SERMON from 2-5-12: “Unstuck in Your Faith”

 

John 21.15-19

 

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

 

Unstuck in Your Faith

 

If you are good today, I might just see to it that I torture a metaphor in observance of the Super Bowl today–but you will have to behave.

 

One might think to themselves that I should have started with “faith” when beginning a sermon series on getting unstuck from anything.  Faith might very well be the starting point in any venture we undertake–or it should be.  This, however, is a little different.

 

I am gonna go out on a limb here and say that nearly all–if not all–of us gathered here this morning are Christians.  Some of us may have come to it later in life.  Some of us may have known it our whole lives, having been taught it by our parents and pastors from an early age.  So, when I say I am going out on a limb, this is a titanium alloy limb with a wide base.  My point is that I am preaching to the choir.

 

We all know the importance of faith.  More than likely, we have all had experiences in our lives that have been spiritually significant–increasing or firming-up our faith.  We can walk the walk and talk the talk.  It has become so much a part of us that we have given into the lifestyle which goes with it, right?  Somewhere in your house, you probably still have a WWJD bracelet–you may not know it, but you do.  You probably have a t-shirt that’s Christian-related, but has been borrowed from the world of marketing–like a Coke logo which has been changed to say the word “Christ.”  And, you probably have 2-5 different versions of the Bible sitting in different parts of your house–the KVJ you were given by a friend and the leather-bound NIV you popped a little extra money for because it had the nice maps of the Holy Land and a small Hebrew-Greek lexicon in the back.

 

My point is that we all know about faith, the importance of faith and how faith can inform our lives.  Today, I want to talk about the times in our lives when we feel stuck in our faith.  This, honestly, is the most difficult aspect of our lives in which to get stuck.  Think about it.  If you get stuck in your finances, you can really use some common sense–and maybe some advice from someone–to get unstuck.  If you get stuck in your field, you can try to find a new job–more difficult at some times than others–or read a book by Tony Robbins, right?  If you get stuck in your friendships, you can go to some of your other friends for advice.  If you get stuck in your families, you can go to really anyone for advice–because all of us have families that have been a source of stress for us.

 

Faith is–altogether–a different story.  Sure, you can go to someone else for advice.  Yes, you can seek out your pastor for counsel–which I would recommend more people do.  I don’t think I get nearly enough people in my office asking me to provide Godly counsel to them.  I am a resource–use me!  And yeah, you can read a book about how to revitalize your faith.  However–when it comes down to it–your heart is the only thing that matters in faith.  and sometimes, your heart just isn’t in it.  Sometimes, you can feel stuck in your faith.

 

We don’t help ourselves, do we?  What is it we do when we first get here on Sunday mornings?  We put on our smiles and greet our friends, acquaintances and brothers and sisters in Christ.  Do we always feel like putting on that smile?  No.  Would we sometimes like to be somewhere else?  Yes.  Have we just had a fight with our spouse or kids right before we pulled into the parking lot?  Yes. We have all had that happen at one time or another.  But, we put on those smiles and greet each other.  We do this in the hopes of convincing someone–maybe ourselves–that we are fine and our faith is strong.

 

There’s also this brand new thing–they are calling it “life”–that demands so much of our time and attention.  Not only that, but that also wears upon us.  It causes us stress and causes us to place our efforts into everything other than our faith.  The things we face in our lives–sometimes run-of-the-mill and sometimes extraordinarily difficult–require we make choices and decisions.  Those choices and decisions can be good or bad.  Most we don’t even think about, but some we can do anything but avoid.

 

You’ve all heard of the Peter, right?  He was a fisherman who Jesus called to be an apostle–named him “Peter” (or “rock”) because Jesus said he was going to build his church upon him.  Peter hadn’t always been a follower of Jesus, but he picked it up pretty well.  He became a zealous follower of Jesus.  He was so zealous as to suggest the he could follow Jesus to wherever he was going on the night we was betrayed.  To which, Jesus said, “You?  Follow me?  Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.

 

If I can back track to Christmas just for a second, I want to ask you about Ralphie from A Christmas Story.  With his brand-new “Red Ryder carbine-action, two-hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time” in hand, he shoots his eye out.  What emotions do you think were going on in his mind as he realizes that he had just done what his mother and teacher told him he would do?  At first, it was embarrassment, fear and disappointment.  Then, he concocts a brilliant scheme to blame it on an ice-cicle.  Peter doesn’t have as easy a road to travel.

