A Contagious Faith in Your Heart
There are a lot of words you could use to describe me, whether it be for the different roles in my life, like pastor, father, husband or to describe different attributes of my character, friendly, handsome, obnoxious. One word that those who know me best and longest, say my parents, might use is delusional.
The first time I realized I might be a bit delusional was in college. I had a good friend who was a scholarship athlete on the softball team at UVA, a division one program. Four-year starter. And from time to time she and I would banter back and forth because I believed, I was convinced, that I could beat her at home run derby. I believed that if we went out to a local little league field that given the same number of pitches I could hit more home runs than she could. And let me tell you, this went on for years. Until one day towards the end of our senior year we finally took a bucket of baseballs out to a little league field. When she had hit her eighty-third home run compared to my four I was finally ready to admit defeat.
Now that I’ve become a parent I’m able to see and admit even more ways that I have been delusional in my life. For instance, growing up, I thought I was the smartest person in my house. I thought I was incredibly clever and was running the show and was able to get away with a ton of stuff that my parents had no clue about. Then I had a child. And as I see Patrick walk around the house, all of two years old thinking he’s the smartest person in the house, well its shed a whole new light on the delusion of my teenage years. Parents, can I get an amen?
You know, sometimes I think I’m the smartest person in my house now. I’ll admit it. Any husbands want to be brave enough to give me an amen? And let me be perfectly clear, that too is a delusion. Any wives want to give me an amen on that?
Here’s the craziest part, had my friend and I never played home run derby, I would have gone to my grave forever convinced that I could beat her. Me, who had a great run in little league back in the day. Had I never had a child I would still be convinced that teenage me was much smarter and cleverer than my parents. I could never have come to these conclusions on my own, but needed to have my world changed and transformed to really understand the truth.
Now all of this is somewhat silly, but I want to make a larger point. Last week we celebrated Easter Sunday, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And we talked about the world altering, life changing implications that has for us. We talked about how the disciples woke up believing they lived in a certain world with certain rules but were shocked, surprised, and transformed when they discovered they lived in a different world. Jesus failed? Delusion. Death reigns supreme? Delusion. Evil and sin have the final word? Delusion. Instead the truth is Jesus has won the victory. The God of life reigns supreme. And love, faith, and hope have the final word. And we talked about how because of this experience, because of this Easter experience the disciples were transformed and lived completely different lives. They became new people, Easter people.
Now that is a lot of preamble to finally get to the point, but here is it: if you are here today, the Sunday after Easter, it is because you, too, have had that Easter experience. You have had an experience with the risen Christ, the living God and have come to realize that the world you thought you lived in was not the world that is. But today we need to go a step further.
You see it’s not enough to have an experience. It’s not enough to acknowledge that we live in a different world, a different universe. It’s not enough to come to church the Sunday after Easter. It’s not enough to have faith. You have to have a contagious faith. Which is what the next six weeks is going to be about.
You see, the disciples, having had their experience with the risen Christ, were transformed. And they became the type of people that had the type of faith that others followed and emulated. They spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth, started the church, and brought hundreds, thousands, millions to Christ. And that is precisely the type of faith that we, Christ’s followers today, are called to have.
But what does it mean to have a contagious faith? So glad you asked! To answer that, I want to look at two stories in the Gospels. The first is from very early in Jesus’ ministry found in the second chapter of Mark’s gospel:
Mark 2: 1-12
There are three things in this story that I don’t want us to miss. The first is that it occurs at the beginning of Mark’s gospel, but it’s not the first healing miracle in Mark’s gospel. Instead it is the end of a series of healing stories. The first healing story occurs when Jesus is teaching in the synagogue. A man with an unclean spirit comes to him while he’s teaching and Jesus casts out the demon. Then there are countless other healings. And then this story. This is the last one Mark tells for a while and I believe it’s the one he wants to leave hanging in your mind. And that’s for a reason, the reason being the second thing I don’t want us to miss.
I don’t want us to miss the connection between faith, spiritual transformation, and physical transformation. If the first one and a half chapters of Mark are a healing sandwich, the first healing miracle occurs when Jesus is teaching with authority and in the last one Jesus forgives the man’s sins before physically healing his ailment. The third thing I don’t want us to miss that serves as a bit of foreshadowing to the end of this sermon is that Jesus forgives the man’s sins after seeing the faith of his friends. I’ll leave that hanging in the air as a teaser. Now I want us to turn to Luke’s gospel for our second story.
Luke 19: 1-10
Now I know I have said this before, but in ancient times tax collectors were assessed an amount that they needed to pay on up the chain. However, that amount did not cover their salary. But they were allowed to charge their constituents whatever they wanted to charge. So when we hear about this tax collector named Zacchaeus who was very wealthy, what Luke is saying was that he was cheating his constituents. One thing this tells us about Zacchaeus is that he valued money and wealth over relationships with the people in his community.
