In 2020 my theme was Discipleship, while last year's theme was Unity. Tonight for our Watch Night Service, I want us to examine our Faith.
Maybe you didn't have time tonight to prepare for this worship service. Perhaps you were interrupted by others, delayed by traffic, or dealing with personal problems that have been weighing you down.
If you haven't already, I would like you to prepare at least your mind for worship. Perhaps you can adjust your equipment so you don't have to hold it. Maybe you can find a candle to light; if not for the fragrance, it might be lit in remembrance of someone who was special in your life.
I invite you to enter into a spirit of meditation as we enter our virtual sanctuary.
I hope you realize that God accepts and welcomes you, regardless of how you
choose to respond to this Service of Worship. You may feel the need to just close
your eyes and listen some of the time; at other times, you may choose to read the
words and testimonies of other Christians; you may even want to sing along with
some of your favorite music. As Michelangelo depicted on the ceiling of the
God's outstretched hand is always there for you; God is desperate for a connection with you, however you choose to connect.
Our theme for tonight is Faith, so let us examine what Faith is, and
what it is not.
The simple definition is that Faith is what enables us to accept something that we cannot directly see or prove. We cannot see or prove that God exists, but we have Faith that God does exist. Faith is different from belief because it fuels us to work in God's kingdom.
I like the analogy of faith to gasoline. Gasoline makes our cars go, and faith makes our spiritual lives go. There are times when our tank is full and we just press on, paying no attention to that gas gauge. But sometimes we are only running on fumes, and we desperately search for a gas station. There have even been times when we actually run out of gas, and we have to find someone to bring us what we need.
Consider the term "Grounded":
- to a teen, being grounded is the worst punishment
- to an electrician or electronics hobbyist, being grounded means we are safe from static or electrical shock
- to a person of faith, being grounded is the highest compliment
Usually we do have Faith, and sometimes it is strong. I know I am "preaching to the choir", but I think we, as PACE members, should give thanks that we have been given Faith, and we have used that Faith to further the Kingdom of God.
I am very grateful that you have given me this opportunity to exercise my Faith. I believe (I have Faith) that we grow in Faith by working together, and you have graciously allowed me to share the gifts that God has given me. I am very lucky.
Frank Sinatra was very lucky. One of his big hits was "My Way". Because we have Faith, we can recognize what a gift that Faith is, and who gave it to us. We know we did not do it "My Way", but rather "God's Way". You may wish to sing, or just listen.
Faith is closely linked to trust, and many people have difficulties trusting God, because they have been abused or betrayed by people, and then they feel they can't trust God. We have the chance to help those abused or betrayed people so that they can learn to trust God.
When adversity happens, some people knuckle down and overcome it. But others are destroyed. I think what makes the difference is Faith. People with Faith are more likely to overcome adversity, and people without Faith are more likely to be destroyed.
Sometimes we can learn a lot about something from its opposite. Anne Lamott says: "The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns."
But where is that "gas gauge" that tells us when our Faith is low? Consider this contemporary story, "Footprints":
One night I dreamed a dream. As I was walking along the beach with my Lord, across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to me and one to my Lord. After the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that at many times along the path of my life, especially at the very lowest and saddest times, there was only one set of footprints. This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it. "Lord, you said once I decided to follow you, You'd walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life, there was only one set of footprints. I don't understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me." He whispered, "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you; never, ever, during your trials and testings. When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you."
When did Jesus carry us? When did Jesus carry me?
We also need to listen to the words of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew:
Consider how often we get caught up in our daily "needs",
when God calls us to surrender to God's will.
And consider how often we face adversity with fear and dread,
when God calls us to use our God-given talents and to trust in God's plan.
And consider how often we're afraid to step out into new adventures and experiences,
when God calls us to trust the lead of Jesus our Lord.
Even though we won't hear you, I hope that you will read this Covenant Prayer out loud. It is a challenging prayer. Even if you are not ready for such a commitment, I hope you will read this Wesleyan Covenant Prayer with us.
A hero of the Christian faith for me is Mother Teresa (Saint Teresa of Calcutta).
In 1950, Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, creating homes for people who are dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis. These nuns have vows of chastity, poverty and obedience in "wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor" by "doing small things with great love". My favorite of her sayings is "Our job is not to be successful. Our job is to be faithful."
Nature abounds with stories of Faith. Here is one:
You might have guessed that story is an intro to a hymn. Hymns (and other inspirational music) are a way we can renew our faith. Michael Joncas wrote the words and music to the hymn "On Eagle's Wings". You may just want to listen, to sing only the chorus, or sing all of this wonderful hymn of faith.
"Just a Closer Walk with Thee" was written about 1940. I believe this is a prayer about becoming and remaining faithful. We are very fortunate to have two consummate musicians to perform this hymn: PACE member Richard Etheridge sings to Pete Fountain's classic rendition.
Many of us grew up going to MYF: Methodist Youth Fellowship. After any MYF gathering, we would always join hands and say the MYF Benediction from Numbers 6:24-26. I think this will be a fitting benediction for our worship tonight. Not only did John Rutter compose the beautiful melodies for the Aaronic Blessing, but in this video he also directs a thousand-member choir:
Now I will leave you with my personal wish of Joy for you in the New Year.