SEVEN TESTS of FAITH
John 6: 1-13
JAMES 1: 9-18
FAITH & ACTIONS SERMON SERIES part 2
June 23, 2019
My friends … not just my close friends but anyone who considers me their friend knows about SUNSET. No, not about the moments when the sun crosses the horizon in the west but THE ICE CREAM … the ONLY ICE CREAM … THE BEST ICE CREAM! THE ICE CREAM one can only find in Central Pennsylvania or in my freezers that is created by the ice cream magicians in Williamsport Pennsylvania. Creamy delicious ice cream is the essence of Sunset Ice Cream and I am totally loyal to my ice cream. I was friends with the founder, John Fritz, who passed away a few months ago and I am friends with Jessica and her husband Brett who are continuing the legacy. MMMM Sunset.
Now, its not that I haven’t been challenged since discovering Sunset decades ago. Some offer me tempting contenders and others have put what they called ice cream in front of me but I quickly discover how poorly their choices stand in comparison to THE BEST ICE CREAM. Just yesterday, my still pregnant Colleen and her husband Ryan directed us to a place just outside Point Pleasant Beach called Sundaes. Yes, it was good but that test of my ice cream loyalty failed. SUNSET friends … SUNSET ICE CREAM is the best.
Now, you might wonder what Sunset Ice Cream has to do with the second part of our sermon series on the book of James. I know for a fact that the author never sampled the lusciously delicious coconut cream ice cream nor the peanut butter cup addiction that Sunset creates. But, James in the beginning of his letter focuses on a theme that carries on throughout this book of the Bible. People of faith will be tested … people of faith will have choices to make with regularity. Frequently, those challenges and life tests push believers into considering whether or not to embrace God and Christ or to just put their faith into a building and institution called church while utilizing their lives to embellish their connection to the world; insuring acceptance on the outside and some type of membership inside that is quickly put aside when the tests come to light … yes, it’s easy to say keep Christ in Christmas but it’s challenging to put Jesus into life.
Years ago while I was a student at the University of Buffalo, one of my Education professors shared her insight into testing. Most of us remember that taking tests in school was a time of pressure, hard work, and perhaps even fear. It’s true that most students don’t enjoy taking a test but this learned educator shared her perspective with the future teachers in her classroom. She said, “Tests should be the celebration of what you have learned and the discovery of what you can learn if you are willing to try.” Her insight has remained with me … especially when my test grades were not what I wanted them to be or when I was in the midst of late night studying. Celebrations and discovery are the essence of life’s tests as well as the tests given to students in classrooms.
I cannot stand here today and identify all of the tests of faith that everyone here faces but in briefly focusing on seven themes I am hoping to give a perspective from James that allows each of us to once again embrace the Holy Spirit while allowing the light of Jesus Christ to not only shine from us but to enlighten our own paths so we become more with Christ than the world; allowing our faith to shine brightly in our daily actions.
My seven all are wrapped up in our attitudes … Jesus we heard in today’s Gospel lesson knew that Philip was going to pull an attitude when Jesus asked him about buying for for the crowd. The original Greek uses the same word for testing in both the Gospel of John and James, PEIRASMOS. Philip was worried about money … it would take more than a half year’s salary to feed the crowd. Jesus was putting him to the test. Andrew then shrugged off the youth who had the 5 loaves and two fish but Jesus my friends knew that a miracle was possible. Jesus knew that with God all things are possible but our human reality all too often focuses on what can’t be or on how we can be critical of what might be without embracing the miracles we can produce in our own simple way for God.
Are you allowing contenders from the world to take the place of Jesus? When it comes to ice cream I will always stand by Sunset but the world offers many options not just for my ice cream enjoyment but also for us to follow rather than our Lord and Savior, the Son of God. James uses PEIRASMOS in today’s Scripture, “Those who stand firm during testing are blessed … they will receive the life God has promised.”
