Sermon May 27, 2007 : Hold on tight to your faith

Posted in Sermons
  • Presenter: Benjamín Valentín (translated by Dr. Roberto Miranda)
  • Date: May 27, 2007
  • Location: Congregation Lion of Judah, Boston MA

If you have your Bibles with you I will ask that you turn to the gospel according to Mathew, chapter 13 and I’ll be reading from verses 3 to 9. So that’s Mathew 13, 3 to 9. While you look for that I’ll say that this morning I mentioned that my preaching talk has been influenced very much by the black preaching style. And I’ll explain why.

When I was living in New York city I used to escape my father’s church every once in a while, to go to black churches in the city, to listen to some of the best preachers in our nation, who happen to be African American, and I loved their preaching style, and I guess I went so often that some of that rubbed upon me. So today I think might be a day that you’ll see your pastor all right up. Amen. Thank goodness this is being taped….

Mathew 13, verse 3 to 9. I’ll read it English, Pastor Miranda will follow in Spanish. It reads like this: “And he told them many things in parables saying, ‘Listen, a sower went out sow and as he sowed some seeds fell on the paths, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds feel among thorns and the thorns grew up and chocked them, but other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundred fold, some sixty folds, some thirty folds. Let any one with ears listen.”

How many can say amen? Now, if while I’m preaching you feel the urge to shout amen, or to shout ouch!, or to clap or whatever you wish to do, feel free. I think that’s ok, right?

It is little wonder that I have settled on one of Jesus’ parables for today’s message. As far back as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by Jesus’ parables. I guess that part of that has to do with my growing up in a church context that favored a narrative style of preaching. And so in that context the parables were a favorite of many preachers.

Growing up I heard countless sermons on Jesus’ parables. Some were good, some not too good, but that’s all right. But more recently it has been my vocation as a theological educator that has fueled my fascination with the parables.

We, educators, are always searching for provocative ways to communicate insights and in this light I have come to appreciate the parables as creative stories that not only gave memorable expression to Jesus’ message, but also made those who heard them responsible for their interpretation. So the parables are fascinating case studies in interactive story telling and also a great teaching method in religious reflection. But I have come to realize it today that usually we fail to understand the fuller meanings of these stories. To be honest with you I think that often we don’t really get them. We think we get them but in fact we get them wrong. And this is quite understandable when you stop to think about it. These stories, after all, were told a long time ago and they were told in a religious and cultural context that was very different from our own.

Furthermore, they were told in a language that was very different from our own and so it is very difficult for us today to understand the images, the analogies that Jesus used in telling the stories. For these reasons sometimes it is difficult for us to fully understand these stories.

The parable of the good Samaritan is one example of this. We today have tended to interpret the story simply as the story of a nice guy who did one good deed. And so we simply interpret it to mean that once in a while we should do something good for others too. But by interpreting the parable in this way we lose all the deeper and critical meaning of the story. We fail to realize that in this story Jesus was coming down rather hard those religious persons who think that living a good spiritual life is all about going to the temple, reading the scripture, praying, fasting and paying tithes. And these are all important by the way…. I knew he would put that emphasis. But he was saying that it’s not just about that. Besides that you have also to respond to persons in needs. Jesus was basically saying ‘to those who think this way that they have it wrong.’ He was saying that faith without the concrete expression of love, concern, and compassion for others is irrelevant and unacceptable by God. He was saying that you cannot call yourself a doer of God’s will and a follower of Jesus, if you don’t care for those who suffer in society. He was also saying that Christian life could not be an inward dimension of sanctity, but also should contain a social dimension.

So, as you can see the parable of the good Samaritan has a deeper meaning than sometimes we give to it. This parable was not really about a random act of good will, but there is a call to a fuller and more responsible spiritual life that includes the concern for those in need.

Now, pastor Miranda, I think that in a time such as ours, when there is much suffering due to social inequality, when immigrants in our nations are being mistreated and uncared for, when people endure violence, we could sure benefit from a reconsideration of the social element of the story.

