A sermon based on Genesis 15:1-6 and Psalm 27 preached February 21st, 2016
Malala Yousafzai is a household name. You may have read her book I Am Malala, but even if you haven’t, you are familiar with her story. Malala is a 17-year-old girl who was born halfway across the world in the Swat district of Pakistan into a Muslim family. As destiny (or maybe God) might have it, her first name, Malala, means grief-stricken. At the age is 11, Malala began blogging. For those of you who don’t know what blogging is exactly, it’s writing essays and insights about things on a website that belongs to you.
Malala didn’t blog about the regular fair of life as an 11-year old girl. No swoony prose about her favorite boy band, or the cute guy in class. No, she chose to blog about education, namely her belief that education was a right that every Pakistani boy and girl should have. Because this is such an explosive topic in her culture, for her own protection and that of her family, she decided to write her blog under a male pseudonym, Gul Makai. That was back in 2009. It wasn’t long after that when the Taliban took over her village. They banned TV, music, women from going shopping, as well as women from gaining an education. Malala continued blogging. For her outspokenness, she received death threats. Her father wanted to move Malala to a boarding school where she would be safer, but she refused, saying to her father,
I don’t know why, but hearing I was being targeted did not worry me.
Since Malala refused to change schools, her father told her to stop her blogging campaign. But, she refused that too, saying to her father,
How can we do that? You were the one who said that if we believe in something greater than our own lives, then our voices will only be multiplied if we are dead. We can’t disown this campaign.
Malala was shot on October 9th, 2012. The Taliban tracked her down at her school, “Which one of you is Malala?,” the terrorist demanded, gun in hand.
Speak up, or I’ll shoot at you all.
But even a bullet to the head couldn’t stop Malala. Three months later, she was out of the hospital, speaking up for the right of every Pakistani boy and girl to receive an education. Only now, she has a microphone. And she’s changing the world with it.
Whom shall I fear?
Malala, or anyone else who takes a stand on an issue and speaks up, does so with a heart beating so loud and fast, they swear it was about to leap out of their chest. That’s because courage is never the opposite of fear. Courage is fear with a stubborn faith. Courage is fear that has said its prayers.
When we get to a point where speaking up for what we know to be true and right and just is the only way to make things right, we realize that somethings are a whole lot more important than fear or even our own safety. Think Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nelson Mandela, Amelia Earhart, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass. Jesus. Each of them stubborn people who believed in something greater than all the other people around them. Who didn’t let that stop them. Each of them practiced a stubborn faith.
The word courage comes the Latin cor, which means heart. Courage is the strength to tell our stories with all of who we are, with our entire heart.
The writer of psalm 27 is face to face with his enemies. They’re just around the corner, or maybe they’re already there, surrounding him. He has no idea what might happen to him, but even as his enemies descend upon him, he keeps his eyes focused upon God.
The psalmist asks not for his own strength, skills, and expertise to get him through, but he asks that God grant him the strength to see God first, to seek God’s face come what may, and to wait confidently for God to see him through. The psalmist is under no delusion that his faith in God means that nothing bad will ever happen to him. He’s lived too long to believe a naïve thing like that. He prays instead that even as his enemies draw closer, God would stay with him—to be his Light and Salvation.
Wait for the Lord,
the psalmist declares! He’s reminding himself that even as darkness descends upon him and the shadows of his enemies cave in around him, that real strength comes from somewhere else. It comes when we use our life to seek God’s way for us. The psalmist declares in verse 4,
One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to gaze upon His beauty, and to seek Him in His temple.
Mahatma Gandhi (now there’s another name to add to our list of people with a stubborn faith), Gandhi once declared that our whole lives are like circuits around a temple. This psalmist isn’t necessarily saying,
Let me make my way to the temple in Jerusalem.
