can doubt whether we can ever truly be cleaned and sometimes doubt if those barriers that exist between us and others can ever be overcome. The hardest doubts that test and try our faith are connected to suffering, our own and others. The strongest and hardest time of doubt in my life was watching my father slowly decline over the course of a year and finally die from cancer. I doubted that God cared, that God was a God of love, and eventually came to wrestle with doubts about whether there was a God and if a God that allowed this to happen was worth following. Years later, I can look back and see exactly how God was at work in the situation, but in the middle of the mess I couldn’t see it. I wrestled with those doubts. I struggled and strove and eventually God helped me through. By facing my doubts and not trying to hide them or suppress them I grew in my faith. My faith became stronger because I did not try to hide the fact that I doubted. I accepted the fact of my doubt and didn’t try to just make it go away, but experienced it fully. Before that experience my faith was not very large, because I had just begun owning my faith for myself when struck by such a deep trial. The fires of doubt burned hot, and I felt the painful burn as one of my pillars was pulled out from under me and I had to learn to stand on Christ alone. That is what it means to have faith in Jesus, to not rely on anything other than him, to recognize that everything around us that seems so solid and so trustworthy is shifting sand that can be blown away in the storms of life. I have been refined, and while I don’t rejoice in the pain and the suffering, I can rejoice in the results, that my faith in God is much stronger now, that through my weathering the storm of grief and loss Jesus is revealed in praise, glory and honor. And I praise him, even in the dark times when doubt was the strongest I struggled to do it, but I praised him. I also yelled at God, said a bunch of things that fully expressed my doubts to him and still praised him. By going to God with my doubts, even in the pain filled rants against the situations I blamed him for, and wrestling with those doubts I was engaged in an act of worship.
Now I can stand up here as a pastor, not because my faith has never been tested with deep doubt, but because my faith has been tested with deep doubt. God used the doubt to refine my faith, and if you honestly confront your own doubt, and experience it, your faith will also grow. If we do not allow our faith to be tested, but try to hide our doubt and pretend nothing is wrong, we will stunt the growth of our faith, and in that resistance we resist our own salvation. There are still things that I rely on to support me that are shaky, and because God loves me he will strip away those things so that I can stand firm in my salvation. There are circumstances that happen for no discernible reason that God will redeem if I wrestle through them with him. I now know that even though I don’t see him he loves me, because he loves me I can love him, and even though I do not see him now he has given me the gift of faith so that I can believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy. According to all of the stuff I have faced and gone through, getting out of bed isn’t worth the effort, but there is one who speaks to my condition, Jesus. As I wrestle, Jesus wrestles with me and I have found that as I look back I can see the ways Jesus was speaking to me, providing support and encouragement, and let me tell you, having Jesus makes all the difference because with him I can face the next trial since God has been faithful even when my doubt has overcome me. So don’t be afraid to express doubt, face into it and God will be faithful even when you can’t see or feel him anymore. If we place it in God’s hands doubt will be the very tool that builds our faith. The question that I have had to ask myself and the one that I share with you as we enter open worship is: How is my faith being challenged to grow? Who are those around me that can encourage me as I face doubts? Consider these questions and allow the Holy Spirit to minister to your soul. If you are prompted to speak please wait and after the first 5 minutes of silence someone will stand with the microphone. When you are done speaking hand the mike back to _____ and they will pass it along to the next person after a time for the rest of us to consider the words God has placed on your heart. For more information about open worship please consult the blue pamphlet in the pews. Let us enter our time of communion together.