Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost - Year C
August 12, 2007
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost - Year C
August 12, 2007
Let us pray: O God, may the words that I speak and the thoughts and actions that these words inspire be faithful to you and may they tell of your glory. Amen.
It was a thoroughly modern conversation. I cannot imagine it happening even a couple of years ago. There we were sitting around the table at the reception after the wedding of Coral and Steve. Our friend Bob was across the table from me, and sometime during the meal he looked over at me and said, “Peter, you are up on the internet, have you heard the name Paul Potts?”. I hadn’t, so Bob gave me a quick summary of Paul Potts.
Has anyone here heard of him? I’m sure if you haven’t you’ll want to do some of your own research, after hearing what I have to say about him. That’s what I did this week, once a quick email to Bob cleared up the spelling of Paul Potts name. I must admit when I first heard it, I thought we were talking about a former Cambodian dictator.
A British equivalent to the American Idol program is called Britain’s Got Talent. In one of the early qualifying shows, Paul Potts, an unassuming cell phone salesman walked shyly out on stage and told the panel he was going to sing opera. This is all recorded on YouTube, so you can see the performance for yourself. The three judges including the surly Simon Cowell who is also featured on American Idol were all watching with half an interest, obviously not expecting much from this small, some might even say strange looking man. Then he began to sing. The piece was Nessun Dorma, and he was barely into it when the crowd started to cheer. As he continued, the crowd got louder with their clapping and their cheering and he finished to a standing ovation from not only the gathered crowd, but the three judges as well. To make a long story short, Paul Potts went on to become the ultimate winner. He was signed to a recording contract by the very same Simon Cowell. Paul Potts has a great voice, but the real magic about him, and the thing that captured the imagination of the British public and now the world is the rags to riches story. This man had sung opera in a couple of amateur productions. He had paid for his own lessons. He was not a professional in any way, and he was incredibly shy but when he opens his mouth to sing something magical happens. He attributes some of his shyness to having been bullied when he was young. You can read about him in many different places on the internet. There is a Paul Potts web site and wikipedia has an article about him - all since sometime in June of this year.
I would not be telling you this story except for the fact that in one of the youtube videos, we see Paul Potts being interviewed after his winning performance. During the interview he says this “I should have more faith in myself, and I’m working on that...” It seems something of an incredible statement. He has just sung for a national audience that probably numbered in the millions if you consider everyone watching the show that night, and for probably the sixth or seventh time. He is the subject of a national craze by fans who wanted him to win - not the least reason being the rags to riches, shy and humble underdog aspect of the story, and yet he still expresses the feeling that he needs to work on achieving faith in himself.
Faith is the subject of this week’s worship service. It was the subject three weeks ago when I put the service together - long before I had ever heard of Paul Potts.
Faith, according to the writer of Hebrews is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. According to Isaiah, faith is not religion. In fact, Isaiah suggests that religious practices are almost the opposite of faith, at least if they become a facade - something meant to portray one thing while a quite opposite response is being lived out. According to Isaiah, this is what “living out” should be: “Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.” The gospel of Luke puts it this way when Jesus says, “The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.”
But that is works, not faith. The letter writer James might be satisfied with that, but Paul might have a few issues with it. It seems however, that whenever we talk about faith, works come up. It’s a symbiotic relationship - faith begets works - you can’t be a person of faith without wanting to share that faith by living it out in the world - by demonstrating the love of God, the compassion of God, the presence of God through our own actions. I would also like to assert that works beget faith - you can’t go about doing good works without developing a healthy trust in God that your actions will bear fruit and will be spun into something bigger than they are by their self.
I did some internet searching this week on the subject of faith just to see what others had to say about it. At first I was discouraged by the number of references to faith that came up about faith in oneself. It seems that a lot of people have made profound statements about the importance of building or having faith in oneself, seemingly to the exclusion of all other kinds. Just like the quote I gave you from Paul Potts a few moments ago - where he said he was working on developing faith in himself, it seems a common quest in today’s world. I wondered what that had to say about faith in God, and whether we have given up on anything greater than having faith in ourselves. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that faith in oneself is about faith in God - as long as we remember that we are God’s unique creations - that when we love ourselves, when we trust ourselves, then we are also putting our faith in God who made us. Jesus gave us the commandment “Love your neighbour, as yourself” - a useful summary of the directions I mentioned from Isaiah a few moments ago, but with the helpful addition of loving ourselves.
I began today by telling you about the thoroughly modern conversation that occurred around the dinner table last Saturday at the wedding reception. Bob mentioned the name of Paul Potts. I countered with my own YouTube reference. I’ve shared it already with some members of the United Church congregation, but next week I promise to show you and tell you a story that for me is a real life example of works begetting faith and loving others as we love ourselves. Stay tuned....