What a 2-Hour Bus Adventure Teaches Us About Our Community

This afternoon, a group from Trinity UMC traveled across to the Ohio River to watch the Cincinnati Reds take on the San Diego Padres. We will refrain from analyzing the game other than to say the Reds’ 3-2 victory in 13-innings was more about the missed opportunities for the Padres’ to win than it was about the Reds’ ability to finally win it in the 13th.

Many of us rode the bus from our church, located in the Latonia neighborhood of Covington, to Cincinnati. It was a 40-minute bus ride from the church to the stadium. Going to the stadium was easy. Leaving, however, was a different story. It took our little group two hours to travel the four miles from Great American Ball Park to the church. We waited for buses that never came. We felt the frustrations of buses that refused to stop, even though we thought we were at the right bus stop. Eventually, we called for two cabs to take our eight-person group home.

It was an amusing adventure and, yes, we felt a sense of relief when our cabs arrived at the corner of Church and Southern to take us back to Trinity. However, the adventure was more than an amusing afternoon spent with friends. It was an eye-opening experience of what life is like for many of the people we seek to love in our community. What was an adventure for us is simply daily life for the poorest in the neighborhoods surrounding Trinity.

Many in our community do not have the financial means to afford the things that we take for granted. The bus system, then, is the only way to get to work, shopping centers, or to doctor appointments. For us, a bus not arriving with a minor inconvenience. For so many in our neighborhoods, when the bus does not stop or arrive it makes a bigger impact in their lives. It could mean missing work, which could lead someone to lose a job that may be a family’s only source of income.

We had the means and ability to find other transportation options. The poorest of the poor often do not have this luxury that we take for granted.

I am sure that many of us will laugh and tell long tales about our little adventure. That is fine. I will probably join in those laughs. However, I hope that this adventure opens our eyes to an aspect of life of those whom are so often distant from our sight and lives. We are blessed to have what we have and today were able to experience life from a different, and needed, perspective.

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Who Do You Trust?

Every day we make decisions. What we will eat. What we will wear. What we will do. Who we will talk to. There are, of course, many others.

One of the most important daily decisions we make is one that is so common to us that we do not give much thought. That decision is who or what we will trust. Who or what will we say that we can believe and claim that what they present is true, honorable, and trustworthy. Who or what will we place our reputations behind and say, “Yes, I can vouch for that.”

By our actions and how we live our lives we answer questions of trust about who or what we can trust. Questions like: Do we trust our employer to treat us honorably and pay us a decent wage? Do we believe that our bank is a trustworthy institution to place our finances and investments? Do we believe our schools are teaching what our children need to know in order to be successful? Do we trust our neighbor when they say they will return the things that they borrowed? Do we trust that the driver trying to cut us off will not hit us?

Every day we make decisions of trust. Whether we recognize it or not, we are continually wrestling with these questions of who we can believe and who do we believe is telling us the truth. These questions and decisions of trust become more difficult when we take into consideration the fact that we live in a time in which we behave as if it is harder to trust the person next to us. We are not always sure who we can trust.

This issue about trust and our daily struggles with it speaks to us. This is especially the case as we read our passage from Hebrews 11:1-3. That is because faith, as a matter of trust, is central to what it means to have a deep and loving relationship with the Lord.

In our passage, the great Preacher of Hebrews is attempting to define what it means to have faith for those who will hear and read this sermon. Faith is a central theme in Hebrews and in this chapter. It is mentioned 23 times just in chapter, so when the Preacher mentions it here we know what he will say is important. He says, “Faith is the confidence that we hope for will actually happen.” What he wants is for all of us to come to a deeper understanding and appreciation about what it means to have faith in the Living God.

So, what does this definition from Hebrews 11:1 mean? What do we mean when we say this word “faith?” At its core, faith is about trust. It is trusting in the One who we cannot always see. Faith is trusting that God is always at work in our lives and throughout the world. Having faith means to trust that God’s promises are true, that we can have hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that we can rely upon the presence of the Holy Spirit. Faith is a statement of trust. Just as important, it is a loving response to what Christ has done in us, through us, and for us.

For many of us, I would suspect much of this is not new or unfamiliar. If we have been in church long enough, or even if we haven’t, we likely have heard some definition of faith that links faith to trust. These faith definitions are often grounded in this idea of faith from Hebrews 11:1. We know faith. We have experienced faith. We believe that our faith in the Lord is important.

However, as much as we may be familiar with faith we equally struggle with it. Just like our daily decisions, we are continually wrestling with what it means to have a deep and trusting faith in the Lord. Today, we have a faith problem in the church, especially in our nation, because we do not fully believe and trust in God.

What do I mean by this? We have a difficult time trusting that God is truly present in our lives. We struggle with believing that God will fulfill all the promises made to us. We may say all the right words of faith, as we did earlier in our worship by reciting the Apostle’s Creed, but sometimes those words are difficult because we are not always sure if we can trust them.

There is a reason for this. Faith is struggle for us, because we cannot hold it with our own hands. It is not tangible. Indeed, faith is hard for us because only seem to trust that which we can see and physically experience.

This is an outflow of the world and culture that we live in. Our time is such that we are taught to believe that we can only trust something if we are able to see and experience it. In order to trust something, we believe it means that we must be able to place our hands around something, be able to rationalize it, and understand what this thing or concept is. Essentially, we can trust the things in front of us, because we can encounter it physically. This modern understanding of trust and faith has led to some of the more popular doubts and frustrations of what it means to have faith in God. They say, “Why believe in something we cannot see or physically experience.” We have all been impacted by this line of thinking. Truth be told, it has also impacted the church and its ministries. How can we have faith in God if we cannot see, hold, or fully understand who our Lord is?

