Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Devotion - Wednesday, August 31

The appointed lesson for today is Acts 10:1-16.  As I read it, I was taken back to the discussion which ended last night's bible study.  We were discussing whether those who do not speak the so-called "sinner's prayer" might still be considered a recipient of salvation.  One bible study participant spoke of a father who does all that one would look for in a Christian, but he has made no personal profession of faith.

Acts 10 is the story of Cornelius and Peter.  Peter, as a devout Jew, had little sympathy for Gentiles.  Cornelius, though a Gentile, was a devout man who feared God.  In a dramatic fashion, God brings these two men together, exposing and insisting that Peter's thinking be changed.

It is appropriate to question whether the story in Acts 10 applies to our stance toward folks who do good but have not made a profession of faith.  Does the story in Acts 10 relate to often spoken condemnations of modern day Jews, or Muslims, or Hindus?  

Do not accept what I am about to say without asking these questions.  

But it seems to me that the application of Acts 10 in our lives may be to stop the condemnation of others and expand our understand of those for whom God cares.  Let us be a voice in contemporary Christianity which repeats the words God speaks to Peter in Acts 10 - "What God has made clean, you must not call profane."

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Devotion - Tuesday, August 30

Every Christian needs to know well the concerns raised in John 6:60-71.  Because of Jesus' words (Jesus' honest words) many start to fall away.  They are not sure they will be able to endure the harness which comes with following.

A follower of Jesus discovers that the deepest joy in ours when we lose ourselves in him.  A follower of Jesus realizes that always putting ourselves forward is exhausting and totally unnecessary.

Jesus turns to the twelve and asks if they also want to go away.  Peter speaks up and states what Jesus' followers have come to know - "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life."

There is no where else we can go.  There is no where else we would want to go.  We have come to understand the costs of following, but we are also very aware of the benefits to be lost by no longer following.

I do experience the total joy of being one of Jesus' followers.  I am aware of the costs - speaking up the word of Christ often frustrates those around me and results in a loss of popularity.  But that joy is beyond compare and unlike anything else which I might ever experience.  Jesus has chosen me, invited me, and that is all I need.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

Devotion - Monday, August 29

There are some sections of scripture which we tend to gloss over, failing to realize the significance the content played in the early Church.  Today's lesson from John 6:52-59 might be as good an example as any.

Jesus has been speaking of his sacrifice; of how his "body" will be the food which sustains and gives life.  These verses represent the necessity of the early Church to work out what we have come to speak of as "Sacraments."  The bread at our communion service is that body.

This discussion was essential to the early Church; and it is a discussion still happening in the contemporary Church.  Not all expressions of Christianity share in a sacramental understanding of the bread and wine.

In my prayers this morning I remembered those other expressions; praying that differences in theological teachings would not separate us in mission in the world.  My prayers expressed appreciation for the sense of sacrament present in our part of the Christian family.  Appreciation for the ability to proclaim in sermons, in liturgies, and in pastoral conversation the certainty that those searching for Christ are always able to find him - he is there, in the bread and in the wine.  Just as he is there in the waters of Holy Baptism.

Talk of sacraments was confusing to the early Church, and it remains a topic of active discussion in the Church today.  "Active" is a word I use intentionally; to remind us that all of this activity is intimately connected to Jesus, who is as active among us as he was among those who heard him speak the words recorded in John 6.  Sacraments make this activity apparent.  

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sermon - Pentecost 15 - Year C

Luke 14:1, 7-14                                                                                              

A Critique of Social Custom

How do you pick your seat, as you enter the sanctuary?  For the majority of you, that is easy – you return to the same seat you sat in last week, and the week before that, and the week before that?  But what happens when you arrive on Sunday morning and someone is in your seat?  It does happen you know.  Then what do you do?  How do you pick another seat?  And how do you make sure that isn’t the seat typically used by someone else? 

I think about this when visiting another congregation.  Particularly if I am with a group, as I usually am.  When I show up with 10-20 college students at some random local congregation, how many “regulars” does our seat selection displace?

