Monday, June 2, 2008
A Faith that's Caught, not Taught
Someone very wise once said, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.” Which got me to thinking: what if you wanted to be a hamburger? I have no idea why, but say you wanted to be a hamburger, what would you do?
You might start by living as a cow. This would take some doing seeing as how our stomachs can’t digest grass. You’d roam the fields with the herds, staying out in all kinds of weather. You’d listen for the bell signaling when it was time to go inside. And then one day, you’d be shuffled off to the slaughterhouse to be made into hamburgers.
Hey, I didn’t say it was logical your wanting to be a hamburger, just thought we’d explore what that would be like. It seems Jesus is saying the same thing as we hear him today. Remember that he’s talking with his followers right after he told people his revolutionary vision of God’s kingdom found in the Sermon on the Mount. Remember? It wasn’t a word to give comfort to anyone who wanted the status quo.
“You’re blessed when you are at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you bring peace. When you show people how to cooperate instead of fight. That’s when you discover who you really are and you discover your place in God’s family. Count yourselves blessed ever time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me.”
As if that’s not bad enough, he continues: “If you enter a place of worship and just as you’re about to make an offering, if you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then come back and worship God.”
Finally, he tells the crowds: “Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with all your energy in prayer. This is what God does, so live out your God-created identity.”
Whew! This is a tall order, no? But that’s what living as a follower of Jesus means. And he told his disciples, as they walked down that mountain, told them that it’s not what you say but what you do that matters. You can go around curing people in Jesus name. You can do all sorts of showy things but where or better yet—who is your foundation?
The prophet Micah said it succinctly in Hebrew scripture: What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God? If you wanted to be a hamburger, you’d start living as a cow. If you want to be a Christian, you strive to live like Christ.
Today we will baptize Julia Moss. Julia is being welcomed especially today as part of the church family of St. Hilary’s. Julia is already a child of God and later this morning she will become part of God’s family which known as Christians. Yesterday at practice, we talked about the many overlapping circles of our various families.
Each of us—Julia, her mother and father, her grandparents and all of our ancestors—is part of God’s family. God extended protection over all of creation when God made the promise with Noah and his descendants. Never again would all of creation be destroyed. And what is more, God made other covenants—other promises—to Abraham and David.
And instructed the Jewish people to “put these words…in your heart and soul, binding them as a sign on your hand and wearing them as an emblem on your forehead.” What is more, the Jewish people were to teach God’s words to their children “talking about God’s words when they are at home or when they are away, when they lie down and when they rise.”
In this way, people faithful to God’s commands shape their entire lives. Because faith is caught not taught. Faith, that gift from God, is not a series of propositions we agree to or argue with. We catch faith by being surrounded by people who are living the life God calls us to live.
Faith is a way to live in relationship with God. And how do any of us live in relationship with one another? By spending time together, by conversing with one another, by listening to each other. In doing things great and mundane, we live in relationship with one another.
Now we know from reading both Hebrew and Christian Scripture that God has revealed God’s Self in many ways—through creation, through the prophets, through God’ giving the Law to Moses and, we Christians believe, in the person of Jesus Christ.
But Jesus makes it clear that we cannot only give lip service to God. Hear the word of God and put it into practice. As the writer in Deuteronomy says—make it a part of your daily life. So place your foundation on God and it will show in how you live. To put it another way, Jesus' words are not really "heard" until they begin to work within the hearer, to transform life and direct behaviour. Only in the changed action of the hearer, is it clear that a proper "hearing" has taken place!
In just a few minutes we will together pledge to support Julia in her life in Christ. That is a serious commitment, a holy pledge. Look around you. Each person here has been shaped by a faith community. It may have been an Episcopal faith community or it may have been some other denomination. It may have been a Jewish faith community. You may have come here through the good example of someone whose life you wanted to emulate—even if you were not raised in any particular faith.
Someone took seriously God’s word to inscribe God’s promise on your heart and in your soul. That person was living a God-filled life and it led to your being here today. That person, those people helped shape your foundation. Now the problem with foundations is they’re often hidden and we can forget about them. But they form the basis, the strength of what we are building.
Building a holy life is not done all at once. Brick by brick, inch by inch we grow. We grow as faithful people of God by developing a prayerful relationship with God, by doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. These are life lessons. Julia is just beginning but compared to God’s immensity we are all beginners.
Let us thank God for the promises God made to Noah, for the faithfulness of our Jewish ancestors as they taught and still are teaching generation after generation of children by inscribing God’s word on hearts and in souls. We give thanks to God for the unique revelation of God’s love that we find in Jesus. And we give thanks for finding God here, in this community. Ever present. Ever new. Always calling us to rely upon God as our strong foundation.