Saturday, October 19, 2013

Don't Give Up!

I am deeply indebted to the scholarship and thoughts of Kathryn Matthews Huey, D. Mark Davis, Meda Stamper, and David Kalas.

Nothing pithy or humorous to say. Just encouragement: Don't give up...

LUKE 18:1-8
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, 'Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, 'Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

This is the Word of the Lord.

There are some beautiful representations of prayer in classic art. No doubt when I say the words “Praying Hands,” either a painting or sculpture of hands pressed together in an attitude of prayer comes to mind – we've all seen it, haven't we? Or the familiar painting of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, kneeling at a rock, face turned toward heaven. Or an elderly gentleman at a table, clasping his hands, a loaf of bread in front of him.

There's nothing at all wrong with these kinds of representations, any more than there is anything wrong with these kinds of quiet, dignified prayers. Our Gospel reading today has nothing to do with these kinds of prayer, though.

We begin with a picture of a judge who isn't much of a judge. When you and I hear the word “judge,” we picture a man or a woman in a black robe, gavel in hand. As I understand it, for people in Judea the time of Jesus, the leader of the synagogue was called upon to mediate disputes among people in their village. The priests of the Temple in Jerusalem were judges as well, many meeting together in the Great Sanhedrin to hear and decide matters of religious and civil importance.

And yes, injustices abounded with these different judges – the High Priest owed his job to the Romans – in fact, Pilate kept the priestly garments under lock and key, and if the Roman Prefect didn't like what the Chief Priest was doing, he simply replaced him. Even so, scholars and historians note that the priestly class in Jerusalem lived sumptuously off the proceeds from the Temple tax, and was thus quite dedicated to keeping the status quo.

By stark contrast, the widow had, quite literally, nothing. John Pilch writes that the “word for 'widow' in Hebrew means 'silent one' or 'one unable to speak.' In the patriarchal Mediterranean world males alone play a public role. Women do not speak on their own behalf.” Women could not own property or work to earn a living. Without a husband or a male child to support her, the widow was dependent upon the kindness of the synagogue or Temple for her basic daily needs.

Now, of course, we don't know who this woman's opponent was, or what the person had done against the widow, all we are certain of is that (a) this judge doesn't care, and (b) the widow doesn't care that this judge doesn't care. She has a need, the judge can address that need, so she is by cracky gonna get her need addressed!

\You can just see this widow waiting at the judge's door every morning, first in line. Maybe she interrupts him again at lunch, and maybe every time she is turned away she gets back in line again, so by the end of the day she has been turned away by the judge several times. Maybe she knocks on his door during supper. Maybe she makes a point to sit in the front row at they synagogue and stare at him the whole time...

After awhile, the judge gets heartburn every morning because he knows who is gonna be there when he opens his door. He hears her voice in his dreams, he is beginning to lose sleep – the Greek for where the judge says “ that she may not wear me out...” has, as its primary meanings, “to beat black and blue, to smite so as to cause bruises and livid spots.” He is feeling verbally beaten up by this widow's constant haranguing! So for the sake of his own health, he gives in and answers the widow's request.

Perhaps the first time this widow stood before the judge, she did so properly, following decorum. Once he turned her away, though, she was faced with a hard choice: give up, and let her opponent keep whatever she had taken from the widow, or keep fighting for her rights.

One of the principles I taught in sales is that, most times, people will take the easiest option given to them. That's why the best salespeople give only the illusion of choice: So would you like the red one or the green one? And when faced with opposition, either real or imagined, the easiest option for humans is to give up, find a better way, or settle for no way at all.

But if Moses had given up after that initial, disheartening encounter with Pharaoh, the Hebrews would not have been freed. If the children of Israel had given up marching around Jericho after five days, the walls would not have fallen. If the Syrophonecian woman had given up when she received no response — or a negative one — from Jesus, her daughter would not have been healed. If, following the coming of the Holy Spirit, the apostles in Jerusalem had given up at the first sign of opposition, the church there would have floundered while they cowered. If Paul had given up his missionary efforts as soon as he encountered difficulty, untold numbers of individuals and communities would not have heard the good news.

