Sermon preached August 11, 2013
Texts: Hebrews 11:1-3; Luke 12:32-40
Play George Michael “Faith.”
I am trying to update my musical examples a little. This song is from 1987. I am working my way to the twenty-first century!
The song’s lyrics may leave you wondering just a bit. It is a song about a physical relationship, but it is about not getting involved in a physical relationship because the singer is looking for love with devotion. You got to have faith.
This is the second of a series of two sermons on a meaningful life. In order to live a meaningful life, you got to have faith. Last week’s sermon was on a meaningful life as focusing not on how much, but on how well. To say a meaningful life focuses on how well we live instead of on how much we accumulate is a statement of faith, a statement of trust.
In order to live a meaningful life, you got to have faith, and we do. The core of faith is trust, and as human beings, we live with a degree of trust. All of us do. We believe that we live in a world with a certain amount of order to it. We trust that each day the sun will rise and set. We trust that the people we knew yesterday will know us today, unless some kind of disease process has occurred. We trust that our senses tell us something about the world we experience, and that there is a measure of consistency and order in that world. We trust that our lives have some kind of significance to them, that there are not simply full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. To even ask questions about life’s meaning and purpose is to have some faith, some trust, that the question is worth asking.
All human beings have a modicum of this kind of basic faith or ordinary faith (B. A. Gerrish, Secular and Saving Faith, 33, 47; Schubert Ogden, The Understanding of Christian Faith, 24). To lack any such basic faith is to live in a completely untrustworthy world. The psychologist Erik Erikson posited that the first psychological experiences of our lives move us in the direction of more or less trust in the world. When we have positive care in our lives, trust predominates and that feeds hope and drive in the child. When distrust becomes strong, our psychological growth is impaired (Erikson, Childhood and Society, 250, 274. See also Donald Evans, Struggle and Fulfillment). Even when the struggle for trust is difficult, though, there is a basic faith that the struggle is worth it.
This basic or ordinary faith fits the broad definition given in Hebrews 11 of faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We can’t see the future, but we have a basic trust that certain features of the world will not change – water will be wet, people we know will continue to know us, the sun will come up, as the body ages it changes. On such faith we get up and go through our lives, taking care of the things we need to take care of – working, parenting perhaps, caring for a significant relationship perhaps, eating, figuring out our finances.
Life can be more, and I think we want more than simply to go through the motions of life. A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned Bill Moyers interview with Joseph Campbell, in which Campbell said: People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. (Campbell with Moyers, The Power of Myth, 4-5)
A meaningful life is a more fully alive life, the experience of being more alive. A meaningful life connects our innermost being and reality with the ultimate reality of the universe. Another take on this is offered by the late psychologist Abraham Maslow. He distinguishes between coping or adapting behavior and creative or expressive behavior. Creative and expressive behavior has to do with “beauty, art, fun, play, wonder, awe, joy, love, happiness, and other ‘useless’ reactions and end-experiences” (Motivation and Personality, 131) We want and need both. We need to do what needs to be done for life to continue, and we trust that there is some order to the world so that we can care for the bare necessities. We also want to feel alive, to know beauty, play, joy, wonder, awe, happiness, and love. We want to open ourselves to reality with its wonder and even its challenges.
Christian faith, at its best, offers us that more because the God of Jesus Christ is the truly trustworthy ultimate reality, and this God wants us to know life at its best, wants us to feel alive, wants us to know in our innermost being that we are loved and cared for.
Rowan Williams is the recently retired Archbishop of Canterbury. In his book on the Nicene Creed, Williams writes about trust and God. “I believe in God the Father almighty” isn’t the first in a set of answers to the question, “How many ideas or pictures have I inside my head?” as if God were the name of one more doubtful thing like UFOs and ghosts to add to the list of the furniture in my imagination. It is the beginning of a series of statements about where I find the anchorage of my life, where I find solid ground, home. (Tokens of Trust, 6)
Christian faith is about trust, but it is trust in God as the ultimately trustworthy reality. While Hebrews 11 begins with a generic definition of faith that describes ordinary or basic faith, it quickly moves on to a certain invisible reality. “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God.”
