15th Sunday After Pentecost (Year C - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, September 5, 2010
I love to ride my bike, and only timing conspired to keep me from joining one of the Bethel Bike Hikes this summer. I’m looking forward to next summer when I can make a point of joining them for exercise and fellowship.
I love to ride my bike, but nothing like the guy on the front cover—riding a full-sized bike sideways off a jump. I prefer to keep both wheels on the ground, but I sure appreciate someone who can take a bike, launch it off a jump, land again, and keep riding. I’m not daring enough, but it’s pretty cool watching people who are that daring.
And helping that guy on the front cover do those tricks are some foot straps specially designed by a company in Brooklyn. They’re called Hold Fast. Hold Fast makes foot straps for these kinds of bikes—fixed gear, full-size trick bikes. On their Website they explain the birth of their company this way:
“We founded Hold Fast because we couldn't find any toe clips that could stand up to the rigors of fixed gear freestyle riding. After breaking countless clips and straps, we decided to design and make some ourselves. Only after many months of street testing by some of the best and burliest trick riders on the scene, did we feel that we had a product worthy of the name Hold Fast. We believe these to be the finest foot straps made.”
These foot straps are handmade in Brooklyn, and aside from their uses in all kinds of extreme biking, these foot straps make an excellent picture of what faith is.
As Moses says in today’s reading from Deuteronomy, “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.” Hold fast to the Lord.
Like a Velcro foot strap that keeps your foot in place when you’re flying through the air on your bike, faith holds us fast to the Lord no matter what kinds of jumps launch us into the air. It’s that Velcro strap that keeps you from flying off in all directions, from crash landing, from losing grip, from losing your ride, your bike. It’s that Velcro strap of faith that keeps you attached to the Lord, keeps you from crash landing because you lost your grip on God. In other words, the Velcro strap—the Hold Fast foot strap—that’s faith. You are the rider, and God is the bicycle.
Staying on the bicycle—that’s being a disciple of Jesus, that’s being a follower of Jesus, someone who hangs onto Him, someone who holds fast to His teachings, someone who doesn’t let go of Jesus even when you’re flying through the air, even when the landing looks like it’s going to be rough, even when life is throwing you in all sorts of directions, being a disciple of Jesus means staying on that bicycle. Like Moses said, “Choose life, and hold fast to the Lord.”
So you’re the rider, God is the bicycle, and faith is those Hold Fast foot straps keeping you on that bike. And life, unfortunately, throws you plenty of jumps and pitfalls and barriers and other things in your way. You’re holding fast to God through faith, and sometimes it seems like everything in your path is trying to throw you off.
What’s been trying to throw you off the bike lately? What’s been trying to get you to let go of God, because that’s really what Moses is talking about here. He’s talking about the choice between life and death, between truth and lie, between the true God and false gods. What’s tempting you to let go of God and choose something else to believe in? What might make you jump off that bike and choose something different?
I mean, God has promised that if you ride with Him, if you hold fast to Him, then you’ll have life, He’ll get you through the pitfalls, He’ll be your source for life and salvation, but really, what makes it hard to stay with Him? What tempts you to choose something else? What’s got you reaching down to undo those foot straps and get off that bike?
Perhaps you’re not sure if God’s really going to be able to get you through this time, you’ve been going through something pretty difficult, something you can hardly start talking about without crying or yelling or both, and you’re just not sure that God’s going to get you through. You hear all of this talk about people trusting in other things to get them through life, you know, celebrities and their psychics, self-help people and their books, spiritual people and their crystals, you hear all of this stuff, and you think to yourself, “Maybe I ought to try something like that. Maybe there’s another answer out there.” You find yourself reaching down towards those foot straps, thinking about getting rid of faith in Jesus and moving onto something else.
Perhaps you find yourself in that moment when you’ve just forgotten what it means to be strapped to your bike, why it’s important, why you need to have faith in God. You kind of go through each day without much thought about God, and you figure you’re doing alright by yourself. You kind of forget how much you need those straps to keep from crash landing. You notice your friends and coworkers and other people around you don’t seem to have those straps, don’t have that faith in Jesus, and at least from the outside, they seem to be doing alright. So you start to reach down and undo those straps, undo that faith, leave the bike behind and try doing it by yourself.
Whatever the reasons, we’ve all been there—whether it was years ago or just this week, we’ve all had those moments when we thought about undoing those straps, undoing that faith, getting off the bike and trying to go out on our own. We’ve had those moments, we’ve been there, we’ve been tempted, we’ve struck out on our own because we’re disappointed in God or because we think we can do it by ourselves, and when that happens, when we’re done with the Hold Fast foot straps, when we’re done with faith, well, then we’re in that place that Moses describes.
