A Sermon preached by The Reverend Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, on the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24, August 11, 2019
I recently had a few days outside the Bay Area bubble, in Cincinnati OH, where our oldest daughter ran the Episcopal Camp in the Diocese of Southern OH. She asked us to come to her last Family Camp session. We had a fun time at camp and met about 100 fellow Episcopalians. We also tie-dyed t-shirts in the cornfields, confirming that Haight-Ashbury has had a long-lasting cultural effect.
While we were at camp, President Trump held a rally in Cincinnati. It was troubling to me being that close to it. I was able to focus on my novel as I relaxed in a hammock for a few hours, but it was difficult for me to let go of all the trouble in the world. On our way home, we flew out of Columbus, OH. The interstate took us by the city of Dayton, and we know what happened there late last Saturday night, right after the shooting in El Paso.
These are troubling times, and it’s times like these when I find that I need my faith. I don’t take it for granted anymore.
What does faith mean to you? What do our readings teach us about faith this morning? How can we support each other’s faith during this Interim time, and time of great upheaval in our world?
According to classic Christian orthodoxy, faith is a gift initiated by God. Later, the theologian, Martin Luther had a spiritual awakening as he read the Letter to the Romans, and led the Reformation with his assertion that we are justified with God by faith alone rather than by good works.
When I served in Menlo Park, I learned to introduce the Nicene Creed with the words, “Let us affirm our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed,” which I think frames it well. The Creed affirms what the church came to believe in the 4th century, and when we say it together, we enter into a centuries long tradition of naming ancient articles of faith. As an Episcopal priest, I feel compelled to say, you don’t have to believe all of it all the time to be an Episcopalian. But saying it together brings us into a common experience where we hear the faith of the church proclaimed yet again, and it always brings me to a place of wonder.
This week I was struck by the words near the beginning that say, “We believe in one God…maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.”
Faith rests on there on “all that is, seen and unseen.” We are familiar with the things we can see, and understand; and our faith leads us to look below the surface and over time our faith leads us to trust in things unseen.
At camp we had something called FOB, or “Flat on Back” time during the middle of the day, (basically nap time) and that’s when I read my novel in the hammock. The novel was a bestseller called, “The Overstory” by Richard Powers. It’s a novel about the wisdom of trees, how people’s lives are intertwined with trees, how we’re destroying trees, and creation. The plot weaves together a cast of characters who become environmental advocates, some of them extremists, for the cause of defending trees.
The “Overstory” in the title refers to the unseen intelligence of trees, and the natural world. Where humans see nature as something to be exploited, and used up, the novel shows us nature as valuable for its own sake, a very Anglican view of creation.
As I finished the book on the flight home, I found a redemptive message in the “unseen” intelligence of creation that is beyond our understanding. Things unseen are moving below the surface, beyond our control, and that gave me hope.
A growing Faith is hopeful like that, too. Our faith consists of those “articles of faith” in the Creed, and also the unseen becoming ever more real to us. Faith is an ever-growing trust in God’s unseen action and love in the world.
In today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, we hear the classic verse, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. “ which fits with the opening words of the Creed. Paul uses the words “assurance,” and “conviction” to describe faith.
Paul also uses the story of Abraham following God’s call to explain what faith is. Paul writes, “By faith, Abraham OBEYED when he was called to set out.” Faith is an invitation by God to step out beyond our comfort zone, like Abraham did. Faith is ever-changing; God continually calls us out into a deeper faith, and to face the unknown without fear. Or at least to understand that fear is part of life, and to trust God and move ahead anyway, with courage.
James Fowler’s classic work on the different stages of faith talks about a spiral upward movement of disintegration and reintegration as our faith matures. I believe that in an interim time there’s a similar process going on. There’s a process of disintegration and reintegration as we move farther along the Interim journey. It can feel uncomfortable. We can feel anxiety and fear. But through that process of spiritual growth we grow stronger as a community.
In our Gospel passage, Jesus offers his disciples and us, an alternative view of living a life of faith, beyond fear. He offers a life of faith based on the God’s pleasure to give us the kingdom. It affirms God’s faith in us as God’s beloved. When I experience that aspect of faith, the world becomes lighter. It’s not all up to us to hold it all together. God is holding us in a relationship of faith. God is unseen, yet God is there. God is the “Overstory” if you will, behind the scenes.
Jesus says, “Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
This is Good News for us as Christians, because when we remember that it is God’s pleasure to give us the kingdom, we can see all that we have as God’s gift. We become stewards of what God has given us, rather than hoarders. We can loosen our grip on life a bit and notice our faith is carrying us along, something like the mystery of riding a bike.
There is so much that we are holding onto right now. We legitimately have a lot to worry about in our country. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something else bad happens. As I mentioned, it was hard for me to relax on my vacation.
But perhaps the world is going through one of those spirals of disintegration and reintegration, too. Maybe society is spiraling up towards a new consciousness, and we have to go through this period of disintegration and we can’t see the big picture because we are too close to it. Maybe confronting white nationalism, racism, and the NRA out in the open is what needs to happen to bring us to a new day. I pray that we may all work towards a more equitable and moral society.
Jesus also says, “do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” In this Interim time we may have fears about how we are doing at All Saints’ and what our future will be, along with our concerns about the world around us. Let’s surround those concerns with intentional prayer. Let’s ask God for what we need specifically on our journey of faith. God is listening, it is God’s pleasure to give us the kingdom. But we must we must ask for it, we must participate in the work of bringing it about.
Take courage, little flock. Christ is with us, and he asks us to trust and to be ready for action, be ready to grow in faith, be ready to receive joy. Amen.