Perhaps we could write a guide book of etiquette, a Help-in-Selecting Your Appropriate Pew pamphlet.  But it would quickly turn into a book, or a file cabinet.  There is just no way to cover every possible detail regarding acceptable social behavior.  And even if we could come up with just the right compliment to the writings of Emily Post, Jesus would still be there, telling us that conformity to any social etiquette runs contrary to the life of discipleship.  That is really what he is doing in this passage.  Jesus offers a critique to both the other guests and his host that "following the proper rules of social behavior."  Jesus tells them that following the “proper rules of social behavior” has deafened them to God's call to do the right thing.

Let's look at the story again.  We need to understand what is going on here before we can understand what Jesus is telling us.

Jesus is invited to the home of a "ruler".  This man was a ruler among the Jews.  He is also described as a member of the Pharisee party.  The Pharisees were a religious group which took very seriously their obedience to God.  In many ways, the movement started as a response to the condition of religious life in Israel.  These individuals were disappointed that more of their fellow Jews weren't following, to the letter, the Law of Moses.  Their frustration magnified at the realization that many of the priests also failed to keep the letter of the law.

We are talking hair splitting here.  The Pharisees dedicated themselves to uncovering the most obscure instructions contained in the writings of Moses.  These instructions were then obeyed with utmost severity.

It is one of these types who invite Jesus to his house.  The first verse hints at why this ruler may have done so.  The verse reads: “they were watching him.”  They were waiting to see if he would do anything inappropriate.  If you were following along in your bibles, or looked carefully at the listing of verses, you will see that five are omitted.  In these verses, Jesus is confronted by a man with dropsy.  He turns to these pious Pharisees and asks them. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”  When no one answers, he proceeds to provide a cure.

We get the first glimpse at rigid social customs in this "omitted" exchange.  While the Pharisees would have condemned Jesus for "working" on the Sabbath, they are all silent in the home of their prominent host.  While they would never have agreed that it was okay to perform work on the Sabbath, they are silent; out of social considerations. 

But it doesn't work.  After allowing them the opportunity to be on the offensive side of a debate, Jesus places them on the defense by commenting on their actions.  If words are not forth coming, he will allow their actions to speak what is on their hearts.  He “marked how they chose the places of honor.”

At a dinner of this type, there would typically be three couches, each with enough room for three people.  The host would occupy the middle position of the center couch.  The places of honor were either end of that same couch; at the right or the left of the host.  I use the word "couch" intentionally.  During the meal, the guests actually reclined.

Jesus observes how they scheme and position themselves so as to receive one of these places of honor.  He sees in their actions an indication of what is inscribed on their hearts.  Here are these pious individuals, inflating their ego with their obedience to the Law of Moses.  While all along, all they really want is to be elevated to a place of honor.

Jesus isn't handing out advice to the readers of an etiquette column.  He is exposing their self-serving schemes.  He is trying to help them realize that as wonderful as their talk may sound, they are still corrupt in their hearts.  What they seek is a step up on the social register.  Jesus reminds them that any such movement is always made at the continued exploitation of the poor and the oppressed.

The nails are driven into the coffin as he turns his gaze on the host.  He says, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”

Jesus knows that the accepted social practice is to position ourselves as close to the center of attention as possible.  He understands that when one throws a party, social custom dictates who ought to be on the guest list.  But he won't abide by "accepted social practice".  Because "accepted social practice" carries with it the potential to exploit and isolate less fortunate members of society.  Inherited social patterns can become barriers to responsible encounter. 

How quickly we retreat into relationships that meet our own needs and satisfy our own interests.  We quickly find ourselves caught up in 'now-we-owe-them' arrangements.

Knowing the right people, cultivation of those who may 'do one some good' -- these are the stepping stones to success.  But such are stumbling blocks for those who would enter the Kingdom.  Accepted social behavior is great for maintaining order in the society.

But it is disastrous to a community of faith. 

I want to avoid the implication that there is something intrinsically good about being poor.  Definitely we want to avoid the temptation to think that Christian discipleship is synonymous with "charity" toward the poor.  What Jesus is talking about here is our ability to trust and to depend solely on God. 

In this chapter of Luke's Gospel, this is the single, important aspect of poverty.  Those who cannot depend on social connections are forced to depend on God.  Faith is the way of the Kingdom.  The poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind:  in our world there is a social safety net for such persons.  In Jesus' world there was none.  These, outcasts, lived day by day, through faith in God.

Social accepted behavior teaches us that those folks have nothing to offer.  We can choose to be benevolent toward them, they can become the object of our charity, but accepted social practice would never allow us to value their contribution.

