BECAUSE ‘ONLY BELIEVE’ IS NOT ENOUGH
Mark 5: 35-43
One day years ago, the minister of the Riverside Church of New York City was reading a book called CHRISTOLOGY AT THE CROSSROADS by Jon Sobrino, who asked two challenging questions: “Do you follow Jesus as Lord?” and “Do you believe he is the Christ, (The Messiah)?” the way Peter responded when Jesus asked him who others say that he is: “You are the Christ,” Peter said, “the Son of the living God!” On that confession of faith, Jesus said his church would be built. But Ernest T. Campbell found himself in the position that many in our world are in, and he was alarmed: He believed Jesus was the Christ, but in his work daily, he did not follow him: he was not without income like Jesus; he had a home. Unlike Jesus, he did not hang out with prostitutes, tax collectors or lepers. The minister realized that, in his tall steeple position, he was virtually isolated from the things that Jesus did; he had ministries that took care of all of them. He calmed himself a little when it dawned on him that Jesus did not call us to be his imitators; he called others to be his followers. “Follow me” he said to the Twelve and certainly to dozens of others. Still, Campbell asked himself these questions: ‘If I’m following Jesus, why am I such a good insurance risk [that I can get life insurance for a few dollars a month?] If I’m following Jesus why, when I have done my giving, have I so much left over for myself? If I’m following Jesus, why do my closets bulge when so many are unclothed? If I’m following Jesus,” he asked himself, “Why do I have so many friends among the affluent and so few among the poor? Why do I have so much privacy in a world starved for love? Why am I tempted to overeat in a world where so many beg for bread? And if I’m following Jesus, why am I getting on so well in a world that marked him for death?” Some of those questions make me uneasy. Some don’t apply, … but some do. Some give me pause; some make me think. And as happened this week as I shared daily lessons with children as the Apostle Paul, I re-heard major New Testament passages. Jesus’ reassuring words in our text today, for example, “only believe,” are another way of saying “Remember: with God all things are possible!” But once we believe—and in some cases it is most difficult to believe in the immortal and invisible God, to believe in miracles, believe that Jesus rose from the dead—then our lives have to reflect our beliefs! We taught that to the children this week: what we say has to be backed up by what we do; that what we do has to support what we believe! Jesus was certainly familiar with the theatre; as a carpenter and stone mason he and his father might have watched or help build grand Roman amphitheatres built around the Galilee region, some of which stand to this today. In those dramas, the main actor would often put on a mask to portray his part, and such an actor was called a hypocrite; one who puts on an act for someone else. Jesus wanted no followers who were just putting on an act; no followers who might cry out in public “I believe!” but in private do things to hurt or hold down others. As the children’s message pointed out, if I professed to love my dog, but complaint about walking him, complained about feeding him, didn’t hold him, and complained about cleaning up after him, just how much do I love my dog? So it is with Christ: the boys and girls notice people who say they are Christians, but attend church rarely; or lose their temper often (continuously getting angry has been listed as one of the seven deadly sins), and do not show kindness toward others. Children notice that and get mixed signals about what it means to be Christian. Adults notice it and decide Christians are all hypocrites. So the standard of saying we are Christian is a high one. This week, we tried to align what we said and what we did; we tried to push the reset button on some learning so it could be learned again. That is not to say that some children, parents, and grandchildren here today, are not some model Christians! They are; but it only takes a few people around a child acting differently from the way they say they believe to confuse one child, or have another speak up and ask about it. Sometimes the honesty of children puts us right back on track.
Today in Mark’s Gospel we learned that Jesus reassured a Synagogue leader who came to him with news that his daughter was dead. Somewhere in his life he must have heard, “With God, all things are possible!” or he must have thought “It’s my daughter; no request is too foolish if it might bring her back to life!” Indeed Jesus’ words matched his actions. He said “Only believe,” and then he went to the house of the leader. Remember, he was a leader of the synagogue, so he certainly knew Scripture that included the mighty acts of God. He wanted Jesus to make his daughter live as yet another way to show God’s glory. Jesus did just that, saying to her, “Arise!” and she arose.
To all of you who follow or seek after Christ: the best example we can give the world is to not only believe he is the Messiah, but also follow him as if he is. The best example we can show others is to have our actions back up our words. For as we taught the children all week: we most want the world to know we are Christians, not by our word, or by our membership evidence. We most want the world to know we are Christians by our love. When we let our actions back up our words, one writer ages ago said he got peace like a river, joy like a fountain, and love like an ocean in his soul. I want that, don’t you? Let us stand and sing hymn # 368, I’ve Got Peace Like a River.
Jeffrey A. Sumner June 28, 2009