 

Sometime during the time Jesus is being tried before the court, Peter is recognized by a number of people as a follower of Jesus.  Given all the uproar which had been created surrounding the trial of Jesus, the crowds were feverish.  Peter was gathered around a fire–trying to keep a low profile.  Once he had been noticed, he begins to reel and find a way out.  His solution: deny he even knew Jesus.  It was cowardly and weak, but how well would we do in that situation?

 

I cannot imagine what would have been going through Peter’s mind after that night.  He had a good three days to think about it before Jesus came to confront him with the real task at hand.  What do you think he was feeling?  I think he was feeling stuck, S-T-U-K, stuck in his faith.

 

I am stipulating to you that there is no perfect analogy to our situations and to that of Peter’s, but it couldn’t hurt us to imagine that the problems we face in our faith are not more difficult than were ever faced by figures in the Bible–and throughout Christian history.  Our task is to figure out how to change things–get unstuck.

 

The first thing we begin with is admitting we are stuck.  Remember how it is we normally come in to church.  We put our “game faces” on in order to convince others that we are fine.  We don’t show any weakness or vulnerability.  But if we are going to get unstuck in our faith, we have to be willing to be vulnerable and humble to somebody.  And that person is God.  Here we are, realizing that the solution to getting unstuck in the different aspects of our lives is an understanding that God is to come first.  Hopefully, this didn’t take us five weeks to realize.  But if it did, I want to welcome you to one of the most wonderful, terrifying and truly amazing realizations a human being can make.  If we are to do anything, we cannot proceed without God.  Usually, this realization is associated with the happier and more fulfilling times in our lives.  However, it also applies to us when we realize we cannot do anything good in our lives apart from God’s bidden presence in our lives.  That means that we reach out and grab what has been all ours for the taking.  God’s forgiveness and providence.

 

Second, we should be open to hearing God’s voice.  The Holy Spirit is something that we often don’t give much thought to–other than believing that is what gives us the ability to say that God is here, here, here, here and here (pointing to all the spots).  But God’s voice comes to us through the Holy Spirit, and we need to be willing to hear and listen to it.

 

Unfortunately, this is such a subjective thing, right?  How do you know God is speaking to you?  How do you know what he’s saying?  How should I act upon it once I hear it–besides head to the nearest psych ward?  AND that’s the crux of the matter!  Just as I was saying that faith cannot be helped but for an understanding that happens between you and God at heart-level, that’s the same thing here.  To be able to listen to God you have to have faith that he’s speaking to you.

 

Also, you have to be willing to heed what it says.  There’s listening.  There’s hearing.  Then, there’s doing.  Maybe, the situation you are facing makes you feel just so incredibly and impossibly stuck that you cannot imagine anything that would work.  Isn’t that the right time to step out in faith to heed God’s word and call in your life?

 

Third, commit to God’s plan.  Thinking back to the example of Peter, we can learn something.  Jesus taught that his death would be challenging for him and his followers.  Alot challenging!  The fact that the crowds would have been riotous and violent should not have surprised him, but it did.  Specifically, Peter was called out by Jesus as the one who would do this thing.  Yet, Peter did not avoid Jesus prediction.  Our scripture this morning is the reunion of Peter and Jesus after the resurrection.  Jesus has forgiven Peter and calls him once again to follow him and “feed his lambs.”

 

What does that teach us about committing to God’s plan?  It’s staying the course.  Not losing heart.  I think the times we get most stuck in our lives are the times when we take our eyes–or hearts–off of our commitment to and with God.  When we stop admitting our failings and fail to hear and heed God’s voice, how easy is it to step back into old habits of disobedience–or find new ones?

 

In closing, getting unstuck in our faith is a lot like how the teams playing in today’s Super Bowl got there.  They have passion, power, dedication and talent.  Each one of those people on the field is a gifted athlete in their own right.  However–and with Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichik I know this to be more true than most–you don’t get to the pinnacle without someone having a master plan for everything working to get to one, shining moment.  How’s that for a tortured and tired metaphor?

 

But seriously, someone doesn’t become unstuck in their faith without first finding their hearts in line with that of God’s.  Start there, and the rest becomes so much easier.  All because of God.

 

And thanks be to him for that.  AMEN

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