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2018.11.25:Passing the Test of Faith

Preached at First Presbyterian Church, East Aurora, November 25, 2018, by Langdon “Buddy” Hubbard

Passing the Test of Faith 

John 18:33-37; Psalm 95:1-11

2 Corinthians 13:1-13


            I was having lunch with one of our college students this week and he was telling me about the stresses of college, the papers, assignments, and tests.  My mind flashed back to my own college and graduate school days.  All I can say is, I loved those days, but I never want to go back.  They were some of the most stressful days of my life.  But it was that stress that pushed me to better myself, to grow and achieve.  If I hadn’t been tested I would never have matured and grown.  Testing can be a good thing, if we don’t want to stay the same but want to grow in our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual lives, into our best self.


            And so now that school is over for me, the testing is over and done, right?  Hardly.  Life itself is a test, constantly, as we are confronted with choices every day of our life, as to whether or not we will remain true to ourselves and our values, to our loved ones and neighbors, and ultimately to God. 


            In our passage in 2 Corinthians Paul is preparing them for a third visit with the Christian Church in Corinth, and things have been contentious.  There are people who have been testy with Paul, claiming he isn’t everything he’s cracked up to be.  Paul admits his weaknesses; we all have them.  But just as Christ was weak in his body that gave way to crucifixion, and yet was powerful in resurrection, we too are weak in bodies, but powerful in our lives, if, that is, Christ is in us and his resurrection power is alive within us.  Paul says, Christ works powerfully in you, “For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God.”  And so may we.


            But there is a question mark for them, and maybe for us.  They don’t act as if the resurrected Christ is living in them.  Their judgments of Paul and others need a corrective.  Before we go and judge others, we need to begin with ourselves.


            And so Paul says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith.  Test yourselves.  Do you not realize that Jesus Christ in you? – unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test!”  Paul hopes that they will pass this test.  He’s really not overly concerned about what they think of him; his real concern is what they think about Jesus, and whether or not they will stay true.  That’s true for most of us pastors.


            So he prays for them.  “We pray to God that you may not do anything wrong…that you may do what is right” even if you think we have failed.  We want your success in this test.  We want you to be close to Christ.  We are telling you the truth so that you will find your way.  And even if you go stronger than us in faith, then praise God.  We want you to be perfect in every way, that is, complete in everything God wants you to be.  By all means, surpass us in the things of faith.  That would be for us success.


            Paul sounds like a parent, doesn’t he?  Prodding his children along, guiding them in the truth, trying to show them what is good, encouraging them to be their best selves.  And then when they actually grow up and their lives take off in ways his life never could, he doesn’t resent it, but receives great joy from it.  Yes, my children are soaring!  Fly, children, fly!


            One of the ways Jan and I have tried to help our children grow in their faith from the time they were really young, was to end each day at bedtime with a question:  Where did you see God today?  It is the classic spiritual question that spiritual guides and directors ask spiritual seekers as the central question of life.  It is a way of paying attention to God’s living presence in us and around us.  When they were little they would see God in nature, in love and kindness shown, in forgiveness, in loving embraces.  Yesterday at our big family breakfast, Jan asked us all this question again: “Where have you seen God this week?”  Many of our responses had to do with seeing God in each other in our family’s closeness and warm love.  Yes, we have seen God this week.  God is always present where there is love.  It is a great question to ask yourself and those you love.  It is a great way to stay alert to God’s presence among us and within us. “Where do you see God?”


            In a similar way, Paul asks the Corinthian Christians to examine themselves before they judge others.  Look within.  Test yourself.  Ask yourself the hard questions.  How are you truly doing in life?  How close to God are you staying?  How well are you loving your neighbor?  How well are you loving yourself?  Loving our selves and others is all part of answering the fundamental question:  how well are you loving God?  Does God have your attention, your heart, your mind, your will?  On this Christ the King Sunday, we may ask, is Jesus Lord of your life in every way?  Does Jesus take priority in your life above all other people and things?  When he does, that is when we live and love the best of all, because he will lead us into his heart which is perfect love.  Are you taking the time for Jesus to grow deep within you?  Is your heart even open for him to live his life in you? 


            These are all important questions.  There are the test questions Paul is hoping we will answer when we examine ourselves to see if we are living in the faith. 


            A few years ago, I wrote a piece for the church on the prayer of Examen, or spiritual examination, an ancient way of asking these important questions of faith.  I have given you a copy this morning to take with you.  Here is what the prayer of Examen is all about.


            “The unexamined life is not worth living,” the Greek philosopher Socrates said at his trial for heresy.  Scott Peck, known best for his book, The Road Less Traveled, once said in another work that the lack of consciousness is at the root of incivility in society.  We simply hurt others and ourselves unconsciously when we don’t take the time to examine our lives, our motivations, and our actions.  We are also more likely to continue in unconscious habits and patterns when we don’t spend some time each day in self-examination.


            As a way of rectifying this situation, nearly five hundred years ago, Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, called Christians to engage in the daily practice of “The Prayer of Examen.”  This practice was simply Ignatius’ practical way of following the call of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith.  Test yourselves.”  Or as the Psalmist prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.  See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)


            There are a variety of ways you can pray the prayer of examen, but a few elements are usually included:

1. Begin by remembering you are always in the presence of God who is love.  The examination of your life is not for the purpose of producing guilt and shame, but is an opportunity to enter more fully into God’s loving presence, to experience God’s love and forgiveness, and to live a fuller and freer life.  It is to open yourself up to truth, for as Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  (John 8:32)


2.  Take a look at your day with a heart of gratitude.  Pay attention to the things that brought you joy, the gifts of others as well as the gifts you were able to give, the beauty of God’s creation, the joy of loving relationships, all the things that make you want to say, “Thank you!”


3.  With a prayer for God’s Spirit to guide you with honesty and transparency, now review your day in terms of your actions, attitudes, and motives.  It is helpful to ask yourself a variety of questions such as:

* how have I worked with or against God today?

* when was my mind divided, and when was it single?

* when did I feel most alive, and when did I feel drained?

* when was I most free, and when did I feel like a slave?

* how well did I listen to myself, to God, and others?

* how did I love, and how was I loved today?


4. Decide with Jesus how you will respond to what you have learned about yourself.  What changes do you need to make in your behavior?  What attitudes do you need to keep in check?  What motives need to be reckoned with?  But also, what gratitude do you have to give?  Offer yourself to God just as you are, welcoming Christ’s love, forgiveness, healing, and help toward becoming a more whole person.


            These are some basic guidelines of how you might pray the prayer of examen.  You can pray this prayer anywhere or anytime, at the beginning of the day, in the middle, or at the end.  You might like to use a journal to record your reflections.  The key is to come to God open and ready to grow, and to be healed and made whole.  The prayer of examen is an invitation to become yourself most completely, the person God made you in love to be. 


            The call to examine yourself to see whether you are living in the faith is a spiritual test.  Is Jesus living in you, or not?  Paul’s prayer for them and for us is that we will pass this test, that we will live with hearts open to Jesus Christ to live in us, that we may do what is right, promote the truth, and be built up in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, that is, an intimate personal relationship with God filled with the Holy Spirit, both within yourself and in our  faith community.  We will know that we have passed that test, Paul says, by the love we show to each other, and the peace we find in our community together.


            So how are you doing?  Have you passed the test of faith?  Examine yourself and see if Christ is indeed living in you.  You will be glad you did.  There is nothing better than growing closer to God.


            May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.