Last week I talked about the challenge found between the strength of faith and our doubt. Today here are the seven tests of our faith that I want you to consider and perhaps one or more of these belongs to you. Your PEIRASMOS and mine.
These have no particular order to them but all impact how we are seen in the world by those who need Jesus Christ in their lives. The test is found in our attitude towards God’s Word, our attitude towards God’s people, the attitude of the words we use, our attitude towards how we fit into the world, our attitude towards the work we take on, and our attitude towards prayer. Ok, that’s six … the last one is our attitude in relationship to God.
These are not the infamous seven deadly sins and they are not inclusive. In the coming weeks I am going to focus more specifically on some of these as we work our way through James but this morning I want you to focus on these seven challenges and verses 9 through 18 from the first chapter of James knowing miracles can happen when we stand up to life’s PEIRASMOS; living as God’s Spirit directs rather than for the world.
As a child in church I frequently sang a song of faith the B-I-B-L-E, ‘yes that’s the book for me. I stand alone on the Word of God the B-I-B-L-E!’ Standing alone on the Word of God; not on political meme’s; not on the words of those who completed the story of the Game of Thrones … Winter is coming you know; and not on the Tweets or messages of the 21st Century. The Word of God. Many people have made the conscious decision that they don’t need God’s Word because somehow the story of the manger perhaps blended with Easter’s cross and tomb gives them the guidance they need. Too much work pastor … not enough time. In this past Wednesday’s Bible Study a young man said ‘it’s too confusing.’ And, one only has to look at the shrinking number of people who even consider a Bible Study much less participate in one to learn that one of the tests people of faith experience is whether opening up our Holy Book for discovery and reinforcement of a personal connection with God is worth it. In verse 19 of this first chapter James writes to those early Christians, “Know this my dear brothers and sisters … everyone should be quick to listen.” Apparently the early believers were like many today … choosing not to listen, which means their faith was decimated because if we accept what others say God’s Word says then God will never be personal nor life changing nor miracle producing in or through our lives. In Romans Paul wrote, “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” If you aren’t reading what Jesus said regularly … if you aren’t in the Word … then what is your faith really about and how are you making sure you live for your faith?
The second and in today’s society and world perhaps the most challenging is our attitude towards God’s people. And, I do not mean towards Christians nor clergy but towards all of humanity because Scriptures teach ALL were created in the image of the Holy not just those who attend Methodist churches on occasion. Perhaps this is the most difficult choice because I can guarantee you that there are some out in our communities who have no problem denying soap and basic necessities to children being held separately from their parents and in fact there are some who don’t see a problem in taking kids away from their moms, their dads, and then crowding them together into encampments. Last night a pastor friend of mine posted the words of the prophet Amos reminding us what matters to God, “Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of heavenly forces, will be with you. Hate evil, love good, and establish justice at the city gate. Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as I have loved you … they will know you are my followers by your love.” We all know in our hearts what love is and what hate is. We all understand justice and righteousness from God’s perspective but the world wants us to endorse something else. We know it and it is an ongoing test for each of us.
Test number three remember that James wrote, “God chose to give us birth by God’s true word and the result we are like the first crop from the harvest” but somehow many who talk about their new birth actually turn away from God’s work or what God expects from God’s people in this world. Sometimes our personal profit and success runs counter to God’s calling. Sometimes we risk popularity and in some nations jail if we stand up for God’s clear directives found in Scripture but then Scripture was our first test. James is best known for connecting faith with works, which if you think about it only makes sense. If you believe but don’t agree with ‘the God or Jesus way of doing’ then do you believe? Do you have faith? I again reference the prayer we each say regularly “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” by asking if your faith is challenged and tested by the very concept of having to live here on God’s earth by celebrating work God calls you to do … teach Sunday School, go on mission trips, clean the church, share the Word … “So then, if anyone is in Christ,” Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth, “that person is new, the old things have gone away. And look the new things have arrived.”