But let’s get back to my point. My point is that sometimes we miss it on the fuller meaning of Jesus’ parabolas. The parable of the good Samaritan is one example of that, but so is the parable of the sower.

In most of our interpretations of this parabola, we take the message of the story to simply be, that it means that when the message of the gospel falls in a receptive heart it can bear appropriate fruit.

Now, yes, this is definitely a part of the message, but there is more to the intention of the story. There is a deeper and more important message that Jesus it trying to get across here, and to get to this deeper meaning it is important to take to take into consideration the moment it was told in. It is important to take into consideration what was going on around Jesus when he told this story.

Now the earlier chapters of the gospel, the gospel makes it clear that when Jesus told the story many of the people in the crowd and even some of his disciples were starting to question their decision to follow Jesus. Many were starting to question their decision to follow him, some of them had already experienced rejection and ridicule because of their decision to follow Jesus. Some of them had thought that following Jesus would be easy and safe, but instead they found it to be hard and risky. Some of them had thought that getting others to follow Jesus would also be easy, but they found this to be difficult. Some of them had hoped that by now Jesus’ following would be even greater than it was. But many of them had encountered forms of resistance and adversity and they had come to the conclusion that being a follower of Jesus was much more difficult than they had anticipated.

And so many of them were asking question and had reservations and they were asking questions like these: why haven’t more people embraced Jesus’ teaching by now? Why has the good news of the coming Kingdom of God engendered so much suspicion and opposition? Should I continue to be a follower of Jesus or not?

This is what was going on through the minds of many people in the crowd, and Jesus knew it. So guess what he did? He told them a story. He told them the story of the sower. But why did he tell this particular story? And what was his purpose in telling them the story? The parable of the sower was meant to encourage people in their faith. The parable of the sower can be understood as a word of encouragement to those who wish to follow Jesus in difficult times. The main message of the parable is that unexpected things, miraculous things, really good things can happen in our spiritual life but that to happen we need to carry on with a spiritual calling and do that patiently and diligently, we need to carry on with our Christian calling with perseverance and focused. We need to have the faith of a farmer who sows seeds and then expects to get a good yield despite of possible threats.

How many can say amen to that? The moral of the story is that we should not expect things to be easy all the time, that we should not expect for things to go smoothly all the time, that we should not expect for things to go the way we want them all the time. The moral of the story is that when things go rough, when things do not go our way, that when things don’t go the way we want them to, we should not let go of faith. The moral of the story is that when difficulties and impediments come our way we should not cease to follow Jesus. The moral of the story is that we should not allow ourselves to get distracted by what goes on all around us or by the frustrations we may encounter. We should keep our eye on the prize, despite all possible difficulties, we should still be willing to follow Jesus, despite all possible difficulties, we should still continue to live our Christian lives believing that it will be worth it in the end. Oh, he is, he is.

And guess what? We’re just getting warmed up. Despite all possible distractions we should tend to our spiritual responsibility. The parable of the sower offers us that, both a word of encouragement and also a challenge to be steadfast, and patient in our faith.

Now, I know that Jesus’ disciples needed to hear this message. I know that there were many in the crowd listening to Jesus who needed to hear these words of encouragement. I know too that there have been moments in the past history when the Christian church has needed to hear this message. But if ever there was a time in which Christians needed to hold on to such encouraging and hopeful words, it is now.

Regardless of what some people may think, this is not an easy time to be a Christian. At times I’ve heard people say that it’s easy to be a Christian nowadays, they say this perhaps because we’re no longer being tossed into lion dens, or being stoned or crucified for our Christian beliefs, at least in some parts of the world.

Now, this is true but I will note that there are other factors that make being a Christian a difficult thing. Sometimes our Christian living is made more difficult by certain social, cultural and economic factors and we may not even be aware of it. For instance, sometimes the hurried and busy lifestyle of our times becomes a hindrance to our spiritual life. Nowadays we live such hurried lives that sometimes we have difficult to being able to slow down to appreciate the truly beautiful things and the important things in life.

