Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Sermon November 15, 2015
11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
“THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT IS FAITHFULNESS”
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
If I were to ask: what is faith? How might you respond? We could, of course, quote the famous statement from the Book of Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This is, of course, a wonderful statement about the nature of faith. But what actually lies at the heart of faith? Let’s try to get to the heart of faith this morning, shall we?
First – let me say something I hope is obvious. Faith is NOT primarily about what we believe. Belief is not the core of faith. It is a dimension – to be sure – but only in the beginning of the faith journey. I don’t believe God cares that much about what we believe. I believe God cares about being in relationship with us. If our beliefs help deepen this relationship with the Almighty, then good and well! If our beliefs hamper deepening our relationship with the Almighty, then we need to change our beliefs.
If you were God (God protect us!) would you get excited about the beliefs swirling around in a person’s head? Our minds play all kinds of tricks on us. One minute we are a devout believer – the next moment doubts assail us and make us uncertain what to believe. No, I don’t think God would have given us the gift of faith if faith were about what to believe. Faith goes deeper than belief. If we say “I have faith” because we believe that God exists, we would be misguided.
Sisters and brothers, to prove this point, let us listen to James 2:19: “You believe that God is one (that there is but one God – not the many gods of the pagans); (and) you do well. (But) Even the demons believe (in God’s existence) – and shudder.” In other words, demons and devils believe strongly that God exists (how could they not?) but do we then say that the demons and the devils have faith? No – they do not have faith. They cannot have faith.
Why? Demons and devils cannot have faith because faith is a relationship of care – a relationship of care existing between a creature and the Creator. And such a caring relationship takes place not within the head – not within the brain – but within the heart.
As Professor Marcus Borg notes in The Heart of Christianity: “ … the notion that Christian faith is about believing a set of claims to be true is very widespread … (but) This preoccupation with ‘believing’ and ‘beliefs’ has a crucially important effect: it turns Christian faith into a ‘head matter.’ Faith (then) becomes primarily a matter of the beliefs in your head – of whether you believe the right set of claims to be true.
“Yet the twin notions that being Christian is about ‘believing’ in Christianity and that faith is about ‘belief’ are a modern development … Prior to the modern period, the most common Christian meanings of the word ‘faith’ were not matters of the head, but matters of the heart. In the Bible and the Christian tradition, the ‘heart’ is a metaphor for (the deepest) level of the self, a level below our thinking (and) feeling … The heart is thus deeper than our ‘head,’ deeper than our conscious self and the ideas we have in (our) heads.
“Faith concerns the deepest level of the self. Faith is the way of the heart, not the way of the head.” In other words, brothers and sisters, we stray from the possibility of deep faith when we get trapped in debates about what we should believe and what we should not believe.
I am sick and tired of fights over which beliefs are essential to being a Christian. I suspect I’m not the only one here who is also sick and tired of these endless battles over what we need to believe. Christian faith does not happen in our heads. Christian faith does not happen in our minds. Christian faith happens in our hearts or it doesn’t happen at all!
Again from Borg: “You can believe all the right things and still be miserable (as a Christian). You can believe all the right things and still be relatively unchanged. Believing a set of claims to be true has very little transformative power.”
Brothers and sisters, the question we face is this: has Christian faith entered into our hearts and changed the way we see the world; has faith entered us at the deepest level of who we are or are we just playing at being Christian? It’s been rightly said that we American Christians have been inoculated with just enough Christianity to make us immune to the real thing. That’s a profoundly unsettling thought, is it not?
Our faith, sisters and brothers, has little to do with our beliefs. Our faith, as the word implies in its original Greek (pistis) is what we give our hearts to. Once again: our faith is what we give our hearts to!
We need to quit arguing about who has it right when it comes to Christianity. Our Christian family has been broken again and again – and continues being fractured – over the so-called RIGHT things to believe. If you don’t believe as I believe then you must be heading to hell. If I don’t believe as you believe, then I must be heading to hell!
