The Power of a Simple Faith - Rev. Louis Timberlake

“The Power of a Simple Faith”
1 Kings 18:20-39
Louis Timberlake
May 30, 2016

It is great to be with you this morning. I’ve met some of you, but not all of you. I’m Louis Timberlake, Executive Pastor at Christ Church. All that basically means is that I spend a great deal of my time on the nuts and bolts of church operations. It’s my job to make sure that everything is running smoothly so that our staff and lay leaders are able to thrive in ministry. With that, I also participate in worship leadership, preaching, and our ministry with young adults. And, truly, helping the church to connect with younger generations is one of my greatest passions.

On a more personal note–I’m a Georgia boy, born and raised in Atlanta and Athens. NC became my home when I came up here to attend Davidson College. Of course, most people outside of NC had never heard of Davidson until one of my classmates, Stephen Curry, took us to the Elite 8 in the 2008 NCAA Tournament. So, my claim to fame is that I had an Accounting class with the reigning MVP of the NBA. Of course, I’m pretty sure he has people that do his accounting for him now. Anyways, I had such a great time at Davidson that I decided to stick around in NC. I married my high school sweetheart, Kate, who is also a Davidson grad and a medical student at Wake Forest. And, we have an 11-month-old son, Felder. So, you’ll have to excuse me if I seem a little sleep deprived this morning. I had to stay up past midnight to watch Steph and the Warriors in game six of the Western Conference Finals and then turn around and get up early with a baby. I’m sure that none of you have ever lost sleep because of basketball or kids.

Anyways, that’s enough of an introduction. Mark told me that y’all typically have sermons in the 12-15 minute range and, if I’m not careful, I have the tendency to go a bit longer than that. But, I promised Mark that you would all still be here next week, so I should probably get on with it.

You know, I’ve been trying to make it out to St Tim’s for a while now, but the nature of my job means I’m usually pretty tied up on Sundays. So, I’m happy to finally get a chance to worship with you! From all that I hear about you and the few interactions I’ve had with you, I know this to be a faithful, loving community of disciples. 

There is substance here.

I think that we can lose sight of that in the church, at times. It’s easy, in the name of growth or relevance, to trade substance for flash. It’s easy to get so caught up in the latest, greatest strategy or model of church that we get away from the core of what it means to follow Christ.

I was talking about this with our Youth Director the other day. What has made the youth ministry at Christ Church so strong for so long under Susan Norman Vickers and, now, Katey Blaylock, is that substance has been prioritized over flash. And, that’s how it was in my high school youth group in Athens, GA. We didn’t have the best curriculum, the flashiest youth space, or the latest technology. But, we had people who cared about us and who sacrificed their time to show us what it meant to follow Christ. Without the love and attention of those committed, good people, I would not be here today.

You know, I’m fascinated by this passage from 1 Kings. Just to give you a little backstory, Israel had been in the midst of a drought. The King, Ahab, blamed Elijah for it. Elijah blamed Ahab and the rest of the people, who had decided to worship Baal, another god, instead of the Lord. Interestingly, some scholars think that this Baal was a storm god. So, if you put yourself in their shoes, at least they’re turning to a storm god for help with rain, rather than, say, a god of rocks or dirt. But, Elijah claims that they have drifted away from the one true God. They’ve lost sight of their identity as the People of the one God, hence their problems.

This is a pretty common story in scripture and, I believe, in the church. The people of God have a tendency, at times, to lose sight of what it means to be faithful to God. It’s interesting in this story to see the difference in the rituals of the prophets of Baal and Elijah. Four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, shouting, dancing, and it says that they even harmed themselves as a part of the ritual. They did this for hours upon hours. It’s a spectacle. It gets people’s attention. But, nothing happens. It’s all show; there’s no substance.

But, then Elijah gets up. One guy. He doesn’t make a lot of noise. He doesn’t start waving his arms. Instead, he picks up some stones and rebuilds an altar. An altar that had once stood there, back when people remembered what it meant to be the People of God. Twelve stones, reminding people of the twelve sons of Jacob, also called Israel. The twelve sons that became the twelve tribes of Israel. This is an altar of remembrance.

Then, he tells the people, “come closer to me.” Come closer and look, remember who you are. Remember the one who spoke to your ancestor Abraham, who spoke to Moses and brought our people out of captivity. Who has promised to make you a great people, to use you to impact the world. Come closer and remember your God.

And then, after pouring so much water on the offering that a blowtorch couldn’t catch it on fire, he prays to God. He prays, “God, remind the people who you are and help them remember who they are.”

And the fire comes.

With Elijah, there is no flash. It’s all about substance.

Some of you may have followed the recent General Conference of the United Methodist Church. 864 delegates from around the world gathered a couple of weeks ago in Portland, OR to shape the future of the United Methodist Church. Now, if you followed it, you know that, in many ways, we did not present our best selves. We fell into divisive politicking and unhealthy ways of expressing our disagreements. But, there were some true bright spots.

One of those was the Young People’s Address, where the younger generations were invited to address the entire church. Chelsea, a young woman from Michigan and, Peter, a young man from the Democratic Republic of Congo spoke to the worldwide United Methodist Church, together, about their hopes for the church. It was powerful. They spoke about where they saw vitality and opportunity for the future. And, they did so by seeking to remind the church of its fundamental identity. In the midst of the distractions, the challenges, and the tensions, they preached the core of who we as as followers of Christ. They preached substance. I love what Chelsea said towards the end of their message. She said,

Together, as one body, God gives us an opportunity. An opportunity to make disciples for the transformation of the world! It is time to take that opportunity, to give thanks to God who shows us love and grace when we do not deserve it, and to go into the world, to transform it.”

Throughout scripture and throughout history, we’ve needed reminders. The people of God have needed reminders. There is so much that distracts us. We worry about buildings. We worry about debt. We worry about how our programs stack up against the church down the road. We worry about having the latest and the greatest. We worry about our future. And yet, time and time again, God call us to remember who we are, to remember the substance of our faith, to remember that, when it comes down to it, we are the people called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It bears repeating. We are the people called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Our attention to the substance of our faith determines our vitality. There is power in the substance of our faith. In the simplicity of it. Make disciples. Transform the world.

From what I’ve heard of St Tim’s, this is a church that, from the beginning, has prioritized substance over flash. This is a community of faithful, committed disciples. And, I’m so excited about the partnership between St Tim’s and Christ Church. And, I wonder, where is God calling us together to use this partnership to do something powerful? How is God calling us to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? May we consider that question prayerfully and faithfully. May it shape our lives and our ministry. And, may we heed Chelsea’s words:

Together, as one body, God gives us an opportunity. An opportunity to make disciples for the transformation of the world! It is time to take that opportunity, to give thanks to God who shows us love and grace when we do not deserve it, and to go into the world, to transform it.”

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.