I like the society in which I live.  I think it is an "okay" one.  But we must never allow the practices and customs of this society to blind us to the call from God.  Obeying all the rules of etiquette and socially appropriate behavior still won’t make us fit for the Kingdom of God.  Attending that party begins with recognizing that the invitation list includes a whole lot of folks we might not have expected to see there.  It may just mean seeing them enter first.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Devotion - Thursday, August 25

We have come to one of my favorite books of the bible - Job.  The cycle of readings brings me back around to Job in this season every two years.

My appreciation for Job is no doubt tied to the admiration I have for an Old Testament professor whose life work was on Job.  His love for the book infected me.  Maybe I can entice you to read through it with me.

Job is one of only two places in the Old Testament where Satan acts independent of God's instructions.  Even here, Satan can do nothing without God's full approval and license.  

The question raised in the book is whether Job appreciates God because of the things God has given him, or if Job is devoted to God because God is God.

It is a good question.  One we need to ask ourselves.

There are many things to be learned from reading Job.  One of them is to realize that the complexity of why things happen is beyond our comprehension.  There are some chains of events which are so interwoven and so far reaching that only God could pull them apart and say "This leads to that....."  The Book of Job encourages us to appreciate the mind of God and its ability to comprehend the things which are beyond us.  There is also a critique in this - that we will only became frustrated and seem foolish when we attempt to get above our limitations.

I turn to God because God is God.  I turn to God for reminders that the creation is whole and one and good - even when my little piece of it may be in an uproar.  This is the witness of Job.  This is why I appreciate the book so much.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Devotion - Tuesday, August 23

Acts 8 speaks of those who joined the fellowship of Jesus' followers after witnessing "signs and great miracles."  I read of this this morning, and I found myself envious of those expressions of Christianity in which miracles and healings are more central to the community's life and ministry.

I am not (in all likelihood) going to begin to assemble with such communities, but I will take from them the importance of speaking of the signs and great miracles.

We had the first meeting of the officers for Clemson Habitat on Sunday, in the LCM Lounge.  When asked by the President why each of us were involved in Habitat, one of the officers said, "I am not a Christian, but I do experience something wonderful when we see these families get into a home."  

There are two miracles/signs in this comment:

First - the association between caring for others and being a follower of Jesus.  This comment is a sign of how those who come along side the community of faith observe the community of faith's care of others.  

Second - while persons of faith are among those who organize and lead Habitat International, it has never been a means of recruitment or even outreach.  This ministry of service (based on the comment shared above) is a clear and unambiguous sign of what our faith community is about.

The doors of our church swing wide and are always open.  While some may think this is to allow everyone to enter, it is really to allow everyone to leave.  The mission of miracles and signs happens in the places where we live and study and work and play.  

There are miracles and signs happening every day.  Some of us are just too limited in our perception to see them.  Let us become better at learning from those other expressions of Jesus' followers and let us open our eyes to see.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Devotion - Monday, August 22

One of the speakers you will have the opportunity to hear this spring has written books on the topic "When Jesus became God."  His research looks at the life of Jesus and the witness of the early, early Church.  He asks whether Jesus was born into the role of Messiah or if this was assigned to him after his death.

This morning I was reading John 5:19-29.  This is one of the sections of the gospels which seems to reveal the aforementioned discussions.  In these verses, Jesus says "the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he see the Father doing."

Jesus draws his thoughts and his actions from the One to whom he looks.  Jesus follows in the way of God.

We typically don't like imitations.  But this is precisely the claim Jesus is making for himself.  He is an imitator of God.  Does he imitate because he and the Father are one?  Or does his imitation cause him to look so much like the Father that others begin to consider them one?  Great academic questions.  And topics on which we should reflect and discuss openly.

The devotional take away might be this:  Imitating God made it possible for Jesus to bring good news to the poor, imitating God meant that Jesus cast out demons and lifted heavy burdens.  What might we be able to accomplish, when we set our hearts and minds and hands on the task of imitating?  What might be possible, if we strive to perfect ourselves as imitators?  

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sermon - August 21, 2016

Pentecost 14 - Year C                                                                                           
Luke 13:10-17           

                                                              Remember the Sabbath Day 
As Jesus is teaching, a woman appears.  She has an evil spirit.  For eighteen years this spirit has prevented her from standing up straight.  We don’t have to ask “What Would Jesus Do?”  We know.  He sets her free.

