In the early reformation, Calvin preached salvation by faith and faith alone. It was the idea that no matter what in life some individuals would receive salvation if they only believed. But what does this mean for us? How does this thought apply to the modern person? There are times when we all need to remember that God has not given up on us as individuals and as communities. We all need reminders of God’s faithfulness to his people.
When I was in college, I attended and worked in church, in my home town most Sundays. We had just experienced a change in leadership from a long term minister of 32 years to a young female minister with no interim. The two ministers, understandably, had very different theologies and styles of worship and faith. The congregants were struggling to find their identity and their faith once more. One of the elderly women, I had grown up with, called me at home one day. She wanted to talk to me about her struggles with the changes that were occurring in the community. She said to me, “I just can’t find God anymore. I think God has left our church”. There was sadness in the conversation as it continued.
And she was not the first to have this feeling in our church community. There would be several others who would express this same sentiment in the years to follow and it would grow over the years as people’s discontent continued mounted. The people needed to know that God still work in their community, still existed in their worship. They were struggling. They lacked identity and purpose. They were mourning the loss of their minister who had become like family to many of the members.
They needed a sign that God was still going to be their champion in their time of need, even when they could not feel him at work themselves. This is no different then what we see in our scriptures this morning. We see in the book of Numbers that the Israelites were struggling with poisonous snakes that caused them to question the strength and faithfulness of God to their people. So God answered their need with a way to heal their wounds.
Then in the time of Jesus, because the corruption, because of the struggles of the average every day person, God sacrificed his only son so that people might feel that same sense of healing; healing of those wounds that lie deep in our hearts. Wounds caused by those questions that cause a fracture in our relationship with the Holy. We all get to a point when we ask: where is God? We get to this point in our churches when we experience decline and we struggle with this battle when we are experience great loss and tragedy in our personal lives as well. We all have those days, weeks, months and sometimes even years when God is not so easy to feel and those questions about his faithfulness to us really begin to creep in.
A few weeks ago, I shared with you a time in my life when God answered my prayers in the middle of a dog attack. Those are the times when it is easy to be faithful and to believe. Those are the times when we lift up our voices in praise. But there are also just as many times when God’s answers to our prayers are not as obvious or God just seems to be silent.
An individual I knew very well as a child, who taught me how to read, struggled with many years like this. Her first husband died of a heart attack when she was in her thirties with two young children. She met someone when her children were teenagers and remarried. Shortly after their marriage, there was a car accident. Her daughter was killed and her husband spent several months in a coma after which he was never able to remember that car ride. She went through a very dark period in those days and she wondered where God was in her pain and suffering. She wondered about the purpose behind her experiences. She, understandably, had a serious faith crisis in this time of her life.
But what she learned through her church community and the support and love she experienced in these moments was that God had not abandoned her. God was supporting her and helping her through her troubles. She was loved no matter what. God still loved her even when her faith faltered. God still supported her even though she went through days where she felt utterly alone and abandoned. And our scriptures for this morning remind us that God is present no matter what our struggles might be or how long they may last. Remember what the book of John said for this morning, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God”. God still works in our lives when we can’t see him and God still works in the lives of churches and communities even when they wonder where he is. Our challenge is to believe that God will be there for us no matter what life has to through at us and no matter what struggles we might battle. Our challenge this week is to have faith even when we feel uncertain and know that God is shaping our worlds. So go forth into this Lenten journey and think about how God has walked with you in your lives and share your God experiences with others because it just might be the support and strength that will help someone else who is facing their own battles in life.
(Sermon based on Numbers 21: 4-9 and John 3: 14-21)