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The First Congregational Church, Columbus Ohio
Sunday, June 25, 2006
A sermon delivered by Elaine Fennel, Seminarian

Have a Little Faith in God!
Ezekiel 17:22-24, Mark 4:26-34, 2 Corinthians 4:5-12

Prayer: Gracious God, lead me, speak through me and guide me to reveal your word for the people of God. Amen

I have been struggling with faith lately. How do you have faith in God when everything around you is falling apart. I look to the hills from which cometh my help, my help comes from the Lord! I know that's part of it, but what do you do when you have done all you can There's a that song says, you just stand on the promises of God. It's while your standing that you learn so much more about God and about having faith in God.

I believe that it is possible that everyone wrestles with the question of faith. How do you define it? Our scripture from the Old Testament Prophet Ezekiel explains God's might and power. In Ezekiel's context, our faith or belief is in an all mighty God. God is the powerful arborist who can make a sprig from a cedar tree grow into a mighty tree and bear fruit or on the other hand, God can dry it up to nothing.

Ezekiel images this mighty God to the Israelites who were in bondage. The prophet spoke these words to bring hope to the diaspora, the enslaved Israelites, because he was explaining that they should place their faith in God. This God who is worthy of their worship and praise. During this particular time in Israelite history, there were many gods, and the people were worshiping idols, so Ezekiel was trying to show Israel's people that this God he is imaging is greater then any of the gods they were serving. Ezekiel was guiding the people of Israel to have a little faith in the one true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

This particular scripture is a turning point in Ezekiel's prophecy. Earlier in the book of Ezekiel you will read that the prophet was speaking a hard word of destruction to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. He was explaining God's judgment upon a people who had lost their way. A people who had become idolaters and full of wicked and false prophets. But, now that prophecy had been fulfilled with the destruction of both Judah and the treasured city of Jerusalem. The law and judgment is a common theme in the Old Testament because Israel was leaning to its own understanding. Israel's faith in its religious history was placed in a God who was all mighty and more powerful than any other gods in that world. Now Ezekiel in the parable of the cedar tree is saying, have a little faith in this God who is omnipotent. Ezekiel is asking Israel to Return their faith to the right and true God of Israel.

Today's mentality in contrast to Ezekiel's context is, where do you buy this faith? Who makes it? Is faith a dance? How do you get this faith? In our present society, motivational specialists pump us up with psychology therapy wanting us to believe or have faith in our abilities and the ability of being a team player to succeed in our profession or business. Does success equal faith? Have we made idols and false gods that we worship without knowing?

Don't get me wrong, success is a good thing, but what does it matter if you gain all the success in the world and lose your soul. Success is measured by quantity, achieving goals, or the position you have obtained on the corporate ladder. Isn't this what had happened to Israel when they were taken into bondage? Could success have taken the place of faith in their lives and they were worshiping at the altar of themselves.

Because we live in a competitive world, faith becomes an item to have on your vita, but sadly, we have placed our faith in the false prophets of today. We busy ourselves with the business of this world working out of our own souls' desire forgetting to have a little faith in God.

Do you have enough faith? Faith is utilized to get material things today. It's imaged as legal tender in the religious world. How much faith do you need to obtain a Mercedes Benz or do you have enough faith to believe that you can reach that top sales goal? Faith has been put on the auction block and the person who has the most in material things has got to have the "big faith."

Creflo Dollar, a television evangelist, and part of a large ministry called World Changers, preaches on utilizing faith to gain riches. Dr. Dollar is not the only evangelist who preaches using your faith to obtain material wealth. He is only used here as an example of a certain type of ministry that defines faith as a manifestation of what you have adorned yourself with, and the image of success that you present to the world.

Faith is then imaged as prosperity. This is a type of faith in the works of humankind that we have come to misconstrue for faith in God. We wonder if having more faith then our neighbors will get us more stuff, because ultimately, God becomes synonymous with prosperity in this kind of faith. But, for Christians, the decision has been made, the die has been cast, we have faith in the one Living God through Jesus the Christ. We believe in Jesus the Christ, the son of God and in the Holy Spirit. We believe in the baptism and communion of saints. This is part of our faith. As Christians, we have more then a little faith in God, we have faith in only God.

In a Sojourners article, Bill Moyers states, "Language goes to the very heart of religion. The Bible opens with God's speaking the world into existence and the gospel of John talking about "The Word was made flesh." Language is where both faith and reason arise, trying to make sense of experience that we can only articulate through language. We can feel and experience the transcendent in our own consciousness, through the words of perception we invite in, but it is only language that expresses it.

Therefore, we wrestle with images in our language to express this intangible faith we have in a transcendent God."

Our Gospel reading in Mark 4 discusses faith in parables utilizing images to picture the different types of faith. These parables of Jesus utilize images taken from the historical context of Israel as an agrarian society. Jesus utilizes words in the language of their day to project images of God's involvement with humankind. Mark's account of Jesus shows how he first utilizes the image of a sower who spreads the seed and the trouble that the seed finds falling in different types of soil. Some of the seed got eaten up before it could catch hold; some fell on rocky soil and sprang up quickly with no root and scorched in the hot sun and withered away; some seed fell among thorns and it grew up and the thorns choked it, and it yielded no grain; yet the seed that fell into good soil brought forth an abundance of grain.

Jesus then says, The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground. And finally he compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed which when sown upon the ground is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."

Faith is a similar process. We are blessed by God's grace through our faith. Our faith starts out as a seed of grace planted by God. As our knowledge, understanding and love of God grows, our faith strengthens and we grow branches that reach out and touch others. We grow branches of faith in God, branches of God's goodness, branches of God's ever gracious presence in our lives and branches of God's being that produce sprigs for planting in other soil. Faith in God can be shared with God's creation. It is here in the New Testament that our faith is introduced to the mystery of God. It's not the same reading of God's Old Testament image that Ezekiel portrayed where God is somewhere out there passing judgment on us. It is here that we are introduced to God's grace through our eyes of faith. It is here that we find that "the kingdom of God" is open to all who have faith. Every kingdom needs a King and our faith crowns God king.

Therefore, we have this treasure of faith in these earthen vessels not because of anything that we have done, but because God's seed of faith through Jesus the Christ watered by God's grace gave us an opportunity to experience something that cannot be seen. Sometimes we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. So, have a little faith in God, because faith looks not at what can be seen, but what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is God's eternal victory for us. ( Corinth 4:17-18)

To God be the Glory! And may your faith in God be strengthen and the blessings of God's grace always be with you. Amen!

Copyright 2006, The First Congregational Church