This is why Jesus came – to set us free.  Free from any and all spirits which bind us and hold us captive.  This is what Jesus taught – that nothing can prevent the children of God from standing up straight and shouting their praises to the heavens.  (Can I hear an “Amen”!)

And yet, this wonderful thing which Jesus does frustrates and causes some to speak against him.  The leader of that synagogue didn’t like it.  So he tries to send the other cripples away; or at least keep them from getting close enough to Jesus for Jesus to lay his hands on them.  “This is not what the Sabbath is for!” the synagogue leader kept insisting.

“Then what is the Sabbath for?” Jesus’ words and actions ask.

Good question.  Does anyone want to offer an answer? 

Well, those of you who know me know what mine answer is going to be.  Right?

Yes, my sisters and brothers, this is about to become the second sermon in practically as many weeks in which I am going to ask you to take out those ELW Hymnals and turn to far back where you will find printed The Small Catechism.  It starts on page 1160.  Today we are going to look at the 10 Commandments, particularly commandment number 3. 

Have you found it?  Okay – let’s read together the 3rd commandment:  Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.

A couple of things:  First, the 10 Commandments were not always one of the first things that students at the church or synagogue committed to memory.  It is during the Reformation, when we wanted to re-cast the Church and the Church’s teachings that the focus was shifted to the 10 Commandments and away from the 7 deadly sins.  Second, while the 3rd commandment is short and its words easy to understand, let’s go ahead and admit that its interpretation isn’t that simple.

Let’s try this.  What have you been told and taught it means to “keep the Sabbath holy?”  What did you learn from your mommies and daddies?  What do you continue to be told by street preachers and billboards along the interstate?
-        Don’t work on Sunday
-       Don’t drink

In the time of Jesus, keeping Sabbath had some rather strict rules.  I should say that in some Jewish and Christian communities there are still strict rules.  Have any of you been in modern-day Israel on a Sabbath?  I hear that everything does shut down, and that you had better have everything you will need for the next 24 hours. 

My cousin’s step-son is the pastor at Hull’s Grove Church in Vale.  He and his father also have a taxidermy business, mostly mounting trophy deer heads.  But not on Sundays.  Even in the height of deer season.

What do folks, in our culture anyway, tend to associate with keeping the Sabbath Holy? 

I do want you to look back at the small catechism.  Why don’t we repeat this part too: “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.”

I particularly want you to note that part about not despising “preaching.” 

While many will get hung up on whether or not we do any labor on the Sabbath day, the Small Catechism reminds us that the purpose of the Commandment is to push us toward a right relationship with God’s Word and our learning of it.  While most of the rules or laws we are carefully taught are aimed at regulating the type of activities appropriate, Luther wants to teach us about the commandment’s hope that we would use this day learning the wide variety of ways in which we have been set free and enabled to stand up straight.
Of course, if we work all day on Sunday, there probably won’t be an opportunity to hear the preaching of God’s Word, or learn what that Word is saying to us.  I might further add that choosing to work 24/7 may fall into the category of despising the Word and failing to take time to consider it.

“Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.”  The leader of the synagogue had his rules about what this meant.  Jesus reminds him, and us, that the Sabbath is a gift to God’s children.  It is a day to read the stories of being set free; a time to learn all the ways in which God enters the lives of God’s family.  The Sabbath is an opportunity to experience that liberation in our own lives.

One more comment.  I trust we are all aware that when “Sabbath” is substituted for the name of a day of the week, it isn’t referring to Sunday.  Saturday is the Sabbath.  Why do Christians observe Sunday as “Sabbath”?  Early on, Christians were also devoted Jews, so they went to synagogue on Saturday and then to church on Sunday.  We gave emphasis to Sunday because that is the day of the week when Jesus’ empty tomb is discovered.  It isn’t the DAY of the week which matters; what matters is “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Devotion - Thursday, August 18

In John 4, we read the story of the Samaritan woman whom Jesus encounters at the well.  This woman is so moved by her encounter with Jesus that she goes into the city and tells the people that she believes she has found "the Christ."  The people of the city come to the place where Jesus is waiting.

For two days, they are together - Jesus and the people of the city.