In a recent New York Daily News’ article it was reported that various social agencies conducted an experiment. They contracted one of the greatest violinist of our time, a gentleman named Joshua Bell. Now, this guy plays for some of the greatest symphony orchestras of our time. Normally if you want to hear this guy play the violin you have to pay hundreds of dollars to hear him play in a concert hall, but for this one occasion these agencies had this guy go to a busy Washington DC station to play his music the whole day for free. The study was meant to record how people would react to see this guy play for free in the train station. Would people recognize him? Would people stop to listen to the beautiful music? Would people take some time to slow down from their rush lives to listen to at least, a little bit of music? Would people be willing to get to their jobs a few minutes late to listen to the great music that was being played?

Much to the surprise of the people conducting the experiment, although thousands of people passed by the hidden cameras captured only a handful of people who stopped. The rest of the thousands of people were in such a rush to get to their places that they could not take the time to enjoy something of beauty.

And so it is with many of us if we’re honest. Our lives can be so rush and busy sometimes that we cannot take the time to do and enjoy things of beauty and things that are important in life. Sometimes we are so busy trying to make a living that we forget to live. And this happens with our spiritual lives as well. Sometimes we are so busy that we forget to attend to our spiritual gardens, to turn to our spiritual lives and our souls.

Now, the increasing cost of living could be another problem. The increase in cost of living sometimes makes it necessary for us to work longer and longer hours just to make ends meet. Recent social studies have found that Americans work longer hours today than they ever had in the history of this nation.

A few years back a book was published, it was titled “The overworked American”, and it provided statistics of this, and it also told about the negative implications of this. In other cases it might not that we’re not working longer hours but rather that we are we are spending more time commuting to get to work. All of these things contribute to our living busy lives and more hurried lives, that leave us little time to invest in other things. And this not only affects our ability to stop and listen to violin music, or to spend quality time with our loved ones, but it often also gets in the way of our ability to take time to pray, to take time to read the scriptures or it gets in the way of our ability to participate in church programs, or even to come to church on Sundays because we have little time and little energy left over after a busy work week. And so it is that this could become a problem.

These factors sometimes get in our way or our being able to live a good Christian life. But if we’re honest, it is not just external factors that frustrate Christian life today, sometimes there can be internal factors, within the church that can make being a Christian more difficult. Preacher often times raid against evils of our secular cultures, and I’ve certainly done that. But too few times are we willing to point the finger this way to take blame for some of the things that we’re doing wrong in church.

I will note for example that some of the scandals that have played in some of the churches have served to undermined a public trust and the confidence in the church and this has served as an obstacle to the faith of many both outside and inside the church. I will note that at times it also seems that the main line churches have lost sight of their prophetic voice, while some of the evangelical churches sometimes seem to have sold their souls to the republican party. This too has served to cool the faith of many.

The truth is that the church ought never align itself so close to a political agenda that it loses its ability to be critical of it.

One of the things I’ve learned from Jesus in the scripture is that he is what I would call an equal opportunity critic, but yet at times this is what’s happened and this has lead many people to be suspicious of the church and it has also perturbed the faith of many people in the church. Besides these factors I will note that the church has at times has forgotten to tend to the proper preparation of Christian disciples. I noticed that we have tended to give greater importance, as we should, to matters of worship and aspects of proper of Christian conduct and things like that, but yet we have been less attentive to the importance of deep study of the scriptures, a deep study of the convictions of Christianity.

I find that less and less of us have a decent understanding of the scriptures, of the history of our faith and the make up of the faith that we claim to embrace. So, sometimes we are not able to appreciate the fullness of what it means to be a Christian. We come to church and we sing, and we get an emotional high, and perhaps we leave the church feeling a little bit better about ourselves, but we lack a certain grounding in the Holy Scriptures and in the Christian faith, and because of this we lack the deep roots that can help us to be better Christians.

How many say amen or ouch? Now, I teach in a Christian seminar, so I know what I’m talking about and I speak about personal experience. One of the things that boggles my mind is how I can have students in my classroom sometimes who know very little about scripture or about the faith that they’ve embraced. And it’s not just my seminary, it’s many other places. And what is my point? My point is that these students have been in the church for a long time and so we need to do a little better job of preparing Christian disciples.