Jesus comes into town offering relationship and companionship. And immediately something happens within Zacchaeus. For some reason, known only to God and Zacchaeus, he is a different person. He promises to give half of his possessions to the poor and to give quadruple restitution to those he has cheated. The point here is that Zacchaeus has, in the blink of an eye, gone from someone who valued wealth over relationships to someone who values relationships over wealth. At which point Jesus announces that salvation has come to Zacchaeus.
Now, why have I told you these stories? Because there is a connection between faith, spiritual transformation, and physical transformation. Now when I say physical transformation I don’t exclusively mean the healing of physical ailments. What I mean is that spiritual transformation that is brought about as the result of faith calls for transformation in how we live our lives today, in the here and now. The paralyzed man’s sins were forgiven and he was able to walk. That is the extraordinary case. For Zacchaeus, salvation came to him and he stopped cheating his neighbors and offered full restitution. In each case, Jesus saved these men and we can name something, some way in the here and now that Jesus saved them.
We have a saving, transforming faith. We are saved, we have been saved. But I don’t just mean that in the eternal sense. Because Jesus didn’t just save the paralyzed man or Zacchaeus in the eternal sense. Jesus saved them from something in the here and now just as Jesus saves us from something in the here and now. What has Jesus saved you from? Having a contagious faith is knowing the difference, the real, practical difference, that Jesus has made in your life. And just so you don’t think this is all lip service, let me tell you about what Jesus is trying to save me from at this point in my life.
I am a deeply insecure person. Which is something you might not know about me. And you might not know it because I work incredibly hard to not let it show. I overcompensate. I act confident, even cocky. But it’s not because I am confident or cocky or believe in my own abilities, it’s because I’m terrified people will realize how insecure I am. And the result of that is that I hurt others before they can hurt me. I leave people before they can leave me. Now this sermon is not meant to be a public therapy session, but I tell you that because I know that Jesus is trying to save me from those insecurities. Jesus is trying to tell that it’s ok to have inabilities, it’s ok to try and fail, it’s ok to be overwhelmed in out of my depth because my weaknesses are perfected in his strengths. Because when I admit that I can’t do it, I cling to his cross and create space for God to work. Jesus is saving me from hurting rather than being hurt and leaving rather than being left because Jesus will never hurt or leave me and it is his love that is the ground on which I stand. And I know that Jesus is going to have this victory over my inner demons and I know that when he does I am going to be a better person because of it.
What has Jesus saved you from? What is Jesus saving you from? If you want a contagious faith you have to know this. Because if you don’t think Jesus makes a difference in your life, right here, today, you’ll never be able to make Jesus relevant to others. What has Jesus saved you from? What concrete thing? What is Jesus saving you from? What concrete thing? That is your homework this week if you want to have a contagious faith.
But that last sentence raises a good question: do we want to have a contagious faith? Why might we want to have a contagious faith? To answer that question, I want to go back to that point I left hanging in the air. Remember when Jesus healed the paralyzed man, the reason that he did so was because he saw the faith of his friends? Jesus forgave the man’s sins and healed his paralysis because the lengths his friends went to bring him to Jesus. They climbed on top of a roof, hoisted their friend onto the room, removed sections of the roof, and lowered him down to the feet of Jesus. And it was that act that served as the basis for what Jesus does for this man. Why do we want to have a contagious faith? Because I believe for every one of us here, there is someone in our lives we desperately want to bring to Jesus.
See here’s the thing; we are people of faith. But the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, its certainty. As people of faith we don’t have complete objective certainty that the claims we make are true. Otherwise it wouldn’t be called faith. So there might always be doubts about claims of eternal salvation, the existence of God, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Which is why we need stories about what Jesus does for us in the here and now to strengthen our faith and give live to the faith we want to see in others.
But friends, let’s think on this for a moment: what if we, as people of faith, as people of the Christian faith, are right about everything? What if we’re right? What if what we believe about God, Jesus Christ, eternal salvation, and heaven is 100% correct? If that is the case, if we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that our hope is true, there is someone in your life you would desperately want to bring to Jesus. You’d stop at nothing. You’d never give up. Because if we’re right, bringing that person to Jesus could literally mean everything.
Friends, if we have a saving faith, if we believe that we have been saved by God’s grace eternally and from something, some concrete thing in the here and now, that gets into your heart and it changes you. And when you see your friends, and your family, and your neighbors, and your coworkers who do not have this faith, who do not have this grace, who are struggling with something that you know Jesus wants to save them from, your heart aches for that person. And you know you can’t let them stay where they are. And that, right there, in that moment, is when you know you want to have a contagious faith. You want to be the kind of person that is a part of bringing someone to Jesus. Because if we’re right, if we Christians have it right, bringing that person to Jesus is the single most important thing that will ever happen in that person’s life.
I want to have a contagious faith. I want to have a contagious faith in my heart so that my heart aches and longs to be about bringing people to Jesus. I hope that at this point you do too. It’s what we’ll be talking about for the next few weeks. But step 1 is knowing specifically and concretely what it is that Jesus has saved you from and is saving you from. Ponder that this week and come back next week as we talk about what Contagious Faith looks like in Relationships.