The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22C)
2 October 2016
Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve: Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy, forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Habakkuk 1:1-6 (7-11) 12-13; 2:1-4
2 Timothy 1:6-14
Today’s readings address fundamental problems with, and questions about the notion of faith. Pondered thousands of years ago, they remain questions that people still ask today, especially as we struggle with accepting the existence and power of God. And we need to ask and consider them. This is one of the great things about our tradition, we allow for this kind of questioning, we encourage it.
In Habakkuk we hear, “... why dost thou look on faithless men, and art silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” Why does God do nothing in the face of evil or disaster? Why does God let people do bad things? Why do people without faith get away with bad things and good people are hurt in the process? If there were really a God, why would God allow these things to happen? These are powerful and important questions and, I am afraid, the response in this text, while definitive, does not tell us much: “.... And the Lord answered me: ‘.... Behold, he whose soul is not upright in him shall fail, but the righteous shall live by his faith.’” That’s good to hear, but how will that work. An easy reply would be simply that we need more faith.
In reality, however, this answer is not good enough. The first question we need to ask is what is faith? Faith is one of those terms we hear thrown about all the time. We use it as a synonym for religion, for example when we say “the Christian Faith.” We talk about faith as the belief in the existence of someone or something. We talk about faith as something we have or want or lack, as if it were something external to ourselves and our relationships, a thing to possess. Each of these ways of using the term, while achingly familiar, seems to miss the fundamental point. Faith is trust. Faith is born of relationship and knowledge. We can not have faith in something or someone we do not already know. As I have said on many occasions, faith is not believing in the unbelievable, simply accepting a proposition or a narrative as true because we just want to or because someone tells us to. Faith is knowledge, gained through experience and relationship, that something or someone can be trusted.
The Christian faith is experienced and lived in community. It is met at the door of the church, heard in the chants and melodies we sing, tasted in the Eucharist we share. It is seen in the faces and actions of others who share their experience of the very Love of God with us. It is the knowledge, despite all the bad things that happen in the world, that Love is actually stronger than death and that Love wins. Faith requires freedom because ultimately, God does not micromanage creation. God has given us the gift of freedom to make choices and often times people make bad ones and sins are those things we do or fail to do by misusing our freedom. God gives us real freedom so that we can truly Love, partake of Divine Love. Without freedom Love is not real, it isn’t Love, it is something else. Sin is a consequence of the reality of that freedom. If we were not truly free, then we could not truly Love. Since freedom is real, then there is always the possibility to choose not to love. When we make choices that turn away from love and serve only our narrow self-interest, then we sin. Sins are our unloving choices, especially choices that hurt others and hurt the creation that sustains us and that is the plane on which the story of life and Love take place.
Faith is our participation in a living relationship with Love itself. Those who live in this relationship, who live in community with others who share that relationship with each other and with God are stronger than those who simply pursue their own ends and misuse their freedom. Faith is not simply something that we have or do not have, it isn’t something we just ask for more of like second helpings. “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, “Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.’” It is ironic that the apostles ask for more faith, because it is something they actually already have in abundance, a real living relationship with Jesus. They think it is something else, something external, something they don’t have. Jesus tells them that faith, relationship with God, with Love, is something so powerful that with it they can accomplish anything.
We who have not had the privilege of meeting Jesus in the flesh are, none the less, people of faith. We come to this place, to this community because we have already been transformed. We have a relationship with God in Christ and with one another and seek to nourish it here so we can go out into the world and be agents of that faith for others. We can be the bearers of that relationship with God, God’s presence in the world and help people know and see and feel that God and God’s very love are here and close and real. Faith is something into which we enter when we are touched by Love and moved to seek it. Show forth your faith into the world and let it shine, show your trust and relationship with Love as you live and move and breath in the heart of this city.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
Remegius, Bishop of Reims, 1 October 2016
© 2016 Andrew Charles Blume