Sunday, October 6, 2013
Growing Up In Faith
The question which seems literally to jump out at us from today’s Scriptures is: what do the words “believe”, “trust”, “have faith” really mean to you and me? They’re words quite familiar in “church-ese”, but what meaning do they have, really, in your lives and mine?
We do “believing” every day. If it’s foggy when we rise, we believe hopefully that, sooner or later, the sun will burn off the fog and make it sunny. When we prepare to cross a street, once the light has turned red for oncoming traffic, and we see the “Walk” sign, we trust that we’ll be able to get across safely: why? Because we’re willing to trust in the fairness and in the good judgment of the drivers. When God, through the Word, tells you and me that we’re to love God and one another, we have faith that what God tells us is true. Why? Because God gave to us as proof the model of Jesus, who did that in his own life. The writer of 2 Timothy puts it this way: “...grace was given to us in Christ Jesus…[and] has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…”
Many centuries ago our sisters and brothers in the Church used a different phrase for the word believe: viz., to set one’s heart upon. The way you and I believe/trust/have faith is by setting our hearts on Jesus the Christ whom we know will do what he says, because he’s reliable; we can count on him. Another New Testament writer, the author of Hebrews describes it this way: to set one’s heart on Jesus means being sure of what you hope for, and being sure, even when you can’t see, because Jesus, God’s Word, says it’s so and has shown us that it is so. Our conviction is that Jesus will never mislead us.
The first reading from Habbakuk (1:1-4; 2:1-4) several times shows how unshakeable the prophet was in setting his heart on the God of Israel, knowing that, after crying out for help, sooner or later God would listen. He’s determined that, for his part, he’s to stand at his watchpost, as on a rampart, and keep attuned to what God will convey to him and to how God will guide him. Then he’ll make God’s vision as clear as he can to the other people of God, putting it, so to speak, on a sign big enough that even a runner racing by could see it and read it. And God’s vision, as the Collect intimates, is far more ambitious than anything we could ever think up: “...you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve…” Habbakuk stands on his statement: “...there is still a vision for the appointed time...it will surely come…”
The second reading from 2 Timothy (1:1-14) refers to Timothy’s “sincere faith”, acknowledging the important influence of his grandmother and mother who embodied that setting of the heart upon God. The writer, probably not Paul, refers to the gift of a “holy calling” to be a follower of Jesus, and emphasizes that that gift is given to us by God in the power and person of Christ Jesus, and that to set our hearts on Jesus will surely lead us to “life and immortality...”. The writer further attests that his own preaching, apostleship, and teaching is done in the power of his setting his heart on Christ: “...I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him…”
Finally, the apostles in Luke’s Gospel passage (17:5-10) voice what you and I surely cry out in our own hearts many times when faced with life’s challenges: “Increase our faith!” Jesus suggests that we don’t have to shoulder the whole burden ourselves, as we sometimes foolishly and mistakenly try to do. He says that it doesn’t take much: just faith about the size of a small mustard seed, and he will take care of all the rest. Our responsibility is simply to do what we’ve been asked to do, as God leads us: no more, no less. And we find a clue for precisely what that is in Psalm 37: notice that it says not once, but three times: “Do not fret.” “Trust in the Lord, and do good…”, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”, “Commit your way to the Lord, trust him, and he will act.”, “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him…”, “Refrain from anger…”
There’s a legend, passed down by the Cherokee, about an Indian youth’s initiation to become a grown-up. A father takes his young son into the forest. He blindfolds him and leaves him alone, sitting on a stump for the whole night. The boy isn’t allowed to remove the blindfold until he feels the rays of the morning sun shine through it. He is not to cry out for help to anyone. If he survives the night, he’ll be considered a grown-up. And he must then keep this experience secret from the other boys because each of them, too, must come into manhood on his own.
Naturally, the boy is terrified. All sorts of things are running through his mind. He can hear all kinds of noises, perhaps of wild animals, or of other things which could do him harm. The wind blows through the grass all around him., but he sits with determination, never removing the blindfold to peek. It’s the only way he can become a man!
Finally, after a long night he gradually feels the glorious warmth of the sun emerge and begin to beat down on his face. He removes the blindfold...and he discovers his father sitting there on a stump across from him. His father had been at watch the entire night, protecting his son from any possible harm.
We’re never alone. Even when we can’t see it or feel it, God is present, watching, protecting. We need only set our hearts upon God, trust the One Who loves us, have faith in the God who gives us “those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior…”