The Second Sunday in Lent ~ March 12, 2017

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The Rev. Manisha Dostert
John 3:1-17


What a delight to see all of you here! I can actually see you. There’s electricity. It’s amazing. It is so bizarre when things are taken away from you, and you have to learn how to live in this different way of being. But it’s kind of also fun. This is an usual service. Even though we have power, and light, and heat, because we’ve invited all of our young people in, and so we actually have young people who under 10 years old here. Right here in the church with us. Can you say hi, young people? Hi! Yay! I’m so glad you’re here. We always love it when you guys go to Sunday school because you learn all kinds of fun things down there. And then you come back, and you teach us all about everything that you learned about God. But today, we all get to be together. And we all get to enjoy each other.

And we’re doing this because we thought we may not have any power and light. And we all want to be comfy and cozy, and be with one another, and be one big community as God made us. And so that’s why we’re all here together. And that’s why I am so excited to be able to tell you about how wonderful God is, and what God gives us, so that we can have a great abundant life. God gives us something called faith. How many of you have faith? Raise your hands. Oh, my gosh. Look at all those people who have faith. I love faith. Faith is so exciting. Faith is beautiful. But you know what? I have this basic question. What is faith? What is faith?

I met a guy the other day when I was in my big box bookseller. I was going around, and just kind of meandering, I had some time to kill. So I was looking at all the books, and all the do-dads. And there was a guy who was also walking around, and I noticed that he was kind of walking around, and he was sort of following me. So I turned around, and I was like, “Hi.” And he said, “Hi.” And the thing is, the reason he was following me because he thought he knew me. He said, “Aren’t you Italian?” And I was like, “No.” And he said, “I’m Italian.” And I was like, “Cool.” And he was really Italian. He was from Italy. He lived in Italy, and grew up in Italy, and he came over here, and he has a job in one of the Big Three. And he said, “Yeah, I’m just back from Italy, in fact. And I’m kind of tired.” And I was like, “Oh, okay.”

And then he said, “Well what do you do? I work for one of the Big Three. What do you do?” I said, “Well, I’m a priest.” And he’s like, “Oh.” I said, “Yeah.” and he said, “You know, I’m from Italy.” I said, “Yeah, I know that.” And he said, “We have the Vatican. Not good.” I was like, “Oh? You don’t like the Vatican?” He’s like, “Well, no.” He said, “We have a saying in Italy. The Vatican is like lasagna.” I was like, “Well, I like lasagna. Is lasagna bad?” It was like, “No. Lasagna’s good, but the Vatican.” He said, “It’s like lasagna. You know it looks really nice and clean on the top. But then you peel back the pasta, and it’s messy and gooey.” And I was like, “Oh. Well,” I said, “You know, churches are full of people, and we sometimes don’t do things right.” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “But, let me ask you, do you have a faith life? Do you practice a faith?” He said, “Oh, faith. We Italians have a joke for that.”

This is a true story. I’m not kidding. This is what he said. I said, “Oh, okay. What’s the joke?” And he said, “Well, a man walks into a church, and he sits in the pew, gets down on his knees, folds his hands together. And he says, Lord, I have faith. Let me win the lottery today. And then he goes home. And then he comes back the second day, and the priest watches him come back again. And he sits in the pew, and he kneels down, and he folds his hand again, and he says, Lord, I have faith. Let me win the lottery today. And that keeps happening day after day for a couple weeks, and finally the priest takes mercy on him. And so he comes in. The man comes in, he sits down, he kneels, he puts his hands together, and the priest goes over to him and puts his arm around him, and says, son, God doesn’t work that way. You need to buy a ticket.”

So I said, “Thank you for that story. You’re welcome to come, and visit my church. I’d love for you to come. Would you like to?” And at that point, he had something he needed to do. So he took off. But I was grateful for a story about faith because it made me think, what is really faith? And I realize that one of my favorite stories about what faith really is, is the story about Abram. Abraham. He’s in our Bible. And God says to Abram, he says, “Go, Abram, to the country that I want you to go to. I’ll show you where it is. And I need you to leave your house, leave your kindred, and go, and establish yourself in that new country. And I will make you the father of many nations. And through you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

And you know what Abram did? The Bible said, “So Abram went.” That’s faith. To be able to hear God say something to you, and to say, “Okay. I’m going.” And to go. That’s what faith looks like. And I see faith in all of you all the time. God is always saying things to you, like, “Oh, by the way, can you go over there and do that crazy thing that you hadn’t planned on doing? Great.” That’s because you have faith in God. You trust that God’s going to take care of you, even if you don’t know how to do what you’re being called to do. That’s what’s so amazing about you. That is what faith is.