And who is this God we know in Jesus? Why should we consider God trustworthy? Williams: This and this alone is God’s “agenda”: the world he has made is designed to become a reconciled world, a world in which diverse human communities come to share a life together because they share the conviction that God has acted to set them free from fear and guilt. (8) Williams goes on to say: What the Bible puts before us is not a record of a God who is always triumphantly getting his way… but a God who gets his way by patiently struggling to make himself clear to human being, to make his love real to them, especially when they seem not to want to know, or to want to avoid him and retreat into their own fantasies about him. (16) Jesus: Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
A meaningful life, an alive life, is to tune into this ultimate reality which is the God we know in Jesus, to trust God, and this opens us to all reality and gives us the courage to live graciously, generously, lovingly even when the world seems to be going in other directions.
I want to share three quotes with you that speak to me about the life of faith, the life where we trust God to open us up to life, to love, to our innermost selves. This life is the full rich life we have in Jesus Christ.
Rowan Williams: When we express faith in “God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible,” we affirm that we have grounds for hoping that our lives, in all their fragmentedness, their conflict and their imperfection, can be held and drawn into cohesion – just as the diverse and alarming world itself is held in cohesion – so that God’s own self-consistent active love and beauty may be reflected within the universe. We have grounds for hoping that our lives here within the complex system of created reality can show in some degree the gratuitious and generous love out of which everything comes, the love of the Creator in whose image we are made. (55) We trust God’s love and are more alive. We trust God’s love and demonstrate that trust in loving. We open our arms wide to the world. To trust God is to give our hearts to the One who is the heartbeat of love in the universe, and in response to God’s trustworthy love we are dressed for action and have our lamps lit – always ready to bring a little more light into the world – a little more joy and beauty and adventure.
Michael Eigen: Suffering never vanishes, not for long…. Pain does not go away but you can make/find a bigger field, so that it takes up less space. Doing this takes practice…. Crucifixions don’t stop…. If you stay with it, there may be a resurrection. A kind of constant conjunction, crucifixion-resurrection. A basic rhythm I call a rhythm of faith. (Faith and Transformation, 109-110. On courage and risk, see also Paul Tillich, The Dynamics of Faith, 99-105). To live fully is to risk suffering and to take that risk is to know that we will suffer. A full life is a life of courage, the courage to risk suffering in a hurting world. It hurts to look at a world where there remains too much violence, too much hunger, too much hatred. It hurts to care about others and see them suffer – the family that lost a loved one too young, the articulate woman who struggles to put words together after a stroke, the parents whose child died. We could hide, but that’s not really living. With God, we have the courage not to shy away. We trust that with God we can find a bigger field in our lives so suffering doesn’t take up too much space. Instead we have more space for joy, beauty and play. We trust that with God we can find a rhythm of faith that is crucifixion-resurrection.
Ernest Becker: The ideal critique of a faith must always be whether it embodies within itself the fundamental contradictions of the human paradox and yet is able to support them without fanaticism, sadism, and narcissism, but with openness and trust. (The Birth and Death of Meaning, 198. See also Richard Beck, The Authenticity of Faith) Faith in the God of Jesus Christ, trust in God as the ultimate reality which we trust and to which we tune our lives, opens us to life in all its wonder and all its tragedy. We see the world as it is and revel in its joyous mysteries. We see the world as it is and trust that it can be something different. We hold these fundamental contradictions together, and we can do that without being theological bullies, or self-absorbed spiritualists. In this there is joy, beauty, fullness of life.
You got to have faith, faith, faith – authentic faith, which opens us to the fullness of reality and makes possible fullness of life. A meaningful life is a life of such faith, where we engage reality with courage and determination, knowing that we are loved wildly by God, who is the trustworthy ultimate reality.
I have offered some long quotes because they spoke to me. I know they don’t speak to everyone. Something else spoke to me this week. In my personal Scripture reading, I read this verse from I Peter (4:19): Therefore let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good. I appreciate Eugene Peterson’s rendering. So if you find life difficult because you’re doing what God said, take it in stride. Trust him. He knows what he’s doing, and he’ll keep doing it.
There, for me, is the faith, the trust, that is at the heart of a meaningful life. Sometimes life is difficult, even when we are doing good. In fact, doing good opens us to the hurt of others. In the midst of life, both wonderful and difficult, I entrust my life to a faithful Creator, and I seek to keep doing good. As George Michael says, you got to have faith, faith, faith. Amen.