After this time, the people speak to the woman, "It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world."

There is a very important transition here, one that we should not miss.  It is a process or series of events which is to be repeated in our own lives.  They believe, they come, the see - because of what they had been told.  But after spending time with Jesus, they believe of their own accord.

This shift, this change, this is the transition which must happen during our young adult years.  As a child, we have a "borrowed faith," we have borrowed it from those who brought us this far.  But the time comes to set aside our childish ways.  We must explore and question and dissect what we have been told by others.  We spend time with Jesus, and we reconstruct our own reasons for believing and trusting and confessing.

"We no longer believe because of your words......"  this is what I hope each of you will say before your university days are over.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Devotion - Wednesday, August 17

Today's reading from John 4 connects with a thought you are likely to hear if you attend worship this Sunday at UniLu.  In John 4, the woman comes to the place where Jesus is sitting in order to obtain something.  She comes in order to get water.

Getting water is so simple for us that we may fail to realize the significance of the gift Jesus offers this woman.  He tells her, "Everyone who drinks of this water (the water from the well where he is sitting) will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I give will never thirst."  Many of the world's inhabitants walk miles each day getting water from a well and carrying it back to their home.  What a gift, to never have to make that journey and spend hours drawing water from a deep well.

What is it that draws you to Christ?  What is it that you find in Him that you cannot find anywhere else?

Sunday's Gospel lesson is about a woman stooped over.  Jesus sets her free, on a Sabbath, in the synagogue.  For this, he is scolded by the leader of the synagogue.  Why?  For what purpose did the leader think folks came to the synagogue if not in hope of being set free from the evil spirits which bind them?

It is not selfish or self centered to give voice to what it is that ends the search of our lives.  It is appropriate to name and give thanks for the blessings of Christ which allow us to bring to an end our constant searching for the water which satisfies.  

What is it that draws you to Christ?  What is it that you find in Him that you cannot find anywhere else?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Devotion - Tuesday, August 16

This morning I was reading from Judges 13.  There we learn the stories of Samson's birth.  His parents have had no previous children.  The wife is visited, and told she will conceive and bear a son.  She is told to eat nothing unclean nor should she have strong drink.

She speaks of the one who visits her as a "man of God."  She notes he has the countenance of God.  The writer does refer to this visitor as an "angel."

What was he?  Man?  Man of God?  Angel?  Possibly all three.  Who he is may depend upon the way in which the one he visits sees him.

I was in a conversation this past week in which I was asked how we are to know what is God's call to us.  This person longed for the clarity often spoke of in the tales of others in which a voice - as if coming directly from God - is heard.  Judges 13 would have been a good bible reference.

God's word does come to us.  God's call comes.  Sometimes (most of the time) it comes through a messenger sent by God.  Is the messenger an "angel"?  Or a mere mortal?  Maybe both.  Maybe it isn't the vessel which makes the exchange holy, it is the message.  

We are too prone to look for a particular experience as confirmation of God's presence and God's call in our lives.  In doing so, we may miss the clear and unambiguous message God is sending our way.

Judges 13.  Read it at some point today and reflect on the visitors you have had whom you might have dismissed but are now prepared to see with a different set of eyes.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Devotion - Monday, August 15

First, it is good to be back with you.  I miss this opportunity to be in communion with you.

Second, newly added folks, you get whatever comes.  No editing.  

John 3 contains the exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus.  Jesus asks Nicodemus a question.  I am not sure whether it was rhetorical.  Jesus may have been making a point; Jesus may have been marveling at the ability we humans have to know something and yet not grasp what that same something means.

Jesus asks Nicodemus, "Are you a teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand this?"

One thing I do know - Jesus was not slamming Jewish people.  It isn't a matter of saying "Jews don't understand, Christians do."  (Add to that Muslims, Hindu, etc.(

Followers are called to follow.  We follow Jesus.  But we are also called upon to read Jesus' words and the witness of those whose contact with him has been recorded.  Too often, we read the words but fail to understand.

Understanding is the gift which comes when we take time with the stories and ask how they speak directly to our lives.  Understanding happens when we experience the events in our Bibles as events which have happened and are happening in our daily walk with Jesus.

This is what I miss during the summer months.  I can read and I can pray but I don't always find myself forced to reflect on how what I have read or what happened to me in prayer changes me.

