Questions of Faith
1 Peter 2:1-10
May 21, 2017
Why is the sky blue? Why does snow melt?
Young children are full of questions like these.
At first, parents delight in the “wondering whys”, proud of their child’s intelligence and curiosity. Sooner or later, though, most parents will tire of their children’s barrage of questions (which they have no clue how to answer). Where do babies come from? Why is that man sleeping on the street?
As children turn into teenagers, there are the “whiney whys” which adults like even less. Why can’t I have a new cell phone? Why do I have to go to bed?
Adults often resort to the standard answer, “Because I said so.”
As children get older and progress through school, studies have found that they ask fewer and fewer questions. Researchers conclude that one reason is that they are rewarded for having the answer, not for asking a question.
By the time we are adults, we are appreciated and compensated for having answers, not for asking questions. We learn that even if we don’t know the answer, we “fake it ‘til we make it.” But, acting like we know it all works only so long. Eventually we encounter something that doesn’t make sense, and we are forced to ask a question.
What am I supposed to do now, having lost my job or my marriage or my way?
Why do faithful people get cancer and die? Where is God for such a time as this?
People of faith ask these questions privately, or at least quietly. They don’t want to show their doubt. But, I don’t believe that asking questions is a sign of doubt; I think it is a sign of faith. People who ask questions want to find answers, they want to have faith, they want to trust God.
The early Christians were asking questions. In the first century, they were facing harassment, persecutions, and suffering. Being the church was hard in a society that did not understand what it was about. The new Christians were asking, Why do we have to live this way and suffer when our neighbors are not? Why should we keep on believing?
They received answers to their questions in the form of a letter, (to encourage them to keep on believing) in our reading for today:
“Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight.” Jesus is described as a living stone. What does that mean?
A stone is solid and strong. Solid as a rock. The church that is built upon the rock is grounded in the Word of God with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone. A stone seems immovable, unchanging, permanent. But the phrase used is "living stone" to stress that Jesus rose from the dead and is alive and active on earth…but only through his disciples.
And so the letter goes on… Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house. You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Christians are called to be “living stones” to offer spiritual sacrifices and to proclaim God’s wonderful acts of mercy.
In antiquity, objects that were perceived as firmly rooted in the earth were often referred to as "living." They seemed to possess an inherent integrity; their vitality was a function of their being rooted in place. (John H. Elliott). The more rooted something is, the more it can thrive. This remains instructive for the church—then and now. Whether new to faith or long-time believers, the people of our congregations need to be grounded in their identity in Christ in ongoing ways.
The first-century church began to grow and thrive. It spread around the world. Throughout the centuries, the church put down roots, settled in and became like a stone, yes, but living no.
Today, in the 21st century, the church is in decline. People have suggested many programs and promotionals or products to help revive the church. But, to no significant result. The answer to church growth seems to elude us. It is like trying to pull a sword out of a stone.
Simon Sinek took a different approach to help businesses be more successful. He says, every business can tell you what they do and how they do it. But, most cannot say why they do it. And the truth, he argues is that: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” When the ‘why’ is clear, people understand that they are contributing to something much larger than themselves. And they are inspired to be a part of it. In his revolutionary book Start with Why, Simon Sinek gives this example:
Consider the story of two stonemasons. You walk up to the first stonemason and ask, “Do you like your job?” He looks up at you and replies, “I’ve been building this wall for as long as I can remember. The work is monotonous. I work in the scorching hot sun all day. The stones are heavy and lifting them day after day can be backbreaking. I’m not even sure if this project will be completed in my lifetime. But it’s a job. It pays the bills.” You thank him for his time and walk on.
About thirty feet away, you walk up to a second stonemason. You ask him the same question, “Do you like your job?” He looks up and replies, “I love my job. I’m building a cathedral. Sure, I’ve been working on this wall for as long as I can remember, and yes, the work is sometimes monotonous. I work in the scorching hot sun all day. The stones are heavy and lifting them day after day can be backbreaking. I’m not even sure if this project will be completed in my lifetime. But I’m building a cathedral.”
WHAT these two stonemasons are doing is exactly the same; the difference is, one has a sense of purpose. He comes to work to be a part of something bigger than the job he’s doing. Simply having a sense of WHY changes his entire view of his job. It makes him more productive and certainly more loyal. The second stonemason does not see himself as any more or less important than the guy making the stained glass windows or even the architect. They are all working together to build the cathedral. It is this bond that creates camaraderie. And that camaraderie and trust is what brings success. People working together for a common cause.
I thought this concept of WHY could speak to the church, so I organized a Session retreat, during which elders asked the question: what is our church’s why. Then, a small group of folks who had worked on New Beginnings considered the work of the elders and discussed and discerned further. Then, I took all that home with me and thought and prayed and in time, I was inspired by God to describe our Why like this: We are all beloved children of God, together
called in for refuge and called out to reshape the world around us.
This morning, we are ordaining new elders and deacons. To do so, I will ask them questions:
Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
Will you serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?
It’s a big job. The work is long—3 years of service. The work is hard and can be exhausting. The work will not be completed in their lifetime. There is no monetary reward…they don’t even know if they will make a difference. Why would they say yes?
They believe they are building a cathedral. With living stones, they are building a spiritual home so that all can hear the call to come in for refuge and go out to reshape the world around us.
That's why. Any questions?