Because of this daily struggle, we live with constant questions of whether or not we can trust that God’s love, promise, and word are true, real, and powerful. I believe the Preacher of Hebrews was addressing a similar struggle. He is seeking those who struggle with their faith. In this sermon, he basically says, “I know you struggle with faith and your relationship with God, but ‘faith is the confidence that we hope for will actually happen.’”

He hit on something important with this definition of faith. Truly, faith is what we are called to each day. Having faith in the Lord is what helps us to believe that God’s words are true. Faith in God inspires within us a hope that allows us to trust that God’s promises will be fulfilled. Faith is the essence of belief in God and trusting that the Lord is real, mighty, and loving.

When we struggle with our faith and whether we can trust God, I admit these words are familiar but they may be missing that essence which connects these words to our heart. Indeed, when we struggle with whether we can belief and trust in God we need the witness of others to support our faith. The Preacher recognizes this in verse 11:2. He says, “Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.” What he means is that we have a great witness of men and women who have maintained their faith in God through struggles, difficulties, and all the worries of life.

The Preacher highlights this throughout chapter 11. We only read the first three verses of the chapter, but the remaining verses provide a powerful witness of Old Testament leaders who gave witness to their faith through difficult moments. He mentions how faith inspired Abel’s offering, how it guided Noah to build the ark, how it shaped Abraham’s life, and how it aided Moses to lead the Israelites. Faith in God was a prominent characteristic of the lives of these leaders.

Just like the leaders the Preacher mentions, we all know of people who have maintained their trust in the Lord through whatever life throws at them. We are all influenced by them. Personally, I think of someone like Dr. Martin Luther King. He is inspirational to me, because he maintained his faith in God through many trials in his mission to open the church and our nation up to all people. I also think of those closer to me, as I am sure you do as well. We are inspired by those who have maintained their faith in the Lord in both good and bad times. These witnesses of faith remind us we are not alone in our relationship with God. They help us to trust in God’s truth.

Faith is truly the confidence of trusting that God’s word is true, loving, and powerful. Faith allows us to believe God created this world. It allows us to experience the truth that we are made in the Lord’s image. It allows us to trust that God sent his only Son to show us the way to the Father, and to offer himself for not just humanity’s sin, but your sin and my sin. Faith inspires. Faith teaches. Faith reaches into our heart and shows us the depths and widths of God’s love.

The greatest thing about faith is that it is not something we created. We would never have built a relationship with God built upon trusting in the things we cannot see and believing in that which we cannot hold. Faith is of God and is a gift from God given to us by the Lord’s grace. God’s grace is always at work in our lives teaching, shaping, and forming us to what it means to be faithful followers of Christ. That grace comes to us as faith and the witness that God is active in our lives and world. Faith is the gift of love that helps us to trust in the Lord’s promises and to cling to our love of God. Faith is not something we claim as our own creation, but is something given to us as we learn to lean more upon God and come to trust that Christ died for us.

Faith is simply a matter of trust. Just like we are faced with daily questions about what things in our lives will we trust, so are we faced with a daily question about whether or not we will trust in the Living God. Walking with faith is not something that is decided upon once and then never wrestled with again. The question of who do we trust is one that we must answer every moment and with every breath. Our lives are defined by how we answer this question and how we seek to live by its answer.

So, what will be our answer? What will be your answer? My prayer is that every day we will answer this question by saying, “Yes, Lord, I will trust you. Yes, Lord, I will claim my faith in you.”

Acts 10: Breaking Down Barriers

I’m old enough to remember November 1989 and the events leading up to and surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was a influential moment in my life. Those November days marked the end of the separation between East and West Berlin and the cessation of the Cold War. People from all over the world celebrated that this symbol of fear was now rubble.

In this passage from Acts 10, we see a symbolic wall coming down between Peter, the Apostles, and the Gentiles. The wall was a separation between those who could be part of the fellowship of believers and who could not. According to the laws of the time, anyone who was not born into the Jewish faith were considered Gentiles and were outside of God’s love and promise. They were separated from the community and only allowed in if they went through a long process.

Peter was among those who promoted this separation. He believe that the church he was promoting, that of Jesus Christ, would continue in its separating of those of Jewish heritage and those who were Gentile. You can imagine his shock when he was told by the Lord to no longer consider anything God had made as unclean. Just imagine, then, his reaction when Peter was told to visit Cornelius, a Roman solider, and hear of his faith in God.

What we have in Acts 10 is a story of walls of separation, barriers, coming down. No longer would the church consider anyone unworthy to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ simply because of their heritage or nationality. All people would be welcomed to experience the grace and hope of Christ. In all truth, Acts 10 is in response to Jesus’ words in Acts 1. There he tells the Disciples to share the Good News to all the world. This mission could only be accomplished once the barriers that separated the church from the world were destroyed.

This is a powerful message and reminder for us. So often, we have the habit of creating boundaries and barriers between the message of Jesus Christ and the people whom we are trying to witness. We say you are only welcomed in our communities of faith if you look a certain way, sing the same songs, read from the same Bible translation, dress in similar clothes, make the same amount of money, drive similar cars, live in decent homes, come from good families, or go to the same schools as our children. Too often we recreate the barriers that Christ’s love has broken down.

What if we were no longer in the business of building barriers? What if we truly meant that all were welcomed in our church? What would be different about our communities? What would be different about us?

My hope and prayer is that we will go out and share the good news that Christ’s love is for all people.