So yes, maybe surrender is easy, but giving up is the easiest, quickest way to lose. And not giving up is a basic key to victory in any sense of the word.

At the point in time Luke was writing his Gospel, people were probably starting to feel discouraged. Everyone expected Jesus to be coming any day now, but time wore on and no Jesus. They were tired of waiting for the deepest hope of their hearts, and it just wasn't happening. They were tired of being persecuted as a tiny little minority in a great big, powerful empire. They were anxious and suffering.

So this parable is most decidedly not about how to nag God with our repeated requests so, eventually, we'll wear the Almighty out and God will give in and give us what we want. Rather, today's passage is about waiting and not being discouraged, not losing heart.

Society may have told the widow that she was a nobody without a voice, but she knew otherwise, and her persistence helped her hold on to that knowledge: Barbara Brown Taylor says, “She [was] willing to say what [she] wanted – out loud, day and night, over and over – whether she got it or not, because saying it was how she remembered who she was.”

One of the doctrines of Calvinism, which serves as the basis for our Reformed theology in the Presbyterian Church USA, is “Perseverance of the Saints.” This doctrine has been taken to mean a lot of things, like “Once Saved, Always Saved,” or evidence that people who may fall away from the faith were never “really saved” in the first place. But I rather see the idea of “Perseverance of the Saints” as an encouragement, reassurance that, for the Christian, staying the course is worth it.

Our New Testament Lectionary reading, from Second Timothy, follows on this theme of persistence, not giving in or giving up. Paul writes to Timothy, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.”

Do you hear how those words stand out? Proclaim, be persistent, with the utmost patience, endure, carry out...

Don't give up. In the face of prayers that continue to go unanswered, and we don't know why, don't give up. When justice is slow, when good things happen to bad people and when good people just keep getting bad things, don't give up.

Jesus ends the parable with a question: “...when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Faith is not about our doctrines, faith is not about what we believe. Marcus Borg puts it best: “you can believe all the right things and still be in bondage. You can believe all the right things and still be miserable. You can believe all the right things and still be relatively unchanged. Believing a set of claims to be true has very little transforming power.”

Rather, faith has to do with relationship. With giving your heart and your trust, your radical trust, to God. Soren Kierkegaard says that “faith as trust is like floating on a deep ocean. Faith is like floating in seventy thousand fathoms of water. If you struggle, if you tense up and thrash about, you will eventually sink. But if you relax and trust, you will float.”

Faith as trust is trusting in the buoyancy of God. Faith is trusting in the sea of being in which we live and move and have our being.

In this sense, then, persistence in prayer has very little to do with what we pray for. Sure, the content of our prayers is important, but part of what we learn as we grow in relationship with God as we pray, and pray, and pray, is how to pray. Prayer is one of the ways we remind ourselves of who we are, and prayer shapes our hearts in a way that reflects the heart of God.

It bears repeating, then: don't give up. God, who is not at all like the unjust judge, doesn't move in our time frame, no, and sometimes the answers to our prayers don't come, or they seem to come in ways that make no sense.

Don't give up. We are promised the Holy Spirit, we are promised justice, and we are promised the now-and-coming Kingdom of God. We are precious to God, and these are the best gifts that God can give to us.

Don't give up.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Tenth Leper...

This is a reworking of a sermon I first gave in October of 2010. I rethought some of the text, so it is different, but it would be disingenuous to not point out that I am basically pulling this from what my first preacher-mentor called "The Barrel."

I really wanted to say something about the "lepers" in our society. Hopefully, those who hear and read can make the connections. But it is one reason I enjoy preaching passages about leprosy - in seeing the person behind the "uncleanness," in daring to touch, in daring to heal, Jesus showed amazing and life-altering compassion for the marginalized, the hated, the forgotten, the despised. I cannot but believe that if we in Western Christian culture were to emulate that active love-as-a-verb, no one would ever be in the outer darkness of society again.

LUKE 17:11-19
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

This is the Word of the Lord.

On the dusty road that wound its way to Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples topped the hill and trudged down into a cluttered gathering of houses, shops, and animals. Even out here in the borderlands, this arid “no man’s land” between Galilee and Samaria, word traveled ahead of Jesus, and they could see people clustered around the gate of the village.