Now, there was an eleventh century church father, named Saint Simeon. And he describes faith this way. He says, “It’s like you’re standing on an ocean that God is in charge of. And you’re standing on the shore, and you’ve got your shoes off, and you can feel the sand in your feet. And you are on solid ground.” And then God says, “Step out.” And so you move in. And now you’ve got water up to your knees. And you can still feel the sand. But you’re starting to feel that the waves are moving, and if a pretty strong wave comes, it could knock you a little bit off your feet. But you still can dig in your toes, and you still feel like you have a good footing. And then God says, “Step out.” And now you are up to your chin. And you can sense the under currents. They’re stronger. And there is a chance that one of them can knock you down. And you’d have to work on trying to get back up again, and to be able to put your feet back on the sand on the ocean floor.

And now you look at God, and God says, “Step out.” And you know that the next step that you take, you will have nothing to hold on to. You will not be able to put your feet on the ground. You will completely be surrounded by your trust and faith in God. And you will be immersed into deep. And so you go. And now you go head in. You’re disoriented because your feet are up in the air, and you’re like, “I’m in, Lord. Take care of me. I don’t know where I’m going, and what I’m doing, and what it’s going to look like, and I’m sure I’m going to make lots of mistakes. But I am all yours.” And here’s the amazing thing. God knows it all. And God can see it all. And God is taking care of you, but you have stepped out in faith.

I want all of us to do that. Always. All the time. Every day. Stepping out in faith, trusting God, not knowing what is up, and what is down. And letting God guide us, and lead us, and show us the way. What an amazing way to live life. What a way to live life abundantly. What a way to live, if you’ve been born of water and the Spirit. And that is how you believe in the God that made you in the first place that has an amazing plan for you in the whole world to heal it because of love. This is the kind of life that we get to lead.

So have you ever received a call like Abram to step out in faith? I think we got a call last Tuesday. I think it was God. You tell me. So some of us were working on trying to figure out what God’s calling our church to do with our community partners. We have 10 community partners that we work with in our area. And we do all kinds of good ministry with them. We feed people who are hungry. Pretty soon, South Open Shelter’s going to come, and we will have about 30 homeless people here. People who don’t have any place to live. No place to put their heads, and we’re like, “Come here. The church will make sure it’s warm. We’ll make sure it’s ready to go. And we’ll let you stay here, and we’ll care for you, and we’ll love you, and we’ll feed you. And we’ll do anything we can to help you on your way.”

And we do it all on faith. We’ve done it for 30 years. Thirty years we say to people, “Guess what? South Open Shelter’s coming. Can you please sign up?” And every year, I see that Sign Up Genius, and I think, “Oh, no. It’s about three weeks away. Nobody’s signed up. Lord, I have faith.” And sure enough. Amazing. Well, the call that we got on Tuesday was about the idea with one of our community partners, Samaritas, to look at our church possibly adopting a new American family that’s moved here, that’s actually resettled here, in the metro Detroit area, who was formerly a refugee family. So they had fled from their home out of terror. Their lives were just completely destroyed. They left with just what they had on their backs. And somehow they trusted God, they went in the deep, and now they’ve ended up here, and they have very little. And they need people like you and me to help them.

So there’s a group of Christ Church Cranbrook members who thought, well, you know, maybe we’re called to go out in the deep and try this. To adopt a refugee family. So we met with the people who are in charge of this. The organization is called Samaritas. And they are the largest refugee resettlement organization in Michigan. They are the fourth largest in the nation. And they said, “Well, so we don’t have any more refugees coming. You know, because of everything that’s going on.” So I was like, “Oh, okay.” They said, “But you know what? We do have a need. Because we have no more refugee families coming, we’ve actually had to cut our staff. And we’re not going to be able to do the things that we need to do for the new American families that are already here. So if you want to adopt one family, great. But what we really need you to do is go talk to all the faith communities. Go talk to the interfaith communities, the Jews, the Muslims, the Hindus. And we need you to take care of 10 refugee families.

Brothers and sisters, that’s deep. I don’t know. What’s God saying to us? Step out.