Preventing Faith

Easter 2017  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Preventing Faith … ?

That may seem like an odd idea for a church, but it happens. We do things that prevent others from developing their faith. It isn’t our goal — or at least shouldn’t be — but it does happen.
I worked with a pastor once who was really well read. Read things that were more in the “liberal” vein of theology than I would read. However the sermons that were preached were very conservative. Actually they were almost like early Sunday School lessons more than lessons for a mature Christian audience. And there’s a huge difference.
Think about it from a school development standpoint. In the school system, what is taught at what age is clearly structured. The province has curriculum documents that say: In grade 3, you will teach this, and in grade 6, you will teach this, and in grade 10, you will teach this, and for every grade, it is set out as to what is to be taught. We don’t have a “Physics” class for grade 1 students, we leave that until grade 11 or 12. We teach some of the very fundamentals of physics in grade 1, but we don’t call it that, and we don’t expect a grade 1 student to have a grasp of the formula to calculate the load required to move an object from one place to another. We don’t teach colour theory to grade 2 students. We let them paint, and explore how to balance colours in an artistic piece on their own.
At times, we prevent faith from forming because we don’t ask some of the harder questions of faith that come up in life. Instead we answer them before even asking, by holding fast to our Sunday School notion of Jesus.
Acts 8:36 NRSV
As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”
In this verse from , the Eunuch poses a question to Philip. On the surface, today, the answer should be simple: Nothing prevents someone from being baptized.
Or is it that simple? Has he gone to three baptismal preparation classes? Has he had his faith examined by the pastor? Has the pastor reported the intention to baptize to the church council, so the person can become a full member of the congregation? Have they scheduled a date where it is convenient to the church? Does he have sponsors who are well known to be people of faith? ...
Hmmm ...
As we ponder that, there’s actually a verse that Sally didn’t read today. Not because she skipped over it. It wan’t in the reading as it was printed. That’s because it only appears in most bibles as a footnote and not as regular verse. Here it is:

And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

Acts 8:37 NRSV
Why leave that out? Isn’t belief in Jesus a requirement for baptism?
When we get to the second part of Sally’s reading today, we hear this:
Acts 15:1 NRSV
Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
So, circumcision is required for salvation? And baptism is required for salvation? So, only if you believe the right things, and do the right things, … only then God can save you?
Is God really that powerless? God can’t work through a person who hasn’t been circumcised? God can’t work through someone who doesn’t have the ultimate answer of faith?
If we didn’t have these verses to help us, we might just be stuck with our own rules:
Acts 15:10–11 NRSV
Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
Acts 15:10-11
We will be saved by grace.
Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it. It is grace that saves, not rules. Yet in the church, we like the rules. We call it “good order.”
I think “good order” can prevent faith from forming. “Good order” can be seen as limiting the power of God. “Good order” is anything but “good” when it comes to the maturing of our faith.
The only thing that will free up our faith to grow and develop as we do, is a radical acceptance of the grace of our God. Finding grace-filled moments in our lives, and in the world, will open us up to faith in ways that no rules ever could. Grace will stop us from preventing faith growth in ourselves and others.
So, why hold out of the text of the scriptures? Because it seems like our own efforts are necessary for our salvation. That would have been one of the real stumbling blocks of the Reformation. Nothing, apart from God’s grace can lead us to salvation, and for that we give thanks to God. Amen.
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