Everywhere Jesus went, a crowd was sure to be waiting, hoping to see a miracle or perhaps get a free meal. The disciples could hear them begin to call out as Jesus neared. Anyone else would have found their cries a reason for cynicism – always wanting a miracle, a sign, bread from heaven, proof that he was the Messiah. But the disciples knew that all Jesus was interested in was another opportunity to preach about the Kingdom, to do the work of his Father, and to get on to Jerusalem… and as confusing and terrifying to all of them as that prospect was, they trudged onward with Jesus.

Jesus began to speak, and the crowd fell silent. In the distance, the disciples heard a new noise. An unwelcome noise in that day and age. Bells tinkling, and weak voices calling out, “unclean! Unclean!” The crowd around the shabby gate recoiled in horror at the sight of the ten lepers, swathed in rags, raised their hands in unison and began to cry out to Jesus, “Master, have mercy on us!”

The hot wind swirled dust around the feet of Jesus and the disciples. After a few moments, even the lepers fell silent, waiting to see what Jesus would do. Finally, Jesus spoke: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” 

The lepers paused, looking at Jesus a long time before they finally turned and trudged off toward the synagogue on the other side of the village.

The disciples felt the weight of the crowd’s disappointment. They had hoped to see something astounding, and the whole incident passed with nothing at all very interesting happening. The grumbling had already begin, an undertone to the sound of Jesus beginning to teach.

The crowd didn't see what was happening just a few yards behind them. The lepers had stopped, stock-still, staring in shock and joy at one another’s faces and hands – the scars and open sores of the leprosy were gone! Their skin was a healthy brown, not a mark in sight! At a dead run, nine of them tore off toward the synagogue, already shouting for the leading rabbi.

No one is exactly sure what Biblical leprosy was. The 13th chapter of Leviticus describes several different diseases, including forms of psoriasis, and the text appears to lump some forms of mildew into the mix when discussing leprosy. What we understand today as leprosy, or Hanson’s disease, is curable with multiple drug therapies. According to the World Health Organization, the number of people affected by the disease is steadily falling.

But the problem with leprosy in that day and age wasn’t simply that the people who had it were sick. No, the real horror of leprosy was that the people who suffered from leprosy were believed to be cursed by God, to be suffering punishment for their sins. They were instructed to wear rags, to ring a bell and cry “unclean!” wherever they went as a warning to others lest they, too become unclean, the leper was required to live apart from the community, and excluded from worshiping God. Far from being pitied, lepers were feared, hated, loathed, despised.

The Jewish Law instructed the leper who had been cured to go to the priests, to be inspected, and to make an offering of thanks. Everyone knew this, and those lepers who still had hope dreamed of the day they could go and be pronounced clean, and rejoin their families and their community. Stories always circulated of this one or that one who had been pronounced clean, but like all urban legends, no one seemed to have firsthand knowledge of this happening – always a friend of a friend who lived three villages over, my brother-on-law’s cousin’s accountant’s sister, that kind of thing.

Then the lepers began hearing about a traveling rabbi who had done the impossible, touching a leper and healing him instantly! Could it be true? As time wore on, and the stories of this man grew more frequent, it certainly seemed more and more possible. If this was the same man who was said to have brought sight to the blind, cured the lame and even cast out demons, surely he could even make the unclean pure!

When the news came to the band of lepers that Jesus was coming, they decided it was high time they took a chance on this teacher – perhaps he was a prophet, perhaps he could cure them as he had others.

So they rang their bells and cried their cries, and confronted, at a respectful distance of course, this miracle making man.

When Jesus simply told them to go and show themselves to the priest, they were a bit puzzled, of course, but they turned and went, because if you learned anything from the story of Namaan, it was that when a prophet gave a leper an instruction, you did whatever you were told.

And it was in that singular act of faith that they were made whole.

I have always wondered about the other nine… like Jesus, I wonder why they, too, didn't come back and fall at his feet. I assume that they went ahead to see the priest… that was, after all, what the Law demanded. And it is easy at this point to sound cynical, to say that it wasn't the Law that cured them, it was Jesus, how could they think of following the rules at a time like this… but…

One of the things I hope I have conveyed whenever I have spoken about leprosy was just how horrible a disease this was. Whatever it actually was, and we really don’t know, the person with leprosy wasn't simply sick. The person with leprosy was damned.

