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August 23, 2020

FPC Sermon – 8.23.20 (Faithfulness - Laura Malesich)

A couple years ago I stopped in to visit a new acquaintance at her store. We talked about recent happenings, our plans for the upcoming fall, and our different church communities’ rhythms as we returned to the school year.  As we were talking the conversation moved to how we have seen God at work in our lives. She left the front of her store for a moment, walked to the back storage area, and returned with a 5-subject college ruled spiral bound notebook.  When I asked about it, she encouraged me to come closer to look at the pages. Each page had one or more sections written in blue or black pen. These were her prayers written out. Below each section of prayer was a blank section before she would write another prayer. As she flipped through the many pages, red writing filled many of the empty sections on the page. “These are God’s responses to my prayers” she explained. Whether hours or years later, as God answered her prayers she would return to its written place in her notebook and write how He had moved.  The overwhelming presence of RED in her notebook alone, without even reading how He had moved, was a powerful witness to faithfulness, both her devotion to prayer and the ways God had been at work in response. Throughout this summer we have been walking through love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness & self-control and today we will wrap up our summer series on the fruit of the Spirit by talking about FAITHFULNESS. 

At first glance, faithfulness seems to be a simple concept to understand, a familiar word in our everyday language. Perhaps for you it brings up our faith in God or our faithfulness in our marriage relationship or a close loyal friendship. If you look up faithfulness in the dictionary you’ll find it related to reliable, dependable, consistent, and steadfast. These defining characteristics are applicable both to how we see God’s faithfulness as well as what it looks like as the Holy Spirit works in us to grow our faithfulness.

Today’s scripture reading highlights these characteristics of faithfulness. This was one of many parables shared by Jesus to clarify further what it meant to be ready for his return and how to live until he comes again. He told a story about 3 servants entrusted with gifts from their Master before he left on a long trip — each according to their ability meaning that no one was given more than they could handle. The man in today’s reading who was given 5 talents (which we can consider either money, personal gifts, or great opportunities) invested it well and grew what he was given. He built upon his trustworthiness, showed he could follow through with the Master’s request, and wisely stewarded the talents by caring well for what was entrusted to him (investing the 5 talents and growing them to 10) and was then entrusted with more at the end when the man with 1 talent was thrown out of the Master’s presence. Same for the man who received 2 talents and worked to double that gift as well. However, the man who had received one talent and simply hid it in the ground for fear of his Master’s dissatisfaction, was only thinking of himself and his selfishness cost him his position. In each case, it wasn’t important how much each servant received, but what they did with what they were given. For those that obediently stewarded the resources entrusted to them, their Master praised them saying, “Well done good and faithful servant. You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share in your Master’s joy!” This parable illustrates the necessity of using well the resources God has given each of us with faithfulness.   

Most of you know I serve as the Director of a local ministry, Love In the Name of Christ or Love INC. Two years ago we were maturing from our fledgling state as a new non-profit and needed more space to do our work of connecting community members in need to our greater church community to walk alongside them. As we began to look for office space and had one possible door after another closed, the Board & I began to feel discouraged. But walking away from another building that didn’t fit our needs I felt God nudge my sight in a new direction. Exasperated I asked Him, “Is this where you want us to go?” and for the first time I am aware of He answered immediately with a resounding “YES” in my mind. But the space was not for sale or rent, the owners were in a contentious conversation about its future use, we didn’t have the capital to make an offer and it seemed very unrealistic…but God. There’s a familiar saying that says, “If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it”. His faithfulness is expressed in His constant care. In our case, we prayed, trusted, & waited. Our obedience was to stay focused on His direction and not get distracted or discouraged.  Our stewardship was to manage our time, talents & treasure with the hope we would have the opportunity to move into that space. And Trust was mutual — our trust in Him and His trust in our ability to care for what He planned to give us. And in mere weeks He moved…moved by bringing about resolution in the family that owned the building, moved by encouraging them to ask us if we wanted to purchase the building, moved by nudging a donor to purchase the building for our long-term use…He moved. His unfailing faithfulness grew our faithfulness even more. And that process of praying, listening, obeying, waiting, & trusting continues to inform our movement forward as a ministry and as individuals.

So why is faithfulness so important in our everyday working/teaching/giving/serving our community life? Luke 16:10 says, “Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and whoever is unrighteous in very little is also unrighteous in much”. Faithfulness shows others that they can rely on us as Christians. That we are trustworthy, dependable, & reliable in our relationships, service and stewardship. We keep our promises to one another without bending to hardships or distractions. And when others learn they can depend on us, we have an opportunity to share our dependence on God — how we live out our FAITH by TRUSTING Him with our decisions, our money, our needs, our cares & our concerns. That’s why FAITH is so closely linked to HOPE!  Remember, its not about how much you’re given, but what you do with what you’ve received to honor and glorify the One who gave it to you.

So how might our Christian faith give us the strength or resources needed to practice faithfulness?  Proverbs 20:6 - “Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?” Looking at ourselves I believe we could each identify circumstances when we weren’t dependable, constant or maybe even trustworthy in our work, relationships, faith or other aspect of life. But not so with God. Chapter after chapter in the Bible He is constant. More than 450 times in the bible we find the words “faithful/faithfulness” often paired with “steadfast love” as a description of God Himself (Deut 7:9; Psalm 33:4, 36:5, 37:3, 138:2). The Bible shows us how God is unchanging, steady, & dependable throughout history. God is who He says He is (all powerful, all knowing, all present) and does what He says He will. Woven throughout the pages of the Old Testament are signs of God's faithfulness to His people (the Israelites) through provision, direction, trust and teaching. And whether the Israelites were following God’s plan or choosing to stray, He was always there waiting for them to return and follow Him. From the beginning God’s steadfast love & faithfulness was to be ultimately fulfilled by Christ saving us from sin, creating a doorway back to Him as we are restored into right relationship with God through Christ’s redemption on the cross. He never left us, sent his son to us, and now the Holy Spirit lives within us to redeem us from a fallen world. As our spiritual practices of prayer, reading God’s Word, and learning in community with one another are exercised, these become the resources God uses through the Holy Spirit to grow our faithfulness.

So where can we find hope if we fail or struggle in our faithfulness Jesus is our perfect example of faithfulness. Choosing to take the path from heaven to earth for our sake, to live a perfect life on earth as our example, to follow His father’s will to the very end by dying on the cross for your sins and mine.  That is faithfulness — and His continued presence in our heart & daily lives through the power of the Holy Spirit brings that faithfulness to our everyday moments & choices.  We can call upon the Holy Spirit to grow faithfulness in us. We can exercise our faith muscles in prayer, obedience, stewardship, patience & trust in God.  If we do with past or even future unfaithfulness we need to be restored and forgiven by Christ. This quote sums it up perfectly, “Our union with Christ in the GOSPEL pardons fully our unfaithfulness and allows us to grow in our faithfulness and resist discouragement when we are unfaithful in order to make tangible progress is becoming a reliable follower of Christ.”

So before we leave today I’d encourage you to consider the relationships in your life (work, family, friends, church, community): ASK YOURSELF - are you faithful in the little unseen opportunities that God gives you? Are you a man or woman of your word? Are you considered a dependable reliable employee? Do you spur others on in faithfulness by your own words and actions, by your obedience, trust & stewardship of your time, talent & treasure? Go back to the book of Matthew, close your eyes & put yourself before the Master and now imagine Him saying to you, “Well done good & faithful servant. Enter the joy of your Master.” Don’t we all want to hear those words? 

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