Perhaps no action that we take in our lives is more powerful than our words. The words we write and the words we speak. In these times it is oh so easy to quickly produce words that are documented forever compared to the days of hand written letters that could be torn up and thrown away. Sticks and stones may hurt my bones but words create permanent harm. James focuses on the words people use fully knowing that insults, gossip and words of the world diminish the message of Jesus Christ when coming from people claiming to be His followers. He writes, “Blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, it shouldn’t be this way!” He was not referring to the seven words George Carlin talked about but about words that inflict pain, division, and hate. We have heard “fresh water and salt water don’t come from the same spring” so there is a challenge … a test … how carefully do you monitor your words before you unleash them at or about others whom God has created in God’s image?
In one of his harshest statements James writes, “You unfaithful people!” It was clear that James felt those reading his letter were truly struggling with the tests before them. He continues, “Don’t you know that your friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.” Maybe this is is why some folks don’t read God’s Word. They enjoy their relationship with the world … they justify the world’s hate and division by claiming that God ordained it but the truth is once you believe … once you have taken Jesus on if you really have then church you become new. You are born again not to go right back into the world but to be this new person focused on God but isn’t our love relationship with the world; our friendship with all the world offers; the time allocation needed to be activists for the things we lust for in the world … such a test to our faith; such a struggle.
And, then there is the test related to living our daily lives. Our vocation and our work; our chores and our time. Have you noticed how these seven tests weave together and have common themes? Us versus God … mine … my way … not the Light of Christ because we can’t see God but we can see what’s on Netflix. In Luke we hear how the Pharisees criticized Jesus on Palm Sunday for the Hosanna’s His disciples were shouting out … “scold your disciples they said. Tell them to stop!” But Jesus said, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.” But isn’t it interesting that we have reached a time in history when people of faith don’t want to share Christ’s love through their own lives? Some want to demand that Christ get forced on people … mandate Merry Christmas … insist that public prayer written by a government official be required of our children … make them read the Bible; well not their Bible but ours. However when it comes to daily living it’s hard. James writes, “every good and perfect gift is from above.” Our work … our lives … so partner with God as you do things or you can just say NAH … God can wait until church.
Our sixth is about prayer. Now I am not talking about a public display across a restaurant table so that others can see you bowing your head and then eating away with a conversation about whom you like and dislike in the world of politics and sports. I am not talking about a ‘now I lay me down to sleep’ repetitive prayer even though repetitive pray can be a good thing. James is concerned about whether we call on God when facing PEIRASMOS. “Prayer that comes from faith,” he writes, “will heal the sick and if they have sinned, they will be forgiven. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.” Paul writes “pray without ceasing.” The question … the test … if you could TEXT God or Christ … if you could send an instant message or e-mail to Jesus during your times of trouble or just to share what’s on your mind would you? When people of faith start to link faith and actions together they will discover how easy it is to talk regularly with God.
And, that bring us to the last test of faith on this day of new membership; this day of celebration of Tiffany’s ministry … do you love God? The ultimate test of faith … the ultimate challenge to determine if you want to. … if you know you need to. … if your belief and transition is legitimate then the first and foremost command is to love your God; the God who created ALL humanity in God’s image; the God who sent Jesus for ALL to be saved; the God who requires us to radically change … do you love that God as much as a newborn child? As much as your closest friends? As much as your dog or cat? Perhaps the most difficult test of all. When asked about getting to the kingdom of heaven Jesus talked about two commandments … “the first and foremost being love your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.”
James writes, “Every good gift, every perfect gift comes from above. These gifts come down from God, the creator of the heavenly lights. God chose to give us birth by God’s true word … we are like the first crop from the harvest of everything God created.”
So love God … hold true to Jesus Christ … let the Holy Spirit guide you and then be people whose lives produce fruit for God’s kingdom … making disciples for Christ showcasing what matters in this all too short life. Your choice … your tests … will you produce miracles small and large for God? I certainly hope so.