What poppycock! God is the only one who has the right to judge anyone – not you – not me. When did we Christians become so god-awful judgmental? When did we get so good at deciding who goes to heaven and who goes to hell? When did we get so polarized? Of course, it is not only in religious matters that we are polarized – but in most matters, is this not so?
Let me say something rather sweeping in its scope: I suspect that much of the polarization we see in our political life can be laid at the feet of our polarized Christian denominations. Have you ever listened to the theological rubbish and plain hatred that gets promoted on many Christian television and radio programs? Many of these supposed Christian shows insult as many people as possible. No wonder a good number of our young want out of Christianity altogether.
Brothers and sisters, faith is a matter of the heart. Faith is about a relationship with the One who made us. Christian faith is about a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ – who took upon himself the crushing burden of all our sins and nailed that burden to the cross. But, please understand, that the cross without Easter Sunday morning is only part of the story. Crucifixion needs resurrection to be more than just the slaughter of the most innocent – the most loving person - who ever walked this world.
Yes, we can believe that Jesus is the Christ, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Almighty. This is important, to be sure. But more is required. We need a relationship with this Jesus Christ. We need a relationship with this Jesus Christ which leads us, through the Holy Spirit, to a deeper relationship with the God of all there is.
Let me add something here: I find it better for me personally to speak to Jesus – to pray to Jesus – by calling on him with the name he was known by when he walked the hills of Galilee with his first disciples. I call him “Yeshua” – the name by which he was known and loved by those first disciples. As I have said before, Jesus is the Greek translation of his name. And, yes, the Son will certainly respond to the name Jesus.
If I started calling my older brother, Jim, by the name Seamus – the Irish translation of James – he would know I was speaking to him – but that is not really his name. If I started calling my twin brother, John, by the Irish equivalent, Sean, he would know I was speaking to him – but his really name is John. My parents named all three of their sons with names from the 12 apostles – which I am sure they hadn’t intentionally done.
But a person’s name is sacred. Try calling on Jesus by his true name, Yeshua, and see if this doesn’t help you feel closer to him. Just a small point!
Let me say something obvious: faith is its own reward. We seek more faith not because of any reward. We seek more faith not because having faith will reward us with heaven – even though it will. We seek more faith because this is the real reason we are here.
What is the purpose behind your being born? Faith is the real reason you are here – to develop and deepen the relationship between you and the One who made you. Faith is its own reward. We seek more faith because it is the reason we were created. There is no other true purpose to life! We are here because the Almighty wants us to be here. And the Almighty wants us to be here so we can have a relationship – a deepening love relationship – with the Almighty. This is why faith is so critical to a well-lived life.
I have mentioned in the past – and I mention it here again today: the point of our Christian faith is not for us to believe we are saved – the point of our Christian faith is for us to know we are loved. Christians who do not feel themselves loved by the Almighty get caught in endless arguments and fights over theological beliefs.
We Christians believe that God loves us so much that God allowed Love Incarnate to be born among us. How then can any Christian feel hatred towards anyone – when we follow Love Incarnate, born in Bethlehem so long ago. If you do not feel loved by the Almighty – then your faith needs some help. Faith happens when we open our hearts more and more to not only the Almighty, not only to Yeshua, but to one another.
Those of us who have opened our hearts to the Almighty can never murder someone else. Those of us who have opened our hearts to the Almighty can never be filled with hatred. Faith dissolves all hatred. If we want to see how deep our faith is – search within yourself – into the deepest recesses of your heart and soul – to see if there is any hatred lurking in the shadows.Brothers and sisters, a person of full faith is a person without hatred. A person of full faith is a person who knows he or she is loved. A person of full faith is a person who rushes forward into the future with boundless hope – even in the midst of all the tragedies we face. Faith, as we all know, does not keep bad things from happening to us – but faith helps us live with hope in the midst of all the troubles to which we humans are heir. Faith, sisters and brothers, is what we are here for. Faith is our only reason for living. Amen!