“Orchestra of Faith”

2 Peter 1:1-11

September 7, 2003

 

When I first arrived, I started a responsive saying with you during the Welcome and Announcements.  You know the one where I say, “The Lord be with you,” and you say, “And also with you.”  Just recently I started another responsive saying with you.  When I say, “God is good,” what is your reply?  “All the time!”  This responsive saying is not just a cute little thing we do.  It’s an important reminder about what we believe about God.  “God is good” are powerful words.  They are theological words. 

          I went to go see Mrs. Engleman the other day.  In a couple of days she is going to be 98 years old.  Do you know what she told me about God?  She said, “God is good.”  Now I know Mrs. Engleman.  I know that her 98 years have not always been so good, but even after 98 years of good times and bad, she is still able to confess that “God is good.” 

          One of our most important beliefs in the Reformed tradition says that God acts first and we act second.  We use big theological words like “sovereignty” or “prevenienance”, but all these words mean is that God acts first and we act second.  It is God who has called us before the foundations of the world.  It is God who has chosen us before we were even born.  It is God who has elected us for salvation through Jesus Christ.  It is God who acts first giving us the faith to act second in response to our call and election.  And the God we know in Jesus Christ is a good God.  There is no one more for us than God.  God is good, indeed.

          Our scripture reading for this morning reminds us of God’s goodness, and all that God has done for us through Christ.  Sometime when you get a chance, sit down with the Bible and read the letters in the New Testament.  It doesn’t matter which one, anyone will do.  There you will find the same thing – God comes first.  Before any mention of us, before any talk of faith, before any imperative of how to live, God is mentioned first.  This is what we must keep in mind as we read this text from 2 Peter, because everything we do is in response to God’s first action in our lives.

          For the last several weeks we have focused on faith, particularly that faith is more than just a belief, but is predominately about what we believe and how we live.  We say God acts first and we act second.  We don’t say God acts first, and we don’t act.  Our response of faith is important.  It is critical.  It is fundamental to salvation, but it is always second.

Perhaps John Calvin has the best definition of faith when he says that, “Faith is a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” (Calvin’s Institutes 3.2.7) 

For Calvin, faith was more than just a belief among other beliefs; it was a firm and certain knowledge of God’s love toward us, a knowledge that isn’t founded in some abstract human philosophy or religion, but rather a knowledge that has been made concrete, that has been firmly rooted in the truth of the promise of the gospel.  This most firm and certain knowledge isn’t something we just happen to pull out of thin air one day, it is freely given to us by God through grace, it is revealed to our minds so that we may know it and believe it with all certainty and conviction, and it is sealed upon our hearts so that we may never lose it.  It is this faith, which must be nurtured, strengthened, and supported.

          On a cold, wintry, January night, five of us climbed into the back of a mini-van and took off through the streets of Budapest to go to the Opera House to hear the Symphony Orchestra.  We all were a little uncomfortable about going, since we couldn’t speak Hungarian, and all of us were very much underdressed for the occasion.  But we went knowing that our host in Budapest had arranged for us to have free tickets and seats on the second row, and we didn’t want to offend him; plus it would give us a good taste of the Hungarian culture. 

          Upon arrival at the Opera House we got our tickets and programs and clambered down the aisle toward our seats.  The peering eyes of the people there told us right away that we didn’t have a clue what was going on, and they were right.  We were coming to watch an opera in a language that we didn’t know, and with programs that we couldn’t read. 

          Soon the lights dimmed and the musicians began to pour out on stage.  Each one taking his or her seat with instrument in hand.  It soon became evident to me that I didn’t need to speak Hungarian or read Hungarian to enjoy the evening.  Plus, with the lights out no one would see what I was wearing anyway. 

          I watched as the musicians began to prepare themselves for the concert.  The string musicians rosined their bows and began tuning their instruments.  The woodwind musicians started licking their reeds getting them wet as they worked the keys getting the instrument ready.  The brass musicians were also warming up their instruments by blowing big breaths of warm air to get their slides and levers working properly.  Then of course, there were the percussionists getting their sticks all laid out, tuning their tympani drums, and taking the covers off the xylophones.  Soon all the musicians began to randomly play their instruments as they prepared their mouths, fingers, wrists and arms for the concert.  But it wasn’t music, only a hodgepodge of sound with no discernable pattern or beat.

          Then the conductor came out, bowed to the crowd, and then turned toward the musicians, who at the tap of his wand on the music stand stopped playing until all was quiet.  After a moment’s pause, the conductor’s arms shot in the air, and the whole orchestra erupted in a glorious harmony of music.  And it doesn’t matter if you’re in Hungary or America; music has a way of moving your soul.

          I couldn’t help but sit there and think about my own days of playing in the orchestra, especially as I watched the percussionists.  As an old percussionists myself, I remembered what it was like to play in the band and orchestra, the hours of preparation and practice, the hours of going over the music again and again until we got it just right, until all of us could join together in a glorious harmony of music, each musician and instrument adding support to the whole orchestra.

In our scripture for today, Peter’s words about faith reminded me a lot of when I played percussion in the orchestra.  It reminded me how most of the time, each instrument would practice their own music to learn their own part.  We would go over our music again and again until we could play our part without even thinking about it, until it became natural for us.  But it was only our part of the whole orchestra.  The only music we knew was our own music that we played.  It wasn’t until the whole orchestra got together that we could hear how each instrument supported the other and how only together we could know how the music was supposed to sound.  In many ways, faith is just like this, only one part of the whole of gift of grace, but a very big part to be sure.     

We must never forget that by grace and grace alone we are saved through faith.  Faith is fundamental.  Faith does matter because it is a part of the wonderful goodness of God’s grace.  It is the melody of the symphony of salvation, but it must also be supported, because God did not call us to have idle faith, but effective and fruitful faith. 

The one who has given us this most firm and certain knowledge, which we call faith, is the same one who calls us to action through our faith.  Martin Luther says it best when he said that “true, living faith, which the Holy Spirit instills into the heart, simply cannot be idle.”  It’s the difference between having faith and having faith that saves.  Faith is to be enacted in our daily lives, continually at work in everything we do and say; in every way that God has called us to be as God’s people.  We are a people who have been given faith, because we have been called and elected to be God’s people of faith in the world.

There is much to be said about the outworking of our faith – the tangible, concrete ways in which faith is to be manifested and enacted in our daily living, and there is also much to be said about faith and works being two sides of the same coin.  We certainly would be remised if we were to forget the Biblical mandate that faith and works must go together.  William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, once said, “Faith and works should travel side by side, step answering to step, like the legs of men walking. First faith, and then works; and then faith again, and then works again -- until they can scarcely distinguish which is the one and which is the other. (The Founder's Messages to Soldiers, Christianity Today, October 5, 1992, p. 48)

Our faith must be supported by the other gifts of grace: goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection, and love.  All of these must be done for us to be truly effective and fruitful in our lives.  All of these must be done for our orchestra of faith to be able to play and know how the symphony of salvation sounds.  These are the things we must do over and over again until we don’t even think about them, until we are able to do it naturally. 

We learn best by doing; by doing these Christian acts over and over again.  It is this doing over and over again which helps us know with all certainty and conviction our own call and election.  For when we do these things, we will be assured that not only will be living the life that is pleasing to God, a life that God has called us to live, a life that God has given us everything we need, but also that our orchestra of faith will be fully playing the symphony of salvation for the whole world to hear.  Amen.