Sunday, February 28, 2010

What Does Faith Cost? (Part Two)

I don't do sermon series, but sometimes the text calls for a theme to be repeated. I'm most decidedly not going to push it, but "What Does Faith Cost?" may well turn out to be the theme throughout Lent.

A word of warning: If you think Joel Osteen is the be-all to end-all, if you are a Prosperity Gospel enthusiast, you are not going to like what follows.

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir." But the word of the LORD came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir." He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Then he said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess." But he said, "O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?" He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,"

Philippians 3:17-4:1
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

Luke 13:31-35
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.' Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

This is the Word of the Lord.

Last week, the sermon (or Lenten meditation, if you prefer) ended with a question: “What does our faith cost us?” It's a question I've been reminded of a couple of times this week. One of those times happened on (and this should come as no surprise) Twitter when I got a new follower whose user name is “Bible Prosperity.” His latest message on Twitter was “It's Your Fault (if) Your BROKE.” Mister “Bible Prosperity” wants me to go to his website where he will show me how to become wealthy, to manage my finances God's way, to let the Almighty take over managing my money so I can become financially successful.

You may have heard of this belief system called the “Prosperity Gospel.” Its central message is that God loves you and wants you to be well taken care of, comfortable, with plenty of cash on hand. Anything less is a lack of faith. In other words, your faith shouldn't cost you anything, rather it should make you at the very least an upper-middle class suburban American; anything less is evidence of sinful unbelief!

And as I write this sermon, the rainy season in Haiti has begun. It's nighttime, and there are hundreds of thousands of Haitians trying to sleep in the rain, under leaky tarpaulins or waterlogged blankets. Some are lucky enough to have tents. In some areas the water is rising. Help is coming, but it is slow, because there are still so many of them and so little existing infrastructure to get the help to them. Yet it is a fact that many of these men, women and children are Christians. Are we willing to say that these Haitians lack faith? Are we willing to blame the horrors that they are enduring every minute of every day on poor theology, or will we, like Pat Robertson, blame their ancestors for their troubles? And all of this is to say nothing of Chile, which is still counting the dead and digging out from an earthquake some five hundred times stronger than the one which hit Haiti. Where is their Prosperity Gospel?

In his second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul made it a point to let the readers know exactly what he had been through for the sake of the Gospel: “Five times I received from the Jews [meaning, of course, the Jewish leadership] the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.

“I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked... The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.”

Can we seriously say that the Apostle Paul lacked faith? That if he had only had a uniquely middle- and upper-class American view of Scripture, he'd have been better off? That all of his labors were misguided? Where is Paul's Prosperity Gospel?

What's more, this Paul, who endured all of this and more, and was ultimately imprisoned and martyred in Rome for the Gospel, is the same one who tells the church at Phillipi in today's Epistle reading to “join in imitating me!” Millions across the Roman Empire did just that – and we spoke last week of the kinds of persecutions they endured for daring to reject the gods of the Romans in favor of the God who was saving them. Were each and every one of them wrong, misguided, poorly instructed in the faith? Where was their Prosperity Gospel?

Abram, who became Abraham, wandered his entire life across the land God promised him, never settled down, never lived to see God's covenant fulfilled.
Did Abram miss the boat somehow? Should he have acted differently, should he have laid some kind of physical claim to the promises, put out boundary stones and settled down and relaxed? Where was Abram's Prosperity Gospel?

Our Gospel reading today reminds us that Jesus made a conscious choice to complete his mission here on earth. He could have taken the warning of the Pharisees seriously and turned back from his journey to Jerusalem. What the Creator of the Universe had already given up simply in order to become flesh, to become God-With-Us, boggles the mind. Christ, too, had been hungry, had been cold, and was on a purposeful journey to a place where he would be stripped, beaten, mocked, and killed. What's more, all of this – coming in the flesh, living and teaching and healing and loving and suffering and dying and rising, all of this was for us and for our salvation!

How does any of this – Haiti or Chile or Paul or Abram or Jesus – make sense in the context of a Prosperity Gospel? Did Jesus die so I could own a Lexus? Is the example of faith a comfortable life? A well-cushioned bank account? Is the example of faith having “enough?”

Or should our faith cost us something?


  1. Great stuff. Much to think about, reflect up.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.