"The Gift of Faith"

The birth of a child is a tremendous gift, both to the parents, and to the world. Many of us have experienced this. And with each new birth the seeds of possibility are planted. To raise that child in a loving, nurturing, Christian environment is to unwrap a portion of that gift each day.

With every new day, the observant parent notices some new aspect of the child's person: the development of their muscle structure, the beginnings of a certain appearance, the growth of innate abilities, and the development of unknown talents.

The life of a child is full of promise and full of hope. If the child grows to make the most of his or her God given talents and abilities, some level of greatness will be achieved. Perhaps not greatness as defined by the world, but greatness defined by the kingdom of God.

The parable read this morning from Matthew's Gospel speaks to a situation full of potential. The master gives each slave a certain amount of talents, or cash, as we would say today.

Each slave has the potential to invest, to capitalize, to earn both interest and the master's good pleasure. Each has the possibility of serving, so as to hear the words: "Well done thy good and faithful servant."

But one of the servants doesn't fill his potential. He has only been given a single portion of talent. He doesn't think he is capable of investing even that. He is scared, he is afraid to step out in faith. He hides the talent and returns it unharmed, and he returns it undeveloped. Fear and uncertainty robbed him of his potential.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men were created equal," wrote Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. But that's easy for him to say. God endowed him with an unusual array of gifts. Jefferson was a great statesman and politician; he was also a farmer, and architect, a horticulturist, the founder of a university, and a man of letters.

He was tall, strong, handsome, well spoken, elegant, and long-lived. Honestly, not many are created equal to him.

Yet, all people are created with some potential, endowed by God with some gifts worth developing. In this truth, we are all equal and have an equal opportunity, at least as we are born, of developing into the people God designed us to be, and in turn we have the potential to put our God given gifts to good use.

Developing our talents is like unwrapping a gift for us too. Because we don't know, until we try, how well coordinated we are, how musically we hear, how strongly we lift, how caringly we listen, how well we write, and how articulately we speak.

Each new discovery about what we can do is a discovery about what God had in mind when God made us. "For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb," the psalmist says. (Psalm 139:3)

What it is, exactly, that God formed us to be is a gift that continues to be unwrapped all through our lives. We are a gift and a surprise, even to ourselves sometimes.

Who we are meant to be is up to God. How we use what God designed is up to us. We can use our talents in many ways. Some benefit the world. Some only benefit ourselves. And some are of no benefit to anyone.

The parable of the talents sets a choice before us and teaches us to take risks in giving ourselves back to God. To help us do this, the church acts as an agent of God's grace, offering us precious opportunities to return back to God from God's generous goodness.

But developing our talents, taking risks, and serving God requires us to have faith.

If I were to go around our sanctuary this morning and ask everyone individually to tell me what faith is, many of us would use words like trust, belief, obey, wouldn't we? And indeed these words do describe faith; we use them all the time in our conversations, Bible study, in Sunday school and in worship. But how many of us would say faith is a gift, a gift from God?

Faith is not something we earn or can obtain by our human effort. It's a gift given by the grace of God, a gift that we need to receive, unwrap, embrace and develop. It's a gift the world desperately needs. And much like our God given abilities, which need to be developed, so too does our faith.

Faith can never be exercised by proxy. We must actively develop our faith. Faith is much more than simply saying, "I believe."

Spiritual growth begins when we move beyond the futile attempts to grow passively, and start to actively engage our faith. Faith is a verb, faith is action, and faith is a lifestyle of loving unconditionally without judgment.

Howard Hendricks has correctly discovered, "there is no such thing as a correspondence course for swimming." If you want to swim you must get in the pool. Therefore an active faith requires us to jump in the pool and "getting wet." We begin by treading water, but as we develop, continue to learn, continue to try and are willing to take some risks, we begin to swim laps.

This in effect is what we have committed to here at Trinity (Catoctin). Our purpose is to "grow in faith to grow God's kingdom." In other words we have committed to jump in the pool for the sake of God.

But how do we receive this gift of faith, where is it, where does it come from?

From the moment we are born God desires that we be restored into his image. However, the only way to recover the image of God is by God's grace through Jesus Christ.