I bring all of these things up just to point out that there are many factors that can frustrate our faith life. There are many things that can get in the way of our being able to live out strong Christian lives. There are many frustrations and disappointments that we can experience as we seek to be faithful to God and Jesus Christ so the bottom line is that it’s not easy to be a follower of Christ today.

I think the parable of the sower was meant for a moment such as ours. This parable was meant for people who were experiencing frustration and crisis in their faith. The parable was meant for people who were losing their sense of spiritual calling. This parable was meant for people who were losing sight of their spiritual foundations. This parable was meant for people who were feeling discouraged because of everything that was going on around them. This parable was meant for people who were losing their sense of hope in the relevance of the gospel. In other words, the parable was meant for us today. This parable was meant for you and for me.

How many can say amen to that? Now, I’m coming almost to the end now so that means we’ve got to reach a crecendo. The message of the parable is this: its message is hold on tight, hold on tight to your faith, hold on to your faith, don’t let things frustrate you such that you lose sight of the bigger picture. Don’t become so distracted with the things of the world that you forget to attend to your spiritual needs. Don’t become so disillusioned with the present that you give up your hope for a great tomorrow. Don’t lose sight of God and Christ, no matter what.

I want to ends this morning, sorry this afternoon by asking each and every one of you to look deep inside yourself and reflect on the state of your spiritual life today. Examine yourselves. Be honest with yourself and ask yourself some questions, what things have you allowed to frustrate you in your faith walk. Can you find it within yourself to brush it aside and renew your faith? What thins impede you from nurturing a better spiritual life? Can you find it within yourself to overcome these to better your faith walk? What areas of your spiritual life do you believe are shaky right now? Can you find it within yourself to improve on these? Do you feel that your Christian life is not what it should be or it can be? Can you find it within yourself to try and become a better Christian? Or perhaps, have you not yet opted to follow Jesus, would you like to start doing so today?

Now, if you fee that today’s message has spoken to you somewhere and you would like to better or restore your spiritual life, this could be an opportune time for you. If you would like to rededicate yourself to your Christian vocation this could be an opportune time for you. If you would like to recommit yourself attending to your spiritual life, this could be an opportune time for you.

If this is you and you would like to ask God and the Holy Spirit to come and help you be a better follower of Jesus and have a better faith life, I simply ask you raise wherever you are. you don’t need to come up here, nobody needs to go and impose the hands on you, the simple act of you getting up will be a symbolic expression of your desire to be a better follower of Jesus.

Now, pastor Miranda it seems that the great majority of the congregation is gotten up, this ought to be a good sign of things to come. Onward with your faith. Onward with your faith. Onward with your faith. Do not let anything get in your way. I will cede the microphone to pastor Miranda so he may pray for all of us. God bless you.

Sermon delivered by Benjamín Valentín (translated by Dr. Roberto Miranda) taped May 27, 2007 at Congregation Lion of Judah Listen | View (100K) | View (400K)
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gracias por esta palabra ha sido de gran ayuda para mi vida les escribo desde Reynosa Tamaulipas Mexico, lleven mi vida en oracion yo me dedico a predicar la palabra de Dios, subiendome a los camiones y cada fin de año me voy con mi esposa y mis dos hijos pequeños al estado de Chiapas a llevar la palabra de Dios. Tengo una peticion delante de Dios y espero El me responda Dios les bendiga


En principio deseo de todo corazon que Dios el Todopoderoso Padre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo les bendiga en su Ministerio, les puedo comentar que no se Ingles y me dificulta entender lo que me dicen, a decir verdad, cuanto añoro saber Ingles, sin embargo deseo recibir siempre folletos y revistas que puedan instruirme mas en los caminos de mi Señor Jesucristo y ayudar a todos mis progimos, por seo les pido que en ningun momento pedi mi anulacion de mi suscripcion, les amo en el amor de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo que vive y reina por los siglos de los siglos amen. Mariano Torrez Gomez La Paz -Bolivia

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