Understanding is a life-long process.  It begins when we do not stop by learning the story, but also learn how that story is our story.  

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Sermon - August 7

Hebrews 11:29-12:2  


We have had a couple of weeks of lessons from Luke which address the issue of our possessions.  There are many powerful images in today’s appointed verses, but because it is the Sunday in which send off our UniLu college students, I really wanted to preach on the text from Hebrews.  There is a message, a word, (a lecture?) which I hope will resound in the ears and resonate into the hearts of the young adults who won’t attend LCM-Clemson events, but might be considered first among equals of those for whom LCM-Clemson has a tender place in our hearts.

Turn your bibles to Hebrews 11; or pull out the bulletin and look with me again to that very first verse:  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  

If you thumb back in your bible, you will quickly see why it is important to know were a selection of verses lies among other verses.  Today’s reading, coming after a listing of those who by faith were able to do undoable things.  These verses will themselves lead us to Hebrews 12:1 where we read those well-known words of encouragement:  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” 

Great words; powerful witness.  But we can only appreciate the gift of these words AFTER we have come to some understanding of that all important word, repeated so many times in these verses.  We need to come to some understanding of what “faith” is, in order to consider how it makes possible the things which the book of Hebrews makes possible.

I would like to contrast for you “faith” understood as a matter of the head, over against faith as a matter of the heart.  Within the Christian community, faith is seen, at various times and among various individual denominations, as one or the other.  I want to suggest to you that seeing faith as one and never the other leaves us confused and incapable of doing what it is that the pioneer and perfecter of our faith accomplished.  This may seem more like a lecture and less like a sermon.  I ask your forgiveness.  I should also point out that if you want the full course, and not merely this one lecture, check out Marcus Borg’s book, The Heart of Christianity.  It is from chapter two that I am pulling most of what I want to share.

Borg points out that within the history of Christianity, the word “faith” has had four primary meanings.  The first (but only one) of these four meanings points to faith as a “matter of the head.”  The other three all speak of faith as a “matter of the heart.”

That first meaning has come to dominate American Christianity – particularly Churches here in the South.  This meaning is faith as assensus.  The English equivalent might be the word “assent.”  Faith, understood in this way, is giving one’s mental assent to a proposition.  It is believing that a claim or statement is true.

Faith as assensus is the “Jesus said it, I believe it” variety.  Faith as assensus calls upon us to BELIEVE.  The more unbelievable claims are a test of faith – determining whether we will believe them or not.  Perhaps you too have heard comments like “God put dinosaur size bones in the ground in order to test our faith.”  A look at history helps us understand how this understanding of faith stepped into dominance.  Of the two contributing causes, one arose within the Christian community, the other has been seen as an onslaught by the outside world.

In breaking the grip of Catholicism, the Protestant Reformation created the opportunity for a wide variety of Christian communities.  While adhering to the same core teachings, each had its own particular emphasis.  Lutherans “believed” one thing about works; Calvinists believed another.  Methodists “believed” the Last Supper to be a memorial meal, Presbyterians believed it to be a sacrament.  In this newly created order, it became important to distinguish one tradition from the other.  Thus, we begin to say, “This is what Lutherans believe,” or “These are the hallmarks of Lutheran faith.”  “The faith” of “the Church” took on the markings of what one “believed.”  Thinking correct thoughts, agreeing with the writings of one particular community took on extreme importance.  In the process, we began to speak of “faith” as those things which we believed ( or we thought) we had right, while others around us had them wrong.

The other influence was (predictably) the birth of modern science.  The discoveries of science are still seen by some as a threat to Christian teachings.  The fear is that science will in some way disprove the existence of God, or the role of God, or the importance of God.  The so-called “Faith-Science Debate” is a misunderstanding of these two aspects of our lives and how they should - or could - interact with one another.

When evolutionists began to suggest that the earth might be older than 6,000 years, some considered this a challenge to Christianity.  When the study of biology questioned the ability of any force to reverse cell death, some felt the need to label the laboratory’s work as the work of the devil.  Thus, having faith meant believing what others would somehow find it impossible to believe.  The test of faith became giving assent to that which the world would find unbelievable.  Faith was confused with believing and the latter quickly overtook the first.