So working backwards we learn that to be restored to the image of God requires faith in Jesus Christ. We receive faith by God's grace, but if we don't know God yet how can we know the gift is available to us so we can receive it?

John Wesley describes the process of restoration by describing 3 ways in which we can receive grace:

The first is prevenient grace. This is God's grace, which comes before our believing and knowing God and Jesus Christ. Prevenient grace is universally given to all people and is available the moment we are born. Through God's prevenient grace the seed of faith is planted within all people.

Our parents, the church, friends, and so forth nurture us in this grace, so that we become aware of God's presence in our lives. As we gain knowledge of God and Jesus we acknowledge the gift of faith.

And in general this is where our society has fallen short. As a society we are not nurturing our children in the faith.

But as we do come to know God we allow God to develop the gift of faith, within us. We on our own as humans cannot develop our faith. It's only by God's grace that our faith grows and develops.

Then over time as our faith develops we experience an awakening as we come to know Jesus as our savior. And it's at this point that we are justified and experience a new birth, a spiritual birth. We call this act of God justifying grace.

Justification is the gracious act of God in restoring human beings to a right relationship with him by forgiving their sins. In other words when we commit our lives to Christ we are justified and our sins are forgiven.

We often use terms like saved, born again, new birth, and so on to describe this experience. And it's important to know that justification is only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

As we continue to grow in faith and seek to become more holy we experience God's sanctifying grace, which is the process of God's continuing work in Christian believers through the power of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification follows justification and is growth in holiness of life and grace.

So as you can see God's grace is active in our lives from the very beginning, and it is through grace that we are offered the gift of faith, which then propels us into a further relationship with Jesus. The key cog in this systematic process of being restored to the image of God is faith. Without faith the whole process of being restored to the image of God is lost.

Now as faithful Christians we have a responsibility. We who have received this wonderful gift of faith have the responsibility to share it, to proclaim it, to spread it around like a shrewd businessperson spreads around their money.

In financial vernacular we need to diversify our assets, in other words don't invest all our assets in one spot. We learned this from our parable this morning.

Well the same is true of our talents and our faith. We need to invest our talents and faith, not only within these four walls, but also throughout our community, and throughout the world. We need to diversify our faith and talent portfolios so that faith and talents grow within us and grow within our community.

Faith and talents that are shared are gifts that will grow. Faith and talents that are hidden or hoarded at best will remain dormant, and at worst will crumble and decay. After all, "God can't steer a parked car."

Jesus makes it clear in our parable this morning that the one who develops neither talents nor faith is a servant that the kingdom of God does NOT need. When one employs their talents, and lives out their faith actively, they are fully alive. So here we have Jesus, uncharacteristically speaking a new law. Jesus is telling us to use well what God has given us, or lose all that we have.

And I dare say this law, if you will, goes beyond talents and faith, it includes all we have. Jesus is saying, "be good stewards of all that you have," knowing that at the center of this law is love.

Love in fact is the photonegative of all of God's commandments. Here Jesus' hard words speak of one who graces people with faith and life. This life is ours to live, to develop, to enjoy, and to share. Faith is ours both as a harvest of salvation and a seed to be sown for the benefit of others.

Hearing such legalism from Jesus is easier to accept rather than hearing it from the ever-watchful Pharisees of his day. Because even though they had received the gifts of law and faith, they failed to invest them wisely.

Jesus on the other hand took his entire capital, all that he had, and risked it on a venture called the cross. And you know it is still paying dividends today, for those who are heirs of the fortune of faith.

When we receive a gift we have two choices don't we? We can receive it or we can ignore it. If we decide to receive it then we either unwrap it quickly, ripping off the paper as fast as we can, or we take our time removing one piece of scotch tape at a time.

Well the same is true with the gift of faith. Some will receive it and some will decide to ignore it. For those who receive it, some will quickly receive the gift, unwrap it and enjoy it immediately, investing it wisely, allowing it to grow, so that it might be given to others.

Others will take there time unwrapping the gift one corner at a time because of doubt, fear, uncertainty, or lack of nurturing by other Christians. And unfortunately some will wait too long. Have you truly received the gift of faith and are you investing it wisely, or are you still unwrapping this divine gift one corner at a time?


Read other messages by Pastor Wade