If You Wanna Get the Faith (or Keep It) – Come to the Table

Somebody who’s been here… forever… wrote to me this summer. They knew I’d be planning for preaching while on vacation. My friend wrote, “After all these years in church, could somebody finally tell me? How do I get the faith? And how on earth do I keep it?” Here is the simplest, most Biblically direct answer. “Believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ and be saved.” My friend here has heard that over and over, over the years. It hasn’t yet stuck! Well, maybe we could use the words we speak when we are baptized. Try these. “Renounce wickedness, reject evil, repent.” And this. “Accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist (evil).” Now, having cleared (made straight) the path in your heart, here’s the clincher. “Confess Jesus Christ your Savior, put your whole (utter) trust in his grace, serve him… in/through the church (that embraces the world).” My friend here has heard that over and over, over the years. It still hasn’t stuck! Maybe the words are too churchy. Or unclear. ‘Too fuzzy somehow. The question keeps crying out! How? How do I get the faith; how do I keep the faith? Maybe we don’t need a set of ideas or doctrines. Maybe we need a string of experiences. So borrowing on what Christians in general and Methodists in particular have always experienced, let me answer like this. To get the faith, to keep it… come to the Table. Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love… with God! [With one addition, these are called John Wesley’s General Rules for the Christian life.] This is so vital, it’s worth “a month of Sundays” to explore. So across September, we’ll give each a turn.

To get the faith, we don’t need to buy into an idea. Or learn about God or Jesus. We require an experience. For that reason, since the first century, the Church has said, “COME TO THE TABLE!” Experience Jesus. Dine with him. Get next to him. Take him in your hand. (Don’t ask how, but somehow, he’s “in the bread!”) Take him in. Drink him up. (Don’t ask why, it’s too deep for us, but he’s in the cup.) Come with your heart and your mind open. And he’ll be here. And you’ll be changed. You’ll believe! You’ll know. The Bible says you’ll “faith into Jesus.” You’ll “get it!” And keep it.

I was proofing this message yesterday. ‘Right about the time Tropical Storm Hannah’s winds began to blow. Through the window over the computer screen, I watched the wind grab hold of the tree limbs. It moved them to places they never expected to stand. It surprised them. They struggled against the windtides to get back to their accustomed place. Altogether it was dance, urging and resistance, struggle and surrender. It was unseen hand acting on unclaimed heart. So often it’s like this between us and God. Us and Christ. The surprising presence, the persistent push and pull. It’s like the old song sings. “Sometimes a light surprises the Christian when s/he sings. It is the Lord who rises with healing in his wings.”

Can you think of times and places like this in your life? … (E.g.s)

I never expected such power of Jesus’ presence in the births of our children as I experienced. I never expected to be pushed and urged toward ordained ministry as I was. When I went on my first and only blind date (her vision improved only long after), I never expected God to deliver to me the love of my life. I have been surprised so often by some word from my own lips. In counseling. In a hospital. Even here. Words that a second before were not in my heart or on my mind. I said them. But Another put them on my tongue. Just a few days ago, asking a couple their goals for the next five years, they absolutely answered, “More, better, bigger.” Without thinking I answered. “What would it look like, how would things be different, you… different, if you desire ‘deeper, higher, broader?’” I nearly over-looked my shoulder to see where that came from. “Sometimes Christ’s light surprises.”

But it helps, helps alot… when we put ourselves in places where the holy is known to walk. Where God can be readily glimpsed. Where Christ has been known to walk. By and large, those whom Jesus healed… came to him. Those who heard his teaching “went out” to him. Jesus himself never separated from the synagogue or temple, but went regularly. To teach, yes. To heal, it appears. But also, to come into the presence of the Holy at a place where the Almighty keeps his appointed rounds. There’s a lesson in this for us when it’s hard to get or keep faith. Be where God is found. (In the sacred community.) Oh… we live in an age that wants to spiritual. But isn’t too keen on “organized” religion. I can find God on my own is the mantra. Hmm… Moses couldn’t. David either. Not Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jesus, Peter or Paul. Odds are: we’re not that hot either! God often surprises…. But we do well to practice the spiritual discipline of putting ourselves where God has already announced and demonstrated that God in Christ will be! Wanna get the faith, or keep it? Get to where Christ desires to meet us. Get where God intends to meet us.

Oh, come to the Table, then. “Why?” we ask. “I don’t get the ‘in the bread thing.’ Or the ‘in the cup’ thing, either.” Come because Jesus invites you. He wants you. Me, too. Right here at the Table. You don’t think Jesus meant just The 12 when he said, “I’ve earnestly desired to eat this Passover meal with you,” do you? In the 11th hour, Jesus draws strength from the gathered faithful, as surely as he gives it. He understands. There’s a relationship between what God wants to accomplish and we need to share and witness. His instructions are as instructive as they are specific. “Take the bread.” A) Don’t let it pass you by. [WMC 1st din: “gravy”/toast] B) Make the decision to eat… don’t just put the love of Christ on your plate (don’t be a snoop over grace), ingest it. (Don’t just take it, take it in!) C) Share the bread. Don’t try it alone. Don’t go it alone. Don’t keep it to yourself. Give it away. D) Don’t look for the Kingdom here or hereafter, until all who are willing to take the bread have come and been served. [The very Kingdom itself is waiting ‘til you and I come to Table with Jesus! THIS IS BIG. REALLY BIG!] And as for the cup, well, take that too. A) Don’t let it pass. B) Know it’s for you. It’s about you. You can’t hold the cup in your hand and not feel the shadow of the cross spread over your person. We may not “get” the wine-into-blood thing. But everybody’s stood in a shadow. Our form, sheltered in something more than ourselves. C) Share it. D) What would be bitter, is now the best fruit of the vine… (the vin nouveau) of the Kingdom’s first day. Drink this, and it’s like you and I have already tasted the day when “the old has passed away and the new has come.”

How to get the faith… and keep it? Look for an experience, not a proposition. KNOW God in Christ. Not just know about him. He will surprise. But also be where he promises. At table! Take! Together. Share! Together. Come! Together. Hold on! Together!!

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