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Worship and Sermons
Oct. 16, 2016


"Unfashionable Faithfulness in a Time of Fashionable Faithlessness" By the Rev. Don Wahlig

Year C / 22nd Sunday after Pentecost – Genesis 32:22-31 and Psalm 121  •  2 Timothy 3:14-4:5  •  Luke 18:1-8

THEME:  Persevere in faithfulness even when it’s out of season, by persisting in prayer.


        Does anyone here subscribe to Vogue Magazine?  I’ve never really been a fan of Vogue, but then again I’ve never been a huge fan of high fashion.  And High Fashion – or Haut Couture, as the French say – is what Vogue is really all about.

        What’s interesting to me is how Vogue has documented fashion trends over the decades since it was founded in the 1890s.  Back then, the fashion was for Corsets, full skirts and huge hats.  Then it became loose, shapeless dresses of the Flappers in the ‘20s, and then military-inspired dresses with square shoulders in the 30s and 40s. 

        Then came Christian Dior’s soft, flowing calf-length dresses that Sophia Loren or Grace Kelly wore in the 1950s. Sadly, this “New Look”, as it was called, eventually gave way to the flower power styles of the 60s.  Anyone out there still own a pair of bell-bottom jeans?  Mini-skirts?

        In the 1970s, the fashionable woman was wearing polyester hot pants while the fashionably-dressed man did his best to look like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. 

        In the ‘80s, when fashion was all about MTv, it meant dressing like Madonna or Michael Jackson; or those guys on Miami Vice.  Then came the ‘90s and grunge was in – flannel shirts and torn jeans.

        Since the turn of the century, it’s all become a bit vague and eclectic.  Fashion is wearing recycled styles with futuristic twists. Oh, and skinny jeans – I forgot skinny jeans. 

        This brief stroll through the styles of the last century is a reminder that when it comes to what people find fashionable, the only constant is change.  While some people are content with tried and true classics, many others have an insatiable appetite for anything new and different.

        The same holds true when it come to ideas.  Intellectual fashions go in and out of style almost as quickly as clothing.  The last 200 years have seen Enlightenment, Romanticism, Nationalism, Liberalism, Realism, Idealism, Positivism, Materialism, Modernism and Post-modernism.  Phew – that’s a lot of ‘-ism’s for a couple hundred years.

        As you might expect, people are almost as quick to latch onto new religious fads as they are to new clothing fashions.  By some estimates, over the last two centuries over 250 new and distinct religious movements have been started, most in America.  

        Some are legitimate off-shoots of the world’s primary religious traditions, but many are completely off the reservation:  the Aetherius Society – a UFO-Christian sect; or the Amica Temple of Radiance – a branch of Theosophy, whatever that is.  Then there’s the Church of All Worlds, except the only worlds it seems to encompass are witchcraft and neo-paganism.

        Religious fads also exist within mainstream Christianity.  The next time you listen to Joel Osteen preach you’ll hear one of those fads.   It’s called the prosperity gospel – and it bears very little resemblance to the true message of self-giving and sacrificing for others that Jesus brought us.  

        In addition to being attracted to all manner of religious fads, a growing number of Americans no longer adhere to any religious tradition.  You probably remember the news reports last year about results of research conducted by the Pew Foundation.

        They studied the religious affiliation of Americans from 2007 to 2014.  Over that 7-year span, the percentage of Americans who consider themselves Christians fell from 78% to 71%.  The drop was comprised of lapsed Catholics and Protestants. 

        In all these facts and figures, one thing is abundantly clear:  we are living in an age much like the one Paul warned Timothy about.

        He wrote, “the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires.”  That time is here.  Just as Paul predicted, there are many who’ve wandered away from the truth in pursuit of myths.

        This is a hard reality for those of us in the church.  There was a time that some of us here can recall when this trend was running in the other direction.

        In the 1950s and early 60s, religious and denominational affiliation in this country were at their high points.  More than half the population was in church on any given Sunday morning.  Churches were being built in every suburb and city.  We needed them: not only was the population growing quickly, church membership was growing even faster.

        This was the age of civil religion.  President Eisenhower worshipped at the National Presbyterian Cathedral a short drive north of the White House and became the only President to be baptized in office.

        He began a crusade to involve religious values in public life.  This was when the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of allegiance and “In God we trust” was printed on our currency.  To use Paul’s language, it was a favorable time for the gospel.  You might say it was even fashionable.  

        It’s quite the opposite today.  Believing, teaching and proclaiming the Word – as Paul exhorts Timothy to do – is about as fashionable in this age as wearing a hooped skirt or a zoot suit to go shopping at Wegmans.  Especially among younger Millennials, faithlessness is very much in vogue.

        To be honest, it’s a bit discouraging, isn’t it?  Especially for those of us who experienced the boom times of American Christianity in the 50s and 60s. 

        We need to remind ourselves that those days were not the norm.  They were the exception.  For the entirety of our nation’s history prior to 1900, Christians – or people of any religious faith, for that matter - were in the minority.  That was the norm.  We are simply reverting to it.

        That’s also how it was in the days of the early church when our scripture passages were written.  That’s why Paul’s encouraging words to Timothy and Jesus’ parable are words we need to hear. 

        They boil down to one simple thing:  Don’t lose heart; persist in being faithful.

       It starts by remembering we can rely on scripture. God inspired scripture, so we can trust the promises he makes to us there.  It teaches us, it corrects us.  It trains us in righteousness, which is another way of saying being faithful in God’s eyes.  It also equips us to live out the faith in our daily lives.

       Remember where we first learned that faith.  For most of us here, we learned it from our parents and grandparents. The same was true for Timothy.  That’s important.  Our faith, like his, was transmitted to us by those who also kept the faith through tough times, when it was difficult to remain a believer.

       In my case, my mother and father taught me how to be a Christian.  They were both nurtured in the faith during the depression.  They learned how to follow Jesus by going to church and watching their parents – my grandparents who had also lived through times when Christianity was unfashionable:  the shock and spiritual despair of WWI and then the wealthy malaise of the 20s.

       Now it’s our turn.  You and I need to persist in the faith in these times when people are less and less open to it.  As Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice, taught him the faith, so do you and I teach our children and grandchildren the faith by the way we persist in living it, when it’s in fashion or not.

       That’s sometimes where we hit a bump in the road.  The reality is that some of them do embrace the faith – and some don’t.  For many of us, that’s the hardest part of all:  knowing that people we love don’t seem to share the faith that sustains us, despite our example and our prayers.

        So, what then – what do we do?

        What’s left to us is simply to keep on praying.  As Jesus tells his disciples, we are not to lose heart.  We just keep on badgering God with our petitions. 

        We don’t know how or when God will answer them, but Jesus assures us he will.  That doesn’t mean that God will automatically give us what we ask, but rest assured he will give us what we need.

        Many of you know Steve Harvey, the host of several hit radio and TV shows including Family Feud. He describes what it’s like to be the beneficiary of that kind of constant prayer. 

        In his earlier days, he strayed far away from the faith before returning to it in later years.  He says, “My mother was a Sunday school teacher.  So I am a byproduct of prayer.  My mom just kept on praying for her son.”

        Somewhere along the line, someone did that for each of us.  In all likelihood, someone’s praying for us right now. 

        That’s what you and I need to do for those we care about:  Persevere in faith, and persist in prayer. 

        You can’t have one without the other.  As Martin Luther said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”

        Whether it’s fashionable or not, whether it’s in season or out – let’s keep nurturing our faith – and the faith of those around us – by pestering God with prayer.

        May it be so.

Last Published: July 3, 2017 11:24 AM
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