Sunday, August 11, 2019

Becoming Faith-full: reflections on Faith that has been...

In the midst of many things, my attention was caught on Friday by a headline about a 104 year old survivor of the Auschwitz death camps who gathered at the wailing wall to celebrate her birthday by reciting traditional prayers with more than 400 descendants.  Let that sink in…one survivor and 400 descendants.  This is an image of the family gathered. 

What a beautiful testament to faith.  A woman who watched her parents hauled off to the gas chamber, a woman who lived through the horror of day-to-day survival in the death camps, also lived through the rigors of life after Auschwitz to have four children and raise that family, who raised families, who raised families, who have raised families. 

An for her 104th birthday, they gathered…all of them.  To pray. And to celebrate.

Thanks be to God.

I wonder how many times in the course of her life she was exasperated with her circumstances.  I wonder how many times she looked up at the sky and said, “why God?” or “How, God?”  or “Are you really there, God?”

But at 104, she was surrounded by the exponential growth of her family.  Gathered in an act of worship and faith.  Evidence of things hoped for…the faith in the unseen revealed slowly, but significantly over time.

We will spend the next three weeks exploring faith…a concept unpacked in the Letter to the Hebrews.

This seems important and timely because we are, after all, named Faith.  I understand it is a named selected unanimously, even if the story of its recommendation was as simple as, I once attended a church named Faith and I liked it…”  Somewhere, that word resonated with those gathered.  They claimed it.  They claimed the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Today we stand at a threshold between what was and what will be. So our exploration of FAITH as it is unpacked for us in the Letter to the Hebrews will be rooted in the mystery of faith as we speak that mystery at the communion table…Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. 

Let me explain.  As Christians we hold a common believe that Jesus was, is and will be.  We can read and learn about the Jesus that was.  My prayer is that each of us experience the Jesus that is.  And we imagine with faith and HOPE the Jesus that will be.

What does that mean for us as a community?  Can we explore what Faith (this church) was, what Faith is here and now and what Faith will be?  Can we look at our past experiences, can we live deeply into our present experience and look forward WITH HOPE to what Faith UMC will be? And can all of that be rooted in an understanding that FAITH is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Can we hope and trust in what we cannot currently see?

The title given the “Letter to the Hebrews” is misleading, because it is NOT really a letter.  It is instead a sermon – a very long sermon that covers a lot of ground, one topic at a time, weaving together a series of important concepts for a newly formed faith community living in the wake of Jesus’ life…likely written before any of the gospels.  And so part of the purpose of all of the things we know as “epistles” is that these writings record the work of leaders and followers working out what is meant by following Jesus the Messiah. What did it mean that Jesus died? that he was resurrected, that he was the son of God, that he had not yet returned. 

And so much of this work is taking what these communities already knew – in the case of unpacking the word “faith,” it was important to recall the story of Abram waiting on God’s promise of a child who would carry forward his family line.

In the passage read from Genesis as our first reading, we hear Abram’s frustration that God’s promise has not yet been fulfilled.  This is a theme throughout Abram’s story – his is story about having to wait for what God has promised to come true.  His is a story of learning NOT to take matters into your own hands.   His is a story of living with moments of failed faith – failure to have faith in what he cannot yet see…

We all live stories of faith – stories of waiting for what God will do.  We here at Faith United Methodist Church have been living the story for more than 50 years now…and compared to Abram’s wait, that feels like a drop in the bucket.

Can we, in this season, rest in our faith – rest in the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

If you have been here very long, of course you know the history. And if not, perhaps you and I can learn this history together!  

Perhaps you know that in the midst of a building boom in Montgomery County, conference leaders approached the builders of this neighborhood to talk about making sure there was a Methodist Church in the midst of the expected growth.  Because in the mid-60s Methodist churches were booming, riding the wave of the baby boom bubble made a lot of sense. 

The Methodist Church was strong and growing throughout the United States.  Baby boomers had boomed and were still booming – and they were buying houses, settling in for block parties, creating lifelong neighborhood bonds.  And this spot right here, nestled between new pockets of suburbia was the PERFECT place for a Methodist church.

Having spent time now with many of our “seasoned” members, I know that there are still founding members in our midst.  There are people who came here as children in that special season and have grown up here and raised families here.

What a testament to faithfulness over many years. 

Let’s be clear that there were challenges. 
There was the challenge of having a building to meet the growth of the community.  There was the challenge of having the money to meet the growth of the community.  There was the challenge of helping people grow in their faith so that they would support the community with their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. 
There were pastors coming and going.

There was the audacious vision of having a bus to transport the growing youth group and other groups to events.

There was the audacious vision of a new organ.

There was the audacious vision that 50% of tithes and offerings would be given away. 

There was the audacious vision that everyone would be in a small group.

Some of these visions were achieved. Others were aspirational.  All of them fueled a commitment to being a vibrant presence in this part of Rockville….a vibrant presence that was about the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Those earliest members were gazing at a sky full of stars, hearing a promise of what their descendants would be and would do…

Our challenge, in changing times and changing circumstances is to keep our eye on that sky full of stars.  Because while things have changed since the heydays of the mid-70s, the promise is still there.  It may not be shaped exactly the same way.  The way things were is NOT the way things will be.  We cannot expect our future to look like our past because the world is different and changing oh-so-rapidly.

But…in my prayers, I hear God’s promise still
In our conversations, I hear your DEEP longing.
Deep longing for fruitfulness. 
Deep longing for devotion. 
Deep longing for abundance.
Deep longing to see what God has yet to do.
Because God will do.

Faith has been fruitful.  Faith has been devoted. Faith has had enough.
Perhaps you have sung the Gloria Patri in this congregation over the years:
As it was in the beginning, is now and every shall be…world without end…amen.

This is the mystery of faith – God was, God is, God will be and there is not one thing we can actually do about it except play our role.

This prayers was published at RevGalBlogPals, on Friday, August 9, 2019.  As I think about this season we are in, at the threshold between what was and what will be, as we rest in the right now, this prayer speaks to me...and louder perhaps because it is written by a neighbor of ours.  Perhaps you've heard about the decision by Twinbrook Baptist to sell their building to another congregation, and to generously give away their money as investment in programs for those with great need.  (Read more about this HERE.)

A prayer by
Rev. Deborah Vaughn, Assistant Minister – Twinbrook Baptist Church, Rockville

Holy One,
The way ahead seems lonely at times, and I fear the unknown…

But You sing,
I am with you, I am with you always. I will not leave you abandoned.

The silence is awkward at times, and I worry I am missing something…

But you whisper,
I am calling, I am calling to you in this wilderness. I will make your paths straight.

I am impatient at times as I peer ahead to see what is just over the hill, just out of sight, wanting the future NOW…

And you say,
I AM, I am the same yesterday, today, and forever.

And I know that I know that you ARE, you are with me.
Thank you. Blessed be.

Amen.  Amen. Amen.

Sources:  The New Interpreter's Bible Volume XII, The Letter to the Hebrews commentary by Fred B. Craddock; Working Preacher (, August 11, 2019 Commentary on Hebrews by Mary Foskett.

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