Sermon: Proper 25 RCL B – “Faith and Faith”

Photo by Matt Sclarandis on Unsplash

A well known Israeli rabbi had a call in radio program on Israeli radio. One day a lady called it and, crying, said, “Rabbi, I was born blind, and I’ve been blind all my life. I don’t mind being blind but I have some well meaning friends who tell me that if I had more faith I could be healed.”

The Rabbi asked her, “Tell me, do you carry one of those white canes?”

“Yes I do,” she replied.

“Then the next time someone says that, hit them over the head with the cane,” the Rabbi said. “Then tell them, ‘If you had more faith that wouldn’t hurt!’”

I wonder how you would respond if we went around the room and each of answered the question: “What is faith?” I know I’ve thought about faith, but I don’t know that I’ve really ever sat down and tried to think through what it is. If you asked me, my answers would along the same lines of many other folks, they just say it much better.

G.K. Chesterton: “Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.”

Voltaire: “Faith consists in believing what reason cannot.”

Dan Brown (he’s an authority, DaVinci Code and all that): “Faith ― acceptance of which we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove.”

C.S. Lewis: “You can’t know, you can only believe – or not.”

And then there is St. Paul: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

This morning during Sunday school, we also talked about an incident of faith. Abraham and Sarah are childless, so one night , Abraham is asking God how he will be the father of many nations if he has no children. So the Lord directed Abraham to go outside and then said, “‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’  And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Abraham believed the Lord. He had faith that what the Lord had spoken was true.

And then in our Gospel we have Jesus’ encounter with blind Bartimaeus (we also just finished hearing this passage in our Wednesday night study on discipleship). Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” Through faith, he regained his sight.

Again, I hear these definitions and examples of faith and they fit my understanding, but with that understanding, my faith has a certain dependency on me. Consider this one: Jesus said, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” In my way of understanding faith, I have to believe to such a degree—although small—that I can move a mountain, but my ability to do this seems to rely on me and what is inside.

I suppose that a part of this is true, but it turns out, this is only one “type” of faith. In the Greek, it would called pistis. As with any type of faith, it is a gift from God and can best be defined as Gods’ divine persuasion. God has gifted me with a belief that this or that is true. Apparently, this is a very Christian understanding of faith. However, it is through the writings of Martin Buber, a Jewish theologian, that we learn of another kind of faith: emunah, the type of faith we read about in the Hebrew Bible—the Old Testament. This is a faith, based not in my actions of belief, but in a person, specifically, God. So let’s see how it works itself out in the examples from above.

Abraham: he believed God in that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. pistis says that Abraham believed because God said it, then he—Abraham—would be able to accomplish it. Emunah says that Abraham believed God would accomplish it. Bartimaeus: pistis says that if Bartimaeus had enough faith in God, then he would receive his sight. Emunah says that Barimaeus believed that Jesus could give him his sight. It sounds a bit like I’m splitting hairs this morning, but for me, faith has always placed a part of the burden on me, but from a Jewish perspective—and don’t forget that Jesus was Jewish!—faith is not only about my abilities or state of mind or actions. Faith is about my relationship with God. And so, faith from this point of view is not, do I have enough belief to move the mountain, but is instead, if the mountain needs to be moved, God can and will move it. See the difference?

And that’s all well and good and probably too academic. In the end, we all probably have a faith that is a combination of these two types, but what does it mean for us in our daily walk with God?

I won’t speak for you—even though I know that it is true for all of us—but for me, there are days when, through faith, I feel like I could move a mountain. I mean, it is like I’m this giant of faith and can make anything come to pass if it is according to God’s will. And then, there are days that my faith feels like I couldn’t move a grain of sand even if I flicked it with my finger. Most days are somewhere in between those two extremes, but what I forget, is that my faith is not dependent upon how I feel. My faith is not dependent upon me. Instead, my faith is dependent upon the one who “is the same yesterday and today and forever.” My faith is in God, based on my relationship with Him. And what is my relationship with God? I am his son. We are his daughters and sons, grafted in… adopted into God’s own family through the death and resurrection of His Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.

We have been given the grace to have faith and to believe, but even when our faith wains or fades, we have a God that is always and forever and who dearly loves his children with an unwavering love. As the Psalmist writes (Ps 136):

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

Let us pray: 

God our Father,
you conquer the darkness of ignorance
by the light of your Word.
Strengthen within our hearts
the faith you have given us;
let not temptation ever quench the fire
that your love has kindled within us.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. AMEN

3 Replies to “Sermon: Proper 25 RCL B – “Faith and Faith””

  1. Conquer the darkness of ignorance, and if that doesn’t work, smack them over the hear with your white cane! (Okay, not really, I don’t want to go to jail because of someone’s ignorance.)

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