Thursday, July 1, 2010

Putting Feet on Your Faith

Sometimes, I think the hardest part about being faithful, living into our baptism, answering the call of Christ, is just getting started. At Annual Conference, Bishop Ken Carder (former pastor of Church Street UMC) exhorted the folks who were about to be ordained and commissioned (and the rest of us, too) to remember that our call all started with baptism. When we were baptized, we were called God's and given the power of the Holy Spirit to do what God calls us to do. Those of us who may have gone through a process to become pastors don't derive our call from anything other than that same Spirit--ordination is a remembering of that power, not some kind of new and special outpouring that isn't available to laypeople. Bishop Carder reminded us that we are empowered by God to live into the vows of our baptism, to become the children God is calling us to be. But sometimes, it's just so difficult to get started doing that! (I think so, at least!) Putting feet on our faith can be very scary. It's easier just to say we believe and not do anything about it.

If you come to church this Sunday, though, you'll hear the story of Naaman, a general in Syria's army during the time of the prophet Elisha. Naaman has what it takes to be a great man, and he eventually converts to Judaism, by the end of the story in 2 Kings 5. Starting out on the road to obedience to God was what was difficult for Naaman, though. He took the advice of a slave girl and traveled into enemy territory to find this prophet of the LORD, so he took that first step. But when Elisha's instructions for healing Naaman's leprosy (or whatever skin disease he had--we never quite know that "leprosy" means in the Bible) were to go bathe in the River Jordan seven times, Naaman couldn't quite believe it. Those instructions were so simple, and Elisha himself hadn't even come out to greet Naaman and give the instructions, anyway, that Naaman thought there was no way getting healed could be that easy. Surely, there needed to be some kind of great ceremony to heal him of this disease--maybe he could take a swim in the rivers of Damascus, that were so much "better" than the Jordan. Could it really be that easy to fix this problem? Could this LORD of all the earth really heal Naaman by such a simple sign? Putting feet on his faith didn't come easily to Naaman--he thought he was much too important to do what Elisha said. When he finally was convinced by his servants to go and do it,though, Naaman was healed, and he converted to a believer in the God of Israel.

So, I guess I'm not the only one who has trouble getting started once God gives me some instructions. Whether they sound easy or difficult to carry out, putting instructions from God into action always brings us plenty of challenges. That's why we remember our baptism, though--it's not our power that can get any of these things done. Putting feet on our faith doesn't mean acknowledging how much we can do on our own. Putting feet on our faith means letting God in, letting the Spirit do the Spirit's work through us. Putting feet on our faith means letting go of who we thought we might be, in order to make room for who God wants us to be. Sometimes it starts with small steps and sometimes it takes a huge leap of faith. Whatever God is calling us to do to put feet on our faith, we know one thing for sure--we go in the strength of our baptism, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Naaman may not have known anything about the ancient custom of baptism when he dipped in the River Jordan 7 times. He probably had no clue that years later, another man would be dipped in the river, and that man's life would forever change the way we think of baptism, of being cleansed by God, of being healed by the power of the Spirit. If we have been baptized, though, we go forth in the strength of that same Spirit, empowered by that same great God, and with the promise that that other man who got dipped in the river--Christ Jesus--is with us, even to the end. Now, that should be enough help to get us started in the right direction!