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Edward F. Markquart

Books of the Bible- Galatians
I Believe, I Believe

Galatians Series     Galatians  2:15-21, 3: 23-29

(Romans, Pentecost 3A, Romans 4:18-25 a sermon on the faith of Father Abraham from Romans can be used for Galatians as well.)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The purpose of today’s sermon is to talk with you about faith. What God wants from us more than anything else is that we would have faith in Jesus Christ. The essence of the Christianity is that we would have faith in Jesus Christ.

This past week I have been thinking about the word faith, the word believe. I believe in Jesus Christ. I have of few illustrations of the word, faith.  These are examples of human faith that is found in all people.

The first example is from when I was a child, so very long ago. Like a lot of kids who grow up, you have to listen to the music of your older brothers and sisters, and that was true of me as well. I listened to their music all the time. The following song is a song I learned in childhood. I am not going sing it for you, but I know the words well: 

I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows.
I believe that in the darkest night, a candle glows.
I believe for everyone who goes astray, someone will come and show the way,
I believe.
I believe above the storm, the smallest prayer will still be heard.
I believe that someone in the darkest night, hears every word.
Every time I hear a new born baby cry, or touch a leaf, or see the sky,
Then I know why, I believe.

When I was a young child growing up, I really liked that song. As the years have gone by, I still like the words to that song, because inside of my heart, that is the way I feel. I want to believe that in the darkest night, my prayer will still be heard.

When I think of the word believe, I think of a man by the name of Bill Sheridan. In the newspaper, there were three pictures of Bill Sheridan each with a caption under it. The first picture was Bill and his new seven month old twins standing on the third floor balcony of the apartment along with his wife. Flames of shooting fire and sparkling smoke were behind them. The caption beneath the picture was “throw the child.” The flames were crackling behind them; the parents were almost paralyzed with fear, and someone was shouting to them from below, “Throw the child. Throw the children.” The next picture in the sequence showed Bill Sheridan throwing his seven month old child into the air, and the caption beneath the picture said, “We will catch them.” The third picture was of the family, mother, father, two infant children, huddled together in safety, with the burning apartment in the background, and they were crying with joy and fear. There in that moment on the balcony, the parents could not go back to their apartment that was engulfed in flames nor did they like the option in front of them, the railing of a balcony with forty feet below them. That is the way often is: there is no other choice but to make a leap of faith. Likewise, that is the way it often is as you come to the end of your days here on this earth. There is no other choice than to make the leap of faith that God will catch you. Life forces you to take that leap of faith.

Or, when I think of the word believe, I think of the inner power of believing that is given to people who believe. For example, I think of that woman whose car was up on a jack that came out and the car fell on her husband. There was no one else around, and suddenly, there seemed to be new strength inside of this woman and she lifted the car by herself. The faith inside of her was more powerful than she had ever imagined. There is incredible strength when you believe. That is true of all human beings.

Social scientists have studied this added power and strength that comes from believing. The scientists create a now familiar experiment with two groups: one group that takes the potent drug, morphine and the second group which is told by the doctors that they are receiving morphine but are actually only receiving sugar water. Both groups experience relief from pain: those on morphine and those on sugar water, thinking the sugar water was morphine. Those on sugar water had been told by their doctors that they would experience physical relief, and they did. Research scientists again proved a fact:  the power of belief. The power of believing happens in all human beings.

We find the power of believing in stories about war and combat. Scott Brady, an Air Force pilot flying over enemy territory in Bosnia, was shot down and he knew he would be rescued by his peers. He was convinced he would be rescued and that inner belief gave him strength to do what he needed to do to avoid capture by the enemy. There is power in believing in your mission. The opposite of such inner power is giving up or resignation.

The stories are endless: belief is a potent power available to us human beings. Those who believe have much more power inside of themselves than those who don’t.

What I am suggesting to you today is that the Holy Spirit transforms the power of human believing into the power of believing in Jesus Christ. There are similar parallels. That is, the Holy Spirit takes the power of human love and transforms that human love into a godly love. The same is true of hope. God takes human hope that is found in every person and transforms that hope into something bigger such as hope for eternal life.  Likewise, God takes the natural faith or believing that is found in all human beings and transforms that human believing into belief in Jesus Christ. That is what we want to talk about today.

