Life Sunday January 22-23, 2022
“Unsafe Faith” II Corinthians 2:14-17
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
This week I took the time to read Pastor Mike Paulison’s book, “Unsafe Faith”. Pastor Mike was here at Ascension two weeks ago and he spoke about what God was doing in Haiti, where Pastor Mike helps lead an orphanage and a school. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, it seems to be a place for many natural disasters, and it has been a place for frequent political upheavals. Everything about Haiti seems to be unsafe. After hearing about Pastor Mike being a pastor in Haiti, I’m glad that God wants me in Colorado!! It’s safer.
We usually don’t think of faith being unsafe. We normally think of it as providing safety and stability. Our faith in a great God grounds us. Here are some words about safe faith:
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. (Psalm 23:4-5)
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. (Romans 5:1-2)
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)
Faith is safe. We trust in the love and faithfulness of God. We believe that nothing, nothing, can bring a separation between us and God. Jesus is our Savior and our eternity in heaven is certain. Safe faith!!
But in some ways faith is anything but safe. Faith can put us into hard situations. It can create chaos and danger. It can take away so many of the things of life that we find most important to us. Faith really can be unsafe. About a month ago The New York Times wrote an article about the severe persecutions that Christians in India have been facing recently. India has a strong Hindu population. But about 2% of the population in India – about 30 million people – are believers in Jesus. That number has been growing and this has some Hindu extremists, who have the goal of having India becoming a pure Hindu nation, angered.
The article spoke about a group of Christians, who, while in worship, had a mob storm into the worship and were violent to all who had assembled. The police and the authorities in that province did nothing to stop it. One of the Christians whose rural church was just been destroyed said, “I don’t get it. What is it that we do that makes them hate us so much?” Their faith, deep and committed, has become unsafe for them.
But Jesus warned us that faith would not be safe. In John 15 He says, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:18-20a)
Today our congregation recognizes Life Sunday. Without reservation I say that life is a gift from God from the very moment of conception until a natural death. In this battle that I never thought would be fought, I believe we have to say clearly that abortion is evil and that is wrong, a sin. But I know, sadly, that such words and thoughts, are not safe. Some will say that such words and thoughts are judgmental and lack compassion and love.
I chose for this weekend a reading from Paul that recognizes how unsafe faith may be. To the church in Corinth he writes, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?” (II Corinthians 2:14-17)
Think of that. You live your life, you profess the name of Jesus, you live to support all of life, and some take a whiff of you and like how you smell, but others smell you and say that you stink. Your faith makes you smell and not everyone is going to like how you smell. Jesus, in His teaching in the Sermon on the Plain said, “Woe to you when all people speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)
In Pastor Mike’s book he quotes Bob Pierce who says, “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.” Jesus said that the purpose for His coming to earth and His ministry was to bring life. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) There are so many ways that life is robbed and taken. When Lee Valdez walked in the doors to our church last Sunday I greeted him and asked how the week has been. He said that it was a tough one. Lee told me that his brother’s daughter, died of a drug overdose during the week. That breaks the heart of God, and it should break our heart as well. When some kid is bullied because they don’t fit in, don’t look like everyone else, don’t have the abilities that others may have, that breaks the heart of God. It should break our heart as well. When someone is accepted or rejected due to the color of their skin, that is an evil, and it hurts God’s heart. It should hurt ours too. Anything that robs life, both physically or emotionally, is wrong. Abortion, suicide, hate and murder are all contrary to the fullness of life which God wants to bring. Bigotry, racism, bullying are evils that demean life, the full life that God wants to bring. It can have no part in our society.
Faith is not always safe. When you have the courage to speak for life you are going to give an odor. To some you will be the smell of death and they may speak ill of you.
This is quite a word from God isn’t it? “To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task.” That is too much for us. We don’t look to make enemies. We want to get along with others. We, usually, unless someone choses to be a Kansas City Chief fan, try to get along with others. Who is equal to such a task?
Consider Jesus. When I think of Him I see the fragrance of life. He showed attention to those who were forgotten and rejected. He had compassion on those who struggled. He was a friend to sinners and the imperfect. He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) What a beautiful smell that comes from Him.
But others said that He smelled. To all that kindness and compassion they showed hatred and violence and ridicule. “And what should we do with this man, Jesus?” With one voice they demanded, ‘Crucify him!! Crucify him!!’ To one Jesus was the stench of death and to another He was a lovely aroma.
But I don’t want to leave you this day with the word that faith is ultimately unsafe, because it is not. The crucifixion of Jesus, the unsafe position that the proclamation of the truth put Him in, was not the final word. He rose from death. On the third day, count them – Friday, Saturday, and then glorious Sunday, He rose again. And the fragrance of that is sweet and pure and filled with joy – if a fragrance can be filled with joy!!
We have safety in our faith because we have safety in our God. I read to the end of Pastor Mike’s book (something that I don’t always do in my book reading) and I liked his conclusion. Now, there is not an end to the story because the story of living the Christian faith in the very uncertain world of Haiti and among those kids, hasn’t reached its conclusion yet. He says, “There is no part of this ministry that has ever been easy.” But he says that the ministry is not his, but God’s. God has a plan in Haiti not just for this day but for years and decades to come. There is a certainty that makes things safe.
We have a safe faith, even in a world that is not safe, because God is faithful. Hang in there. Stand for life. Stand for love. Find a safe place in the hands of Jesus. Amen!!