Good morning! It’s monsoon season, apparently, so I’m glad to see all of you here, and see that none of you have drowned! You know, I absolutely love these Bible texts we have to work with today because they are just so full of God’s grace and goodness! I want to start by highlighting the very beginning of the second reading, of Paul’s letter to Timothy. Pau writes, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”
This, folks, is what Vibrant Faith is all about. The Vibrant Faith system, if you could call it that, the Vibrant Faith way of looking at church, is one that takes these verses seriously. Timothy and Paul were coworkers for the Gospel, but Paul was the…supervisor…mentor…trainer? He brought Timothy up, taught him how to be a pastor and an evangelist, and sent him out – these 2 letters we have are some of Paul’s instructions and encouragement to his young protégé. And so what Paul is saying to Timothy here, that we get to listen in on, is “I know that the faith you have was passed on to you from your mother and your grandmother, and that very sincere faith lives in you just as did in them.”
What Vibrant Faith says is, “Faith is caught, not taught. Yes, “church” and pastors and youth groups and Sunday School and confirmation and all of those other things are good and helpful and important. But the number-one predictor of whether a child will grow up to be an actively faithful Christian is parental involvement, normalizing the life of faith, integrating it into the entire workings of the family, rather than just, “Oh, and we also go to church and do some stuff there.”" As it says in the Habakkuk reading today, and St. Paul reiterates in his letter to the Romans, “The righteous person will live by his faith.”
This is why we put the Taking Faith Home sheets in the bulletin each week. This is why there are suggestions for ways to engage the Four Keys (Caring Conversation, Ritual and Tradition, Service, and Devotion) going out to you in the newsletter. It’s why we practice them at Council Meetings and Confirmation class and send ideas home after confirmation. Because we’re giving you as many tools as possible to integrate faith into your home – whether there are kids living at your house or not. We all need this – not just kids. Adults and young adults. Babies and the elderly. Those who are healthy as a horse and those who are dying. Those of us who just can’t seem to get our lives together, and those of us who are only pretending like we do. We all, every one of us, need faith. And not just “faith” in some vague, ethereal sense that has a sort of…generic justice of the universe as its object. But faith that holds Jesus Christ, and his promises, as its object. The righteous will live by faith.
And it’s true, this faith comes from the Holy Spirit. You or I or anyone else cannot create faith in someone – but we can do our darndest to pass it on. And when we engage the rituals and traditions of the faith, when we start having more and more conversations about God, when we read the Bible and, yes, actually sing along at worship (I know, crazy!) and receive Holy Communion, when we love and serve other people after the pattern of Jesus, those are all footholds for the Holy Spirit to grab on to, to build and deepen our faith, they are ways of fanning into flames, as Paul says, the gift of God, the gift which is our faith. And when our faith is fanned into flames – mustard seed-sized or anything else – it bleeds out onto the people around us, it gets passed around to family and friends, neighbors and coworkers. Yes, the righteous will live by faith.
Now I know, that there are a goodly number of you, who in your heart of hearts would prefer to believe that “the righteous will live by working hard and leading a moral life.” I mean, YAY American Protestant Work Ethic! Thank you, Mayflower Pilgrims and/or Scandinavian immigrants, for gifting us with this rich heritage, yes? Deep down, a good many of us suspect that if we just work hard enough, and lead a reasonably moral life (you know, like don’t kill anybody or do anything else too terrible), and if we help usher or serve communion once in a while, well, we’re serving the Lord, and God will look with kindness on that, and then, everything will be fine. God will love us, and smile upon us, and bless us, because of how nice and sweet and Midwesternly-charming we’ve been. God helps those who help themselves, and others, right? That’s totally in the Bible! Except for, wait, it’s not. But what is in the Bible, is Hebrews 11, verse 6: “without faith it is impossible to please God.” The righteous person will live by faith.
And it’s a darn good thing, too. Because look at Jesus’ words about those who are servants. There never seems to be a break, and there isn’t even really a reward for a job well done. You’re only an unworthy servant, who has done your duty. Look, you’re welcome to try to work for your reward, to be a good servant in hopes of some sort of divine pat on the head, but Jesus is pretty clear that at the end of the day, what you’ll hear is, “You want me to thank you for…doing…the job you were supposed to do in the first place?” Annnnnnd let’s be honest – how many of us can truly say, “I’m an unworthy servant who has only done what I should have”? It’s really more like, “I’m an unworthy servant who hasn’t even done my assigned duties.” Welcome to sin. Even the righteous can’t claim to live by their service. The righteous will live by faith.
I know this is hard to hear, and hard to absorb, but it's true - good works won’t really get you anywhere. They are what you are supposed to do, as a follower of Jesus, and other people need you do them (your kids need you to be a good parent, your wife needs you to show that you love her, your customers need you to charge fair prices – and that’s just in your own immediate circle, that’s not even counting strangers). Yes, good works are important. But they are important in this world only. When it comes to righteousness, when it comes to salvation, when it comes to our relationship with God, they don’t amount to a hill of beans…or mustard seeds. The righteous will live by faith.
And when we live by faith, when we cling to the promises of Christ, which include eternal life, victory over the devil, and the forgiveness of sin. So that when we are forced to say, at the end of each day, “I am only an unworthy servant who didn’t do what was asked,” we can count on Jesus to say, “Your sins are forgiven.” Not overlooked, or excused, or brushed off with “oh, it’s okay.” Forgiven. Done, over, ended. Washed clean. Taken as far away as the east is from the west. Forgiven. Jesus has already done the hardest work of all – dying and rising again, for us, and for our salvation. What’s left for us, the unworthy servants to do, is to believe – to have faith – that this is true. The righteous will live by faith.
How much faith? Well, as much as you’ve got. Maybe a mustard seed. Maybe a tiny little orchid seed or a big old avocado seed. You can’t judge the dimensions of your faith, and you sure can’t judge the dimensions of somebody else’s. Anybody who tells you to “believe more” or “have more faith” doesn’t know what they’re talking about, because they have no idea how much faith you have. And anyway, it’s a gift from God, given out by the Holy Spirit, so it’s not like you can control what size your seed of faith is. The righteous will live by faith – however much they’ve been given.
So be righteous, then. Live by your God-given faith. Fan it into flames by engaging it, through worship and fellowship and service and prayer, and then pass it along, not as some sort of accessory to your life, but as something that is integral, and woven into, everything that you do. We are all unworthy servants, who sometimes have, but usually have not – done what we were told to do. But our sins are forgiven, we are under the power of the Holy Spirit, not the devil, and we have been promised eternal life. Yes, the righteous shall live. They shall live by faith. Blessed be the Lord.