“What Good Is It?”

This is the message that I gave at Walker Valley United Methodist Church for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, 12 August 2001.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 1: 1, 10 – 20; Hebrews 11: 1 – 3, 8 – 16; and Luke 12: 32 – 40.


Last week I read a quote from an unnamed IBM engineer in 1968 concerning the newly invented microchip. Commenting on the microchip, this engineer with the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM asked "But what . . . is it good for?" Since computing up to that moment was based on large main-frame computers, essentially powered by vacuum tubes, it would have been very difficult to see how to use something that had taken the technology of the time and shrunk it down to fit on a single chip of silicon less than 1" wide. The inability to see how to use the microchip along with a steadfast reliance on mainframe computers probably cost IBM the chance to be a dominant player in today’s market.

The problem is that we tend to look at the future in terms of what we see today. And because we do, we often cannot see the future clearly. And we don’t want to go where we cannot see clearly.

In this world today, there are plenty of people who offer visions of the future, especially as it pertains to the church. There are literally hundreds of books on the market today written by individuals who claim to know what is going to happen, when Jesus will return and how He will do so.

But the Gospel passage for today does not offer a clear vision of the future. In Mark, Jesus says that neither he nor the angels in heaven know the hour or day of his return. In Acts 1, the disciples want to know when the kingdom will come. Jesus again tells them that only God knows that, and that should worry more about being empowered so that they can be God’s witnesses on earth.

In the Gospel reading for today Jesus says much the same. He reminds us through the parable that a servant who spends all of their time trying to guess their master’s return will not be doing the tasks the master has left for him to do. In fact, those servants who think they know exactly when and how the master will return will be the ones who are surprised, for the master comes at a time and in a way unexpected. We should be ready, not by standing by with our heads in the clouds or by listening to those who claim to know more than Jesus but to love, to work, to be about the tasks that have been left for us.

It is faith that provides us with the power by which we can wait. And it is faith that will provide us with the strength to take on the tasks that we have been asked to do. Faith is defined as the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.

The writer of Hebrews speaks of faith and the power it has to help people see into the future. Abraham was lauded for his faith, for taking his family and possession from a secure environment into an unknown territory, solely on the promise that he would be the father of a great nation.

Faith involves going where you can’t yet see. Faith involves living where you aren’t yet home. And faith involves accepting what you don’t have. Abraham’s faith journey began with open-ended travel plans. He did not know where his journey would end. The same is true for us. We do not know where our journey in faith will take us nor do we know when it will end. Faith is the sole act of being willing to follow god’s direction wherever it leads, even if we don’t know where that will be during the journey itself.

Abraham’s own faith journey was not a direct journey from Ur to the Promised Land. He detoured along the way. But when he was in some of those intermediate places, such as Egypt, God was able to teach him some of the most valuable lessons of faith. And as we move forward in our faith journey, there will be detours along the way. Some of these detours will be brief while others will be long and frustrating; some may even cause us to wonder if own journey has ended. But if we keep our eyes to God and his will for our lives, we can understand those times when we spend time in places that are not the ultimate end to the journey, not our ultimate home.

And no matter how futile the journey may seem, as long as we keep the faith that God will hold to his promise, our journey will always be fruitful. Surely Abraham and Sarah must have wondered about the promise God made to them that they would be the parents of a mighty nation, especially when Sarah was long passed child bearing age. Abraham was willing to accept God’s promise solely on faith, even if it seemed so impossible.

Today, it is the same for us. God wants us to do great things, even if Walker Valley doesn’t seem to be the vocal point of the universe. The question is "Are you willing to trust God with your future and follow him with faith?"