There are passages in the Bible which speak of believing.   Today’s reading from Hebrews speaks of the great cloud of witnesses believing they would receive what had been promised to them.  Jesus asks, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"  (John 9:35).  Believing is important, but it should not be taken as synonymous with what it means to have faith, or to be a person of faith.  To do so, suggests that what God is primarily concerned about is what goes on in our heads.  Such an understanding of faith leaves little room for faith as an expression of our hearts.

There are three other words, often used to speak of faith.  And each of these are more intertwined with our emotional side, with those parts of us which form the core of who we are.  Running through them in rapid succession, these definitions of faith would be faith as fiducia or “trust”; faith as fidelitas or “fidelity”; and faith as visio or “vision.”

I remember an explanation in the confirmation ministry materials of the early 80’s in which faith as fudica (or trust) was illustrated.  The story was of a crowd of onlookers watching a tight rope walker make his way back and forth over Niagara Falls.  After several displays of his skill, he asked the crowd if they believed that he could cross the falls with another person riding on his shoulders.  The crowd shouted, “Yes!”  He then turned to them and asked for a volunteer.  Believing is one thing.  Having trust is somewhat different.  Does God call upon us to give assensus (or mental assent) to Him, or does he ask us to trust in him?

If you are not in the habit of reading the footnotes in your Bible, start.  If your Bible doesn’t have footnotes, obtain one that does.  When you get home, look up Galatians 2:6.  You will find a footnote there which is often repeated in the writings of St. Paul.  The most common translation for Paul’s Greek phrase is “faith in Jesus Christ,” but the footnote will tell you that it could also be interpreted as “the faith of Jesus Christ.”  A world, and a church, which places the emphasis on what you think or believe would prefer the first translation.  If the latter is explored, we might strive toward the goal of being as trusting as Jesus, who (as today’s reading reminds us) has the ability to endure the cross, disregarding its shame.  What we “believe” or think in our head has the ability to drive us toward action.  But it is trust which makes it possible for us to act. 

God is faithful.  God will redeem us.  Jesus may not have understood the how’s and why’s of what was happening to him – he does cry out in the garden, “Remove this cup from me!”  He may not have understood, but he found it possible to endure.  He endured it all because he trusted in God’s faithfulness.

To have faith, to be a person of faith, is to continue to trust in the faithfulness of God.

Look back at another particular verse in this reading from Hebrews.  Hebrews 12:2 contains these words:  for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross.  For the sake of the “joy”?  Where is the “joy” in what he was called upon to endure?  The only “joy” here might be being able to see beyond that which blocks out all other vision.  All too often the harsh realities of life render us incapable of seeing with the eyes of God.  Faith may, above all else, be visio, seeing things as they are seen by our God.

Is “faith” believing a particular set of affirmations as irrefutable truths?  Or might it be understood as the ability to trust God, be faithful in our relationship with God, and share God’s vision for the world?  I am going to slip, ever so slightly into that debate of early reformation when I say that for some communities of faith it is one, and for other communities is might be another.  I do not mean to flame the fires of denominational loyalties, but I would assert that those who have gathered in communities calling themselves “Lutheran” the understanding of what faith means falls more on the side of trust, fidelity, and vision.

Faith may not be something we have, but something which overtakes us.  Hebrews 11 and 12 speaks of those who live “by faith.”  By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.  (Heb 11:3)  Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb 11:1), precisely because it enables us to go where we would not be able to go were we not trusting in God.

Faith may not be something we have, but something which overtakes us. 

As with so many other teachings of the Christian community, I want to emphasize that there are logical and defend-able reasons for understanding faith in all these differing ways.  One’s understanding what faith is should not be the test for orthodoxy.  But it might be helpful to know that there are differing understandings of what faith is and to realize that how one understands this theological concept might explain why some gather for worship in this place while others would prefer to worship at a sanctuary down the street.  We can affirm our one understanding, while respecting that of others.  And while our understandings my divide us on Sunday morning, we need not let them create eternal hostilities.

In our tradition, we speak of faith as a matter of the heart.  Faith is at the core of who we are.  Faith is a way of life.  Faith is trust that God will be faithful.  Faith is seeing the world as God would have us see the world.  There are many things which we “believe,” but none of those beliefs is as important as having the same faith of Jesus – that faith which made it possible for him to give all he had and all that he was.