Sermon – September 23, 2001 – Faithful in the Fundamentals

September 23, 2001

Faithful in the Fundamentals

When I was 13 years old, my friends threw me a birthday party, and together,
they bought me a new guitar. It was the most amazing birthday party of my
life. It was a real guitar. It was a tremendous gift, not only in the
sheer generosity of the instrument, but that my young friends would do that
for me. And, so I started to take guitar lessons because I had an idea
then that I would be a rock and roll star. But after three lessons, I
quit because it hurt my fingers.

Many years later I picked up the guitar again, struggled through getting the
calluses you need to play, and the whole time I felt some guilt and regret
that I had given up on this gift from my young friends.

What was at the heart of my regret about that was not that I did not become
a rock and roll star, ( although I still have those days) but that I hadn’t
really been faithful to the expectations of that gift. I had not been
faithful in the little things, the fundamental things to get me started. I
was not faithful in the small ways.

There’s no way we can get anything done right if our founding principles are
not solid. There’s no way a business survive without attention to
inventory, costs, and profits, the fundamentals. There’s no way a
relationship can survive if the principles of respect and communication and
commitment are set aside. There’s no way a church can stay vital, if what
creates and sustains it is abandoned, or overshadowed by the voice, the
agenda of the culture. And I don’t suppose that our faith can survive if
it doesn’t always return to its foundational structures of prayer, worship,
service to our neighbor.

Imagine that you went to the dentist with a toothache and some nice dental
technician sat you down in the chair and said, “Someone will be with you in
a minute” You assumed it would be the dentist. And in a few minutes a
fisherman walks in and says, “I know exactly what to do about that tooth.
I’ll just drop a big fish hook into your mouth and snatch it out and reel it
in.” You feel some uneasiness. A few minutes later, a gardener walks
in and says, “I know what I’ll do. I’ll dig that tooth out with a garden
trowel and then pack the whole with dirt. Yes, that’s what I’d do.”
After the gardener leaves, in walks an accountant who says, “I think we’ll
just put a big Band-Aid on that tooth. It will cost too much to repair.
Yes, that’s the solution.” Oh, I don’t think so. You feel, anxiety, fear,
a loss of confidence. But all that would be assuaged when the dentist came
in and said, “Oh, yes. You have a cavity. We’ll numb it and fill it and
you’ll be on your way.” Those are the fundamentals of his vocation.

No dentist can do his job if he is not competent in the basics, nor will his
patients have confidence in him if he can’t. You don’t employ the
principles of the fisherman or the gardener or the accountant to the
practice of dentistry, Honorable vocations as they might be, they don’t
apply to the problem of rotten teeth. The application must fit the
problem. No dentist is going to keep his practice if he is not competent
in the fundamental things, or if he employs the principles of another
vocation to his.

So, too with the church. So, too, with our faith.
I once spoke with former member of the little church in Texas I served, and
he said to me, “there is nothing about faith, about love, about family or
Christ that he did not first learn at that church.” The reason he said
that was because he felt the church had been faithful to its fundamental
tasks, and in times of crisis and trouble in his life, his faith
fundamentals were sound, and in those times he knew he could turn to the One
who is faithful in all ways.

God’s fundamentals. . . . , God loving, forgiving, ever-present . . . ever
pulling the world toward fulfillment. . . .

The tasks of the church are reverent worship which celebrates the promises
of God fulfilled in our lives, prayer, the celebration of the sacraments of
Holy Baptism and Holy Communion where our gathering and our forgiveness is
guaranteed, the proclamation of God’s word of grace and love, teaching the
principles of faith and the stories of God’s faithfulness, and sacrificial
service to each other and to the neighbor. Luther called them the marks
of the church, the fundamental expression of the church, prayer, the
sacraments, worship, ministry, service, teaching. To be the church we must
be faithful in these things, the basics, the small things. For, as Jesus
said , if you are faithful in small things, you are faithful in the larger.
No time better than now to understand that and hold on to it.

Like the character in our parable this morning, we are the stewards of these
great gifts. It is our calling, our responsibility, to bear the messages
of God’s grace and goodness and love to each other and to the world in all
circumstances. We are the stewards, the managers of these great gifts.
So it is ever our challenge to be strong in the fundamentals, to be faithful
in the basic things, to be anchored in the Word, the sacraments, the
sharing, and when we do that we can move forward with utter confidence and
unafraid, because not only are we the stewards of these gifts, we are the
recipients, so we know of what we speak. And if we stumble in our
faithfulness, we return to the basic understanding, the basic promise that
through our baptism God has claimed us and we will be drawn back again into
his fellowship. That is the real heart of our understanding.

We are always challenged to be strong in the fundamentals, to do what we
say.

There is a an adage that goes something like, “What you do speaks so loudly
I can’t hear what you say.” Or actions speak louder that words. Christ is
the perfect example. His action on the cross, and now the work of the
Spirit in our lives, in the church, in the world. So much of our response
to Christ is action, worship, prayer, service, compassion. So, if our
proclamation and our actions are not running on parallel lines we need to
return to our basics so that what we do an what we say get back into rhythm.
And we can’t get there by another vocation, another template. We can’t get
there by appropriating the voice of the culture. This is an admonition we
must remember clearly in these times; the church is the place where love
is proclaimed, where peace is sought, where justice, truly, is demanded.
The church is not the place for the call to arms, but to the lament of loss,
and the proclamation of the radical notion that in all things, God’s love
will shine through.

We hope for much in the church, that God’s will would be clear, that God’s
presence would be palpable. . . . that our children will be touched by the
Word and set upon a lifelong path of faithfulness, that we who face
difficulty in our lives would find strength in our faith and Christ’s
community, would find a place here where a place elsewhere is denied, that
our fellowship would grow in numbers and in understanding of God’s word, in
faithfulness because of our proclamation of God’s grace, that young and old,
men and women, all people would be one here and in the world. All of these
things are ours, we know that confidently, if the fundamentals of faith are
sound, are strong, are celebrated.

There’s a lot of bad news these days, but among the people of God, we know
that the good news, the gospel, is always nearby . . . undaunted by events,
in fact called out in their midst, seeking to heal and renew.

If the bad news is bearing and wearing on you, pray more. If you are not
loving your neighbor, take a chance, reach out. If you are carrying in
your heart old guilt and regret, set it before the cross with the confidence
that God will forgive such things. If you seek greater understanding of
God’s word, read the Bible, join one of the Sunday study groups, come to the
Bible study. And if there is joy and peace in your life, celebrate, give
thanks to God, share it. We all need that now. Just as they are the gifts
we receive, so too are they the gifts that we bear. We are the stewards of
this tradition, this promise, this hope. So it is our challenge, our
vocation, our job to bear them well. And in these times what an important
job it is.

Amen

Copyright (c) 2001 by Pastor Robert J. Rasmus