It is with these images that we hear the Word of the Lord. The Scriptures are filled with Bible verses about belief in Jesus Christ. The Scriptures invite us and want us to have belief or faith in Jesus Christ. The fundamental quality that God wants us to have is belief in Jesus Christ. We hear of God’s desire all through the Bible. We hear those words especially in the gospel of John and the central verse of the Bible, John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whoever believes in him will not have but have everlasting life.” Believing in Christ leads to life. Or, “If you believe in your hearts and confess with your lips that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, you will have life and life abundantly.” At the end of the gospel of John, “These are written that you would believe and that would have life in his name.”  The whole gospel of John is an invitation for us to believe in Jesus Christ. The conclusion of the gospel of Mark says, “The person who believes will be saved.”  The Apostle Paul writes often these words, “A person is justified or put right with God through faith in Christ, apart from obedience to Jewish laws.”  Jesus of Nazareth said to the woman who child had just been healed, “Your faith is great and your great faith has made you well.” This is true of every single story in the gospels about Jesus’ healing: Jesus comments about their great faith. The centurion at the foot of the cross said: “I believe.” A famous quotation from the Bible is: “I believe; help my unbelief.” The cure that God wants to cure in all of us is our unbelief. The response that God wants from us is always the same: belief in Jesus Christ, faith in Jesus Christ, trust in Jesus Christ. … Not to believe in positive thinking. Not to believe that all will go well. Not to believe in the power of believing or have faith in the power of faith. No, God in the Bible wants more than that. We are invited to believe in Jesus Christ, to put our faith in Jesus Christ. That is the core of the Christian faith. God wants to transform the power of human belief in all of us into a personal faith in Jesus Christ, whereby we trust the promises that Christ has made to us.

We need to briefly examine the churches in Galatia, the churches in ancient Turkey, during the time of the Apostle Paul. There were religious people there in those days who didn’t get the gospel that God raised Jesus from the dead, that all our sins were fully forgiven by the death of Christ on the cross, and that we are to live a life of love. No, those Jewish folks didn’t get the gospel. And they also didn’t get what God wanted from us as human beings: not obedience to Jewish laws but faith in Jesus Christ. … The very core of Jewish morality was to obey hundreds and thousands of Jewish laws that said, “don’t’ do this and don’t do that.” We find this discussion in Galatians, chapters 2 and 3. What does God want from us? Obey the Jewish laws of the Old Testament, so they said. The Apostle Paul compared the Jewish laws of the Old Testament to a custodian or disciplinarian. Would you please imagine an English nanny having the care of three children, ages 5, 3, and 1. The English nanny and the three children go to the park and the English nanny is very busy saying, “No, no, no, no, no. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Herding the children with her persistent warnings and negatives.” That was the way it was in the Old Testament. The Jews had all these laws and God was forever saying, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Don’t do this. Don’t do that.” When Christ came, that was all changed. The essence of the Christian religion wasn’t to obey thousands or rules and regulations but to have faith in Jesus Christ. By having faith in Jesus Christ, we become children of God and we put on the clothing of Christ e.g. peace and kindness and gentleness.

But the focus is faith in Jesus Christ.  What does that mean for us? What does it mean to trust the promises of God in Christ?

First, to have faith in Jesus Christ is to trust that Christ is with you no matter what, that Christ is with you to strengthen you for all circumstances. His name given at birth was Immanuel which means, “God is with us.”

Abraham in the Old Testament is given as the primary example of faith, of trusting in God, of trusting that God is faithful to his promises. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were promised by God to be the parents of a new nation, of a new family, and their descendents would be as numerous as the sands of the sea and the stars of the sky. Now, that is numerous. The sands of the sea and the stars of the sky. But there was a problem: they weren’t getting pregnant and pretty soon they were old, approaching one hundred years of age. They were not getting pregnant and they were soon forty, then fifty, then sixty, then seventy, then eighty, then ninety, and they still were not pregnant, but God had promised that their descendants would be numerous as the sands of the sea and the stars of the sky. And that is what faith is: to trust God when there is no proof. To trust that God will be faithful to his glorious promises. And Abraham believed; he trusted God’s good promises. When a child was born to Abraham and Sarah at age 100, they named him “laughing boy,” because it was all a joke, they being so old and all. … Abraham believed and trusted in God, and in the promises of God, during all those hard and difficult years.