Moses says, “But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed.” And that’s a very big crash landing, my friends, a crash landing that leaves you broken and laying on the ground and wondering just how you’ll ever recover. It’s a crash landing that gets you questioning again just why you walked away from God in the first place.
I remember once in high school watching Oprah, and she had someone on the show talking about the power of crystals. You know, you rub a crystal, and supposedly it has power to heal and give you good energy and all of that. Well, I mean, I was a Christian, believed in Jesus, but high school is a tough place sometimes. I was needed a little extra encouragement, so I guess I thought I’d give it a shot. But I didn’t have a crystal, so I found a smooth rock that I had kept from a trip to Lake Superior. I figured it must have some power, too.
Well, I put that rock in my pocket, and the next day at school when I was getting worried, I’d reach into my pocket and hold onto that rock. I held fast to that rock.
And you know what? Nothing happened. Nothing good happened anyway, but boy, holding onto that rock kept me from holding onto Jesus. My faith was shaky, I was confused and wandering. That rock wasn’t helping me face the troubles of life. In fact, it just made me all that more nervous and scared as I walked down the halls of school. I was starting to undo the Hold Fast foot straps, leave the bike behind, starting to go out on my own.
As soon as I realized what I had done, I went back to God and realized He was the only One who could get me through the challenges of life, He was the only One who offered life and salvation, He was the only One who could support me in the scary days in those hallways.
And here’s how I picture how God got me back to Him: I’m standing, and God reaches out, picks me up, puts me on the bike, and closes those foot straps around my feet. He does it all. He brings me back to Him. He makes it so that I hold fast to Him. I had wandered away from Him; that’s my fault. And then I was back with God, and He gets all of the credit for that.
So before we get too far in thinking that maybe we supply the faith, that maybe we are the ones who do such a good job keeping our feet on the pedals, before we go thinking that we create the faith that keeps us connected to God, remember those Hold Fast straps are handmade in Brooklyn. And your faith was handmade, too—handmade by the Holy Spirit in the spiritual realm.
When Moses is talking about making that choice between death and life, when he is urging the people to choose life, to choose God, to make the choice to follow God’s commands and hold fast to Him, it can sound a lot like it’s up to the people, it’s up to us, it’s up to our actions to make sure we have life and faith in God.
But that would go against everything else we learn about God from other places in Scripture, places that teach us that being a disciple, being a believer in Jesus comes to us as a gift from God. Faith is a gift; faith is created by the Spirit in our hearts; we can’t boast because it’s not our action; we’re saved by Christ alone not by what we do.
So what is Moses saying? Doesn’t it sound like we are the ones who hold fast to God? Is the picture really of someone riding a bike and doing tricks without foot straps? Who needs Hold Fast? Who needs faith? We can do this by ourselves, right?
Well, it could sound that way if we don’t take everything Moses said into account. Faith could sound like our action if we don’t go back to verse 6 of chapter 30. There Moses says, “The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.”
In other words, the Lord will change, shape, convert your hearts, so that you may love God with all your heart and with all your soul. The Lord will create faith in your hearts. The Lord will cause us to believe. The Lord gets all of the credit for our faith in Him. Hold Fast foot straps are handmade in Brooklyn, and our faith is handmade in the spiritual realm, handmade by the Lord Himself.
When you find that you’re standing by yourself, when you’ve gotten off the bike, or just when you’ve found yourself thinking about undoing those foot straps, don’t set yourself up to think that it’s up to you to get back on the bike, it’s up to you to hold fast, it’s up to you to muster enough faith to get through another day.
No—remember that faith is a gift from God. Faith is God’s doing. Faith is what God does in our hearts by His Spirit. God works on your heart. God does what’s necessary in your heart so that you may love Him and obey Him and respond to Him with your life.
When you find that you’ve wandered away from the faith, instead of trying to bring yourself back, ask God to do it. Ask God to pick you up, put you back on the bike, and close those Hold Fast foot straps around your feet. Ask God to draw you back, bring you back to Himself, and give you faith in Him, a faith that holds fast to Him and His Gospel and His teachings.
So maybe you’ve crash landed because you thought you could do it by yourself. God forgives you, picks you up, and sets you riding again. So maybe you’ve been toying with trusting in some other kind of ride, some other kind of faith. God forgives you, draws you back to Himself, and straps your feet on the pedals again. So maybe you feel guilty for wanting to walk away from God. He forgives you through the cross of Jesus and gives you that faith that helps you trust and believe in that forgiveness. So maybe you feel like you’re flying through the air and there’s no way you can possibly land safely. God is the One who will hold you fast to Himself, hold you fast through faith in Him, will work in your heart by His Holy Spirit.
You are the rider, and God is the bicycle. And God has given you a handmade pair of Hold Fast foot straps, a handmade faith that keeps you with Him.