To follow God with faith is more than simply saying that you will do so, it is resolving to take action. And the actions that are taken must be directed by and towards one’s faith. Contrast how God rejects the actions of the Israelites of Isaiah’s time as being superficial attempts to fulfill the letter, but not the spirit of the law. "Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil…. Make justice your aim….Hear the orphan’s plea, defined the widow." (Isaiah 1: 16 – 17)

Justice and goodness alone suffice; to offer praise when "your hands are full of blood" is the exact opposite of faith. Verbal praise is an insult when it is contradicted by actions; rather our actions must magnify our living faith. The writer of Hebrews points out that many times those who died in faith never received what was promised. But they also died knowing that was promised may never have been gained here on earth; rather it was something that was to be gained in heaven.

Isaiah also pointed out that those who would do the will of God would receive true rewards, that they would eat the good of the land. But those that would refuse to serve God and rebel against Him would be destroyed. Even Jesus pointed out that those who did what was asked of them would get the chance to sit at the heavenly banquet.

It is by our faith that all is gained. It is by our faith that we know that what we do will be rewarded. I have already heard that some share my vision of what Walker Valley United Methodist Church can be tomorrow and in the coming years. And I think that a good number of people also share that vision. But know is the time to put your faith in action.

Have you taken the opportunity this summer to call someone who is a member of this church but hasn’t been here for some time. Do you know of someone who would come but doesn’t because no one asked? Have you thought of how you could help this church by taking on a more active role. Right now, we need someone to represent Walker Valley as the Lay Member to the Annual Conference. This position has been vacant for almost two years and it has meant that this church has not had a representative at Annual Conference. The Lay Leader position has also been vacant for the last two years as well. The Lay Leader represents the congregation of the church; this is not necessarily and should not be considered the same as the Chair of the Administrative Council.

We will need someone to serve as the Chair of the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee and someone to serve as Chair of the Witness Area of ministry. And we will need at least two people to serve three-year terms on the Board of Trustees, the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee, and the Committee on Lay Leadership.

There are also other areas of service. We would like to have some people serve in the Sunday School program as teachers and helpers. We have four meals scheduled for the coming months; this means that we need some people help plan these meals and we need to have some people help organize and clean up downstairs so that we can again use the fellowship hall as it was intended to be used.

Faith is more than simply words; it is also action. Jesus was not content to sit around reminiscing about what used to be. In fact, once he started teaching, he did not fail to create a word picture or two or three a day. And the end of the Gospel of John, John wrote that if someone wrote down everything that Jesus did, the world itself could not contain all the books that would have been written. (John 21: 25) And someone who only knew Jesus three years wrote this.

Jesus said, "My Father goes on working, and so do I." (John 5: 15 – 17)  He was always asking that his disciples and followers pray for more recruits because the fields were bursting and ripe for harvest. Things needed to be done, and as a leader he wanted them done — even when He knew that he would not be physically present to do so. In following Jesus, in holding to our faith, we are constantly asked to take action.

Jesus pushed his disciples to move away from the economic security that they so zealously guarded. He told us that faith puts us on the edge of life where we become concerned about all of life; where we become stewards and servants of the house and where we want to make sure that all is ready for the coming of the Master. We have to take care of the little things because (and excuse the terribly trite cliché), there are no little things.

Faith makes us responsible for the little things — the little people, the little injustices, the little immoralities, the little pollution, and the little evils. On the edge we see that the little things are not so little but rather as the cracks in the house’s foundation that will lead to its collapse.

Faith puts life on the edge by making each moment of life a possibility to encounter the Living God. Faith makes each moment the one when God might open up time and history and show grace and mercy to us again. Every moment because that moment when God’s providence moves in our lives.

We all walk on a journey of life. By our faith in Jesus Christ, we find that journey is not in the normal path. Faith gets us up and moving, out unto the edges of life where the little questions of life cannot be distinguished from the big ones and where every moment is both an opportunity to encounter the Living God and to bear witness to others of God’s love.

And as we come to the Communion Table this morning, we are reminded that the first step in our faith journey has already been taken. In Communion we are reminded that Christ died for our sins. In Communion we also celebrate that rewards that our journey in faith will bring.

The goodness of the faith comes not from what it was but rather what it will bring for us.

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