He’s using a metaphor, saying that when we allow God in, when we allow God to be our all-in-all, no matter where we go, each and every one of our steps will be like a circuit around God’s temple. And even on our bad hair days, when nothing seems like it’s working out for us—bad hair weeks, bad hair months, years, our lives are filled with them—we would do best to read a psalm like this one, because it tells the truth about us AND the truth about God: that even when we feel like we are being devoured by the darkness, there’s light somewhere—maybe up way far ahead, but still it’s there. And we would do well to listen to our hearts as they tell us to seek God’s face.
Take heart, wait for the LORD!
That’s stubborn faith.
It might be though, that the phrase “stubborn faith” is redundant. Isn’t faith at its heart something stubborn? Doesn’t faith keep on going long after we’ve given everything else a try? Maybe. But maybe it’s that after we use all of our own tricks and standbys, we start to lose our faith. That’s where our psalmist is at. He’s out of ideas and the only way he’s gonna make it out of this one is if God leads the way.
Take heart! Wait for the Lord!
We’d do well to make that a mantra. Maybe we too can develop a faith that’s bigger than our fear. Maybe then, we wouldn’t so much ask God to take all the hard stuff and move it out of our way, but instead ask God for the strength of character to overcome what’s in our way. Maybe instead, we could pray for a sort of courage that’s bigger than all the hard stuff. Courage is the strength to walk forward into our own stories with all of who we are, with our entire heart. Shame researcher, Brené Brown, says that the most accurate measure of courage is vulnerability. We are at our most courageous when we put it all out there, every bit of ourselves, and trudge forward into the future that God will make for us.
When I think about stubborn faith, I think of the story of Casie René Bernall, who at the age of 17, Malala’s age, was killed by a troubled classmate, Eric Harris, at Columbine High School. 1999. Eric Harris pointed a gun at her head and asked Casie if she believed in God. Casie said Yes. Who do we trust even in the midst of fear? Trust and fear, they’re not opposites. They co-exist. But trust takes fear and gives it a voice—a declarative voice. A voice that says Yes to God even under fire. I only pray to have that kind of faith.
Presbyterian pastor and author, Frederick Buechner, calls doubt the ants-in-the-pants of faith. We’re only human after all. This psalm begins with
The Lord is my Light and my Salvation—whom shall I fear?
The psalmist isn’t saying he has no fear. He’s praying that because he’s racked with fear that God might come closer and take his fear away from him. He’s not bragging. The psalmist is asking God to give him something he doesn’t have and cannot muster for himself no matter how hard he tries. See, wherever doubt lurks, we can welcome it in because doubt is never the opposite of trust or faith. Its doubt that gives us a chance to refine our understanding of God, to come closer to Him. Doubt is the thing that has us ask better questions about our faith. Doubt is the beginning of stubborn faith.
We wonder, just like the psalmist, what lies up ahead for us. We wonder about the future of our church. The dwindling numbers; more funerals than baptisms. Every church in our country is experiencing this same thing.
Where’s the money going to come from? Something needs to change,
we say. But when we ask ourselves a slightly different question,
Who wants TO change?,
no hands go up.
What if we took a risk to walk forward into our uncertain future, like the psalmist did? What would the fruits of stubborn faith look like for us? What would be different if we threw out caution and comfort, and replaced it with courage? What would we do differently? What kind of decisions would we make with how we spent our money? If we moved forward with stubborn faith as our guide, what risks would we take here at Kuhn Memorial for the sake of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ? We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both.
Can I ask that as a whole church, that we begin praying for the ability to step out, to walk forward with stubborn faith, and risk something for Jesus? Can I ask you to imagine what that might look like? Use your imagination. God wants us to.
Maybe it means stepping out beyond these doors and shaking hands with our neighbors. Or maybe it means taking the chance to speak out on behalf of a few people in Barboursville who don’t have a voice or a say in important matters. I know that all that sounds scary and new, but what if we found out that God’s blessings are hidden behind everything we call scary and new? What if we took the chance to speak out on behalf of Jesus even if our voice shakes while we do it? Doesn’t that sound like stubborn faith? Doesn’t that sound like being faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
All praises to the One Who made it all and finds it beautiful!