Going Deeper 10-7-19

From our second reading, Paul’s opening to his second letter (epistle) to young pastor Timothy, these words: I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.  For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.  Thus far our text.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
There is a 3-word phrase from the middle of our reading that I am going to focus on today: “rekindle the gift.”  Let’s start with that first word: rekindle.  Some translations render the word as a phrase “fan into flames.”  As you heard me say to the kids, this involves helping a fire that is barely burning to burst back into flames.
First question I have for you this morning: How is your faith?  Do you feel like you are on fire, that your belief and trust in God are burning hot and bright?  Is the love, grace, compassion, and generosity of Jesus shining through you?  
Or are you perhaps at the other end of the spectrum?  Do you sometimes wonder if you even have faith?  Do you struggle to live out your faith in your everyday life?  Do you feel as though your faith is smoldering at best?
My assumption would be that most of us are somewhere in between those two extremes, and that we find ourselves moving around the spectrum, sometimes hot and bright and sometimes struggling to a point where doubt and fear seem more powerful than our faith.  At times, we might go from one end of the spectrum in a short period of time.
Here is what I—well, Jesus really—have to say to those who feels that smoldering is what most often describes their faith: “A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not put snuff out…”  I believe the Holy Spirit desires to breathe grace over your life, to assure you that we are not saved by the strength of our love or discipleship, but by the strength of God’s love and grace.  And then, when grace has washed over you, God invites you to be transformed, and to commit ourselves to the ongoing process.
God promises to do His part.  In Luke 11 we hear these words of Jesus: "So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you... Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"  We simply need to ask, seek and to knock, and He will send what we need most—His Holy Spirit.
That is the first and most important step, to ask, with the disciples, that the Lord would “Increase our faith.”  And here is a definition of faith: FAITH… a gift received from God which inspires and empowers us to believe in God, to perceive our need for forgiveness, and to open our hearts, minds, and lives to receive grace. 
The second step is to respond to love and grace with a decision… a decision to be involved in the re-kindling process, recognizing that God desire for us to grow in faith and in discipleship, but doesn’t force it to happen.  God offers the tools, and we cannot grow our faith without His help, but the process of transformation involves effort and commitment on our part.
When we speak of growing in faith, we are talking about our response to God’s grace, our reaction to God’s action.  And this is where our involvement and commitment must kick in.  Jesus calls us to follow, but He does not throw a rope around us force us to follow.  He calls and urges us to remember His goodness and to express our gratitude through worship and service and transformation.
And, again, God promises to empower our response and to help our faith grow.  This God does through means or channels.  It is not a matter of us sitting there and saying, “Okay, make me grow.  Make me stronger.”  And then suddenly, poof, there it is.  God works through means, and the means of grace through which we believe God works are His Word (more specifically, the Gospel), His Sacraments (Baptism and Holy Communion), and the fellowship of his Church.  
God promises to encounter us- individually and collectively- through the Scriptures. That’s why it’s important for us to recognize that merely listening to 3 readings and a 10-15 minute sermon is inadequate.  We need to be in the written word so that the Living Word can be in us!  This may include a personal devotional life, and there are a ton of resources available to you, including the “Going Deeper” I send out almost every weekday, the “Portals of Prayer” we make available, and any number of online resources, including the “Pray as You Go” website, what I consider to be the best Bible study resource I have ever come across, “The Bible Project.”   
And, as you have heard, I think it is very important to be involved with others in Bible Study.  I must be honest and confess that I am somewhat disappointed that I have been unable to involve more adults in Bible study.  
But the bottom line is this: if we honestly want to have God increase our faith, we need to be in  the Word.  We need to find time and energy in our busy lives to do the things that can make growth happen.  It would seem that the extra hour after we gather for worship on Sundays is the most practical opportunity we have here at Zion.  We also gather at Harvest Farm for a Tuesday night study and here on Wednesday mornings. And we can add more.
I also believe that growth in faith happens through the fellowship of the Church.  We have been blessed with such a warm and caring family here at Zion.  When we gather for worship and sacrament, when we gather for Bible study, when we gather for service, and when we rally around one another during difficult times, we draw strength from one another.  What a blessing!
Finally, I need to say this: we should care about growing because growth is a good thing.  Our lives are blessed by growth.  As our faith and discipleship grow, and we begin to live our lives more and more in ways that reflect the life of Jesus, we experience increasing joy and purpose.  We continue to see ourselves and our world in new ways, and we find more meaning and are filled with more and more gratitude for the gift of faith.
My friends, this call is for each of us.  May the Holy Spirit of God help us to rekindle the gift of faith that is within you and within me, and grant us an ever-increasing spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.  Zion… let’s continually grow together.  Amen.