I Got Nothing

A sermon for the 19th Sunday after Pentecsot / 10-3-10

Children’s Time: Do you remember who first told you the story of Jesus? I think it was my mother and my grandmothers. When I was little we’d go over to grandma’s because mom needed a babysitter during the day. My grandma Alta had this saying, “Trust in the Lord always and lean not unto thine own understanding. Acknowledge him in all thy ways and he shall direct thy path.” It was a Bible verse from Proverbs 3:6. “Trust in the Lord? Well, who’s the Lord?” “Well, Jesus, of course,” she’d say.

She had this plaque hanging in her kitchen with that same verse on it. It must have meant a lot to her. At Christmas, grandma also remembered Jesus by putting out the manger scene (show picture). My other grandma, Mildred, had an angel on the tree each Christmas, to remind us to tell the good news of great joy about Jesus! So, who taught you the faith? Who handed it down to you?

In our lesson today, Paul tells Timothy how grateful he is for his mother and grandmother for handing down the faith to him. Let’s remember to thank all those who have shared the good news about Jesus. And let’s be sure to tell others about Jesus’ love. Who knows? You might be that someone who shares the faith with a person just waiting to hear some good news today!

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

I want to begin by saying that I just can’t preach this sermon today. I’ll let you in on a little secret this morning. It’s the pastor’s prayer I pray every time I’m sitting down to write the sermon each week: “Lord, I got nothing. It’s all you. Give me a word that will make a difference to your people this week. Amen.”

That’s basically it. I got nothing… all by myself… Pat can’t play one keystroke on the organ… all by herself… Not one lesson will get taught today down in Sunday school if it’s just up to the teacher.

For the past several weeks we’ve been hearing about faith and how money influences our lives: the woman with the lost coin, the dishonest steward who forgave his master’s debtors, and last week the rich man and Lazarus! Who knew that a great chasm exists between the rich and the poor… in the after life!

So, by now… the disciples are ready for an answer when they cry out to Jesus: “Increase our faith!” Jesus’ reply is to say, “If you had faith as tiny as this mustard seed, you could say to that mulberry tree: ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea!’ and it would obey you.”

…but you don’t! You got nothing. That’s why I’m here, Jesus says.

That’s the kicker for this whole series of stories. We simply don’t have faith all on our own. Not even a faith as tiny as a mustard-seed! How will we ever make it across that chasm we heard about last week? To be the good and caring people God commands us to be? How is that camel ever going to go through the eye of that needle, so that the rich can be saved, too? We simply can’t do the faith on our own!

It can be handed down to us from our parents and grandparents. It can be heard from a friend, coworker or classmate. Faith can be experienced in the breaking of bread together and in the splashing of water at the font. But being “strong in the faith” just isn’t up to us.

The disciples were met with the same perplexity at Jesus’ sayings, when they cried out in exasperation: “Who then can be saved!” Jesus says, “you can’t – with mortals it is impossible! But… with God all things are possible.”

And that’s what the Word does to us… it tells the truth about us and lifts the burden onto God’s shoulders.

I love Chinese food. And I also look forward to cracking open my fortune cookie at the end of a tasty meal of fried rice and sweet & sour chicken. This week’s fortune said: “You believe in the goodness of others.” That’s not a bad fortune, looking for the best in other people… but what I really believe in is the goodness of Christ. Whenever we put our money on the goodness in ourselves, we’re falling into legalism.

I once heard a preacher describe legalism as an escalator that will take you up to heaven; but you have to take that first leap – just one little jump on board. No, he declared. Jesus comes running down that escalator and breaks it into pieces and picks you up and carries you into heaven. That’s hard to hear amid the other voices of faith that are rooted in legalism:

Did you pray hard enough? You must not have tried very hard. You can’t expect God to do this all alone, here – c’mon, a little effort here! And the trouble with legalism is that 1) we put ourselves in the driver’s seat – making faith about what we do rather than about what God does.. and 2) we end up on this treadmill of good works, never quite able to measure up in the faith or in life.

Martin Luther’s explained how we get faith in the Small Catechism (under his explanation of the 3rd Article of the Apostle’s Creed) where he writes: “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy, and kept me in the true faith.”

So the next time you hear someone say, “She’s a strong Christian!” Ask what that means. Are we saying we have more like a pumpkin seed faith? Or, maybe even a peach-pit-sized faith! You see the danger here? What we’re trying to do is remember it’s not about us – and how much faith WE have. It’s about God’s faithfulness and power to change this world! The sooner we get off the ladder the better!

Paul told Timothy to guard this treasure he had received from his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice – this treasure of faith – and to not be ashamed or cowardly. It is the power of God we have been given!

Paul goes on to recall Timothy’s tears… and encourages him to rekindle the faith that he received through the laying on of hands. Who laid hand on you in the faith and blessed you? And when have you had the opportunity to do the same. To place a hand on another person and pray for them? These are holy moments – moments filled with the Holy Spirit – moments when we acknowledge “we got nothing.”

Every day we have the opportunity to lay our hands on others and bless them – to bless young people or the old – with the touch of the Holy Spirit.

This week there’s been a story in the news about a young man, Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide this week. Someone secretly videotaped him in an intimate encounter with another person and posted it on the internet and he killed himself. I wonder if he’d had anyone to bless him – to lay their hands on him and tell him how proud they are of him and how much God loves him. Let’s not wait on those opportunities to share the good news with boldness and confidence.

I attended a lecture by Timothy Wengert’s this week in Alexandria. He’s a professor at Lutheran Theological Seminary Philadelphia. He compared faith to “falling in love” with God. “Suppose you and your spouse love to dance – and you’re out on the dance floor and shle looks at you and says, ‘I love you. Ask me whatever you want and I’ll do it.’ Well, what else is there but his dance? There really is nothing else. I just want you!”

The disciples were filled with the same devotion when they said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Thanks be to God for the undeserved dance. It’s all we got – and it’s all we need.

I began this sermon by saying “I got nothing. I can’t do this” but it’s not true (unless we go it alone). Here I am and there you are… stepping in time with Jesus. Thanks be to God for all the faith we need! Let us pray: O God, we live out the faith – knowing that we can’t do it on our own… but by the power of your Holy Spirit help us to move much more than mulberry trees and to pass on this faith to all we meet, in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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