Faith is to trust God deeply in the hard times. Another example of this is from World War II. Cologne, France, had experience three days of saturation bombing by the Allies and people were huddled down in their bomb shelters for protection. On the walls of one of those bomb shelters were scribbled words that became etched into human memory: “I will believe in the sun when it is not shining. I believe in love when there is no feeling. I believe in God when he is absent.” That statement is ;profoundly true and is part of your life and mine. God has promised to be with us in all circumstances and we believe that God is with us to strengthen us in the nastiest of human situations.

I found another example of this in my old sermon files. It was a Tuesday, March 29th, 1977, and I was down at the hospital visiting Gary and Carolyn Spies whose child, Julie Anne Spies, had just been born. It was realized that this child had heart defects. That day, before I left the hospital, I baptized the baby and as I walked out the door, I mentioned to them, “God bless.” Mother Carolyn fired back, “Our child will be a blessing to this world no matter what.” … God said, “All things work together for good for those who know God, who are called according to his purposes.” And when life is cloudy and you can’t see because of your tears, God has promised to be faithful to you.

That is what faith is: to trust in God’s good promises for you during the tough times of life.

Secondly, faith is trusting the promises of God that we will live eternally with Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” And the question persists today, “Do you believe this?”

One of the great blessings of life for me as a parish pastor is to be with people through their death. This has happened to me so many times in my few decades of life that I have lost track of all the people I have been with during the months and weeks and moments prior to their death. There is a similarity to so many of these people of devout faith in Christ and deep conviction that they will be joined with Christ when they die. I think of a lady by the name of Bertie Glennon who, with her daughter,  decided that she was going to die in the home of her daughter. Hospice was called and they were in charge. Bertie had the back bedroom on her daughter’s home, and when I would call on her, it was like a queen was holding court. People, family, friends, children and grandchildren, would come into her bedside; she would hold their hand and have long conversations and say goodbye to them. Here was a woman who was totally at peace with God, totally at peace with Christ, totally at peace with death and her own death.  Here was a woman who was totally convinced that God had raised Jesus from the dead and that she too would live with Christ eternally.  She had a wall hanging over her, lovingly stitched, which said: “cradled in the wings of the angels forever.”  Yes, Bertie was fully convinced that she would be cradled in the wings of the angels of God forever. After her funeral and graveside, I was standing alone over by a tree, and Bertie’s nineteen year old niece approached me and we stood there in silence until the niece said, “ I can hardly wait to get there and be with her.”  This niece was also convinced that when she died, she was going to be with Christ.

It seems to me that this faith always involves a leap such as a child leaping from a ladder and trusting that he or see will be caught (e.g. in the children’s sermon for today.)  It involves a leap such as Bill Sheridan standing on the balcony with the flames behind him and forty feet of air beneath him and he had to throw his child into the wind, trusting the person with the net below would catch the child. Faith involves a leap, a letting go. There was no proof that the firemen below would catch the child. There was no proof. And so it is with us: there is no proof that God exists, that we will be caught into the everlasting arms. There is risk. This all may be a hoax. This God may all be a big farce, a figment of our imagination and hopes. So there is this leap, this jump, this letting go. There is no proof that there is a God or that God will catch us. We believe in that which is not seen.

Do you believe and jump into the hands of the everlasting God? Or do you stand on the balconies of life, afraid of the fire in back of you but also afraid to jump into the future with God.

Faith is trusting that God will catch us when we fall.

The last thing I want to mention about faith is that we are to trust that all of our sins are truly forgiven and washed away. As you know very well, I am a very normal sinful person. I don’t do it right. Oh yes, some of you may erroneously put me on some pedestal, but I know my heart and the inner workings of my heart and the inner fantasies of my heart and the inner sins of my heart and the degree of selfishness of my heart. I know personally that for me to be save, it must be a gift from God so that God freely forgives me all of my sins and doubts. There is no other way for me to be saved but through forgives, freely given. And you are the same.

To believe in Jesus Christ. To trust his promises for eternal life and forgiveness. I believe. I believe.

I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows.
I believe that in the darkest night, a candle glows.
I believe for everyone who goes astray, someone will come and show the way,
I believe.
I believe above the storm, the smallest prayer will still be heard.
I believe that someone in the darkest night, hears every word.
Every time I hear a new born baby cry, or touch a leaf, or see the sky,
Then I know why, I believe.

I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord. Amen.

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