Real faith, real conversations

RCL Year C, Proper 14


We’re in a stretch of lo-o-o-ng scripture passages right now. But there are some good nuggets in all that we heard today: ‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ Today is a great day for scriptural sound bites. Good stuff. The kind of scripture you can take into prayer, mull over and sit with until you hear the message in it for yourself. That is one great way of studying scripture – to pray with it, to let a short phrase of it echo over and over in your mind as you listen to God’s voice in it for you. To let it go deeper than your head.

But there’s a message for our heads in these scriptures today as well, I think, taken altogether. They describe for us the life of faith, defining for us what faith is and showing us how to move forward in response to God’s call. Faith, says the letter to the Hebrews, requires both knowing our past and looking forward to our future. The ‘assurance of things hoped for’ is that knowledge that comes from recognizing that things we hoped for, prayed for, dreamed of, actually did come to pass. It requires recognizing God in what has already happened. While ‘the conviction of things not seen’ looks ahead to what is not yet known, believing that they too will come to pass as God promises, just as did the things we have already experienced.

One writer pointed out that many of us are gifted at one or the other of these, but not many of us are good at both. For some of us, we tend to dwell more on where we have been. We know our stories, the stories of our family, our church, our country. We are glad to remember those stories, pointing to times we experienced the power of prayer, or times when our children were young, or times when the community around us was thriving and dynamic. We are well rooted in the assurance that things we hoped for came to pass. Others of us focus more on moving forward into the future. We see the possibilities that lie ahead of us and we want to try new things. We pay attention to the shifts of culture and the different things people talk about, the music they listen to, the needs and hungers around us. We’re eager to move ahead to those, to the things unseen and still off in the distance.

But of course, the one needs the other – the folks who hold fast to the stories of old need help laying down their baggage in order to move into the new. The folks who are impatient for what is coming need help rooting themselves in stories of faithful endurance and the sense of God’s promises come true. The two need each other in community to live out the full life of faith. That’s a gift of being a Christian alongside others, that we have other people to balance us out and teach us other ways to think about God in our lives.

I think we probably have both types here today – maybe you recognize yourself in one or the other. Longtime members of ECA have a lot of stories of old, of blessings and celebrations and shared life in this community. But many also have a sense that to grow and thrive into the future, we need to do things differently. We don’t know each other as well anymore, and we don’t know the people who live around us. So we’ve looked for ways we can engage, things we might do differently as we live into what God is calling us to be here. We’ve looked intensively into working with broad-based organizing, bringing in others to help us do what we want to but don’t know how to do. Others to help us learn to have real conversations among ourselves and with our neighbors. The vestry will be deciding this week whether to move forward with that connection, and I ask you to pray for them.

When we don’t know each other well, it is hard to really explore together what it means to live out our faith in the world. That’s true for our private lives, and it’s also true for how we operate as citizens, how we interact with the culture we’re a part of. This summer a number of hot-button cultural topics have crossed the screens in front of us. The Supreme Court decisions on voting rights and on gay marriage, the Trayvon Martin case and its resulting protests, all of those signify changes and trends in our culture that bear our thinking about as people of faith. But they’re tricky things to talk about. In our day and age we tend to compartmentalize ourselves along party lines, consuming partisan media and forwarding emails to those we know think like us. We come to church, and to other public venues, and we’re not sure others agree with us about these kinds of issues. So we clam up, stay polite, wait until we’re safely among like-minded friends before we really say what we think. Which means that we never really have an actual conversation – we just have group rant sessions. Rarely do we have the opportunity to listen to the other side, to hear the nuances in the arguments and think it through afresh for ourselves.

Think of the news items of this summer. Is the Martin verdict about racism and white privilege, or the right to self-defense? Or is it about the ways we wall ourselves off from others in our own neighborhoods so that we don’t know one another when we pass in the street? Or is it about police injustice, or is it about the violence endemic in the black community? Probably most if not all of these. And the gay marriage verdict and the decisions of our national church are about a great deal also: about the church and what it blesses, and about the state and what is legal, and about redefining what marriage is, and about upholding committed relationships, and about a pretty enormous cultural shift that has happened too quickly for some to take in. All of those. Our scripture today might have sound bites, but sound bites of opinion on these complex issues aren’t really useful. But lots of conversation could be.

Maybe we’re fearful to wade into these topics. But where else but church can we think together through the nuances of complicated things? where else but in our faith community can we explore what that faith really means in the world? So I invite you into conversation together about these and other issues. I’m going to try gathering discussion groups after each service for the next few weeks, giving us a chance to talk about whatever of these or other topics are uppermost in people’s minds. But for those who can’t stay, or for those who just aren’t sure about that kind of discussion, I have another idea. It’s a chance for all of us to pray together, for our concerns and for one another. In the services today, each person wrote on a card one worry or concern they have about the world, about what they see happening in the world around us. We collected them and handed them back out again, so that each person is praying for another here, and their concern. If you are reading this on Facebook, I encourage you to leave a comment with your concern, so that we can all pray for you.

My hope is that as we talk and as we pray for one another, we might just learn more about one another, and deepen what our community is really about. We might learn better the stories of where we have been, and look ahead with greater trust for what is to come.

Do not be afraid, little flock, says Jesus. Trust in what God has done for you already, and the community God has called you into. Travel lightly into the future; let God show you the treasure, what God has in mind for us all. See where God might be taking us. Amen.