Think of it – the person who contracted leprosy had done nothing wrong. Yet in the mere act of becoming infected they were forced from their community, singled out for hatred, and denied access to worship – they not only lost their home and family and job and everything they held dear, they were denied access to God as well!

I think of the picture Jesus drew of those not allowed into the Kingdom in the last days, like in Matthew’s eighth chapter; they are “cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” That kind of hopelessness, that kind of loneliness, that kind of bereavement. All because they got sick.

I can imagine that, the second they realized that the leprosy had gone, thoughts of seeing their spouses and their children, their homes and their friends, after all these years, everything that was finally possible flooded their minds and all they could think of was getting home right now! I can imagine a whoop of joy as they set out at a dead run to find the priest, to be given the freedom they had missed like a drowning man misses air.

Nine run off, and one man stands, silent, looking at the clouds of dust their ratty sandals kick up.

The Scriptures tell us that he was a Samaritan, and while this is a significant point to the narrative, he was not all that different from the nine, who (we can assume from the way Jesus speaks about them) were Jewish Galileans. This man would have had a home, and a family he loved, and worked that provided for his loved ones, and a place he went to worship God, and yes it was the same God the Jewish people worshiped; just worship interpreted in a different manner.

He had thus lost the same things as everyone else had when he became sick, and he had just the same opportunities opened wide for him in this moment.

But he didn't run away. This man turned back.

No, that isn't accurate. I don’t think he turned back, looking at the crowd, hearing Jesus speak while calculating his next move. There wasn't an internal debate about waving to Jesus as he strolled across the border into Samaria.

There is some discussion that, since he was a Samaritan, going to a Jewish priest wouldn't have done much good – after all, Jews considered Samaritans unclean anyway, and a priest wouldn't pronounce him clean of that, ever. There is truth to this, of course, but I don’t think the Samaritan spent any time thinking about this.

I think, I imagine, that this man, alone among the ten, understood all that had happened.

We can speak of “sin” in a couple of different senses. We can speak of actions or inactions that are sinful – murder, adultery, and so on… and we can speak of sin as a state of being – the state of separation from God.

We Resurrection people understand that it is in that state of separation, when we were furthest from God, at our most despicable and unclean, that Jesus Christ died for us. God in Jesus Christ loved us at our most unlovable, and though we did not deserve it or know to ask for it, the blood of Christ cleansed us from our unrighteousness, destroyed the barrier of separation caused by sin, and brought us in to right relationship with God.

What happened to that one formerly sick man on that street in that nameless village that day is a tangible representation of what Jesus Christ has done for us all. And while any statement concerning the thoughts of that Samaritan is purely conjecture, I can fully believe that, in that moment, somehow, he knew it.

Those other nine, they saw what had happened for them in the immediate, in the temporal, and yes, it was glorious. But that one man, maybe his first thought was being able to once again worship on Mount Gerissim, to offer his sacrifices and songs of praise… to feel connected to his Creator once again.

So no, he did not simply turn back, he ran back, shouting praises at the top of his lungs, falling flat on his face at Jesus’ feet, lost in the joy of the gift of life and wholeness he had been given.

Barbara Brown Taylor puts it like this: “[Nine] behaved like good lepers, good Jews; only one, a double loser, behaved like a man in love.”

For this one man, no priest would do. The priests hadn't given him life. What that Samaritan did was return, at a dead run, to the source of his life – the feet of Jesus.

Martin Luther was once asked to describe the true nature of worship. His answer? The tenth leper turning back.

Worship is response. We don’t worship because we hope God will save us, we worship because God, through Jesus Christ, has already saved is, is saving us, and will on the last day save us.

And worship is acting out our beliefs. While it is true that we are here in this place at this time for the purpose of worship, the things we do and say and sing here are not all there is to say and feel and experience when it comes to worship.

Worship, for the person who is daily growing in relationship with Christ, is lived in the moment, every moment of every day. It isn't a ritual, it can’t be taught. You can't really tell someone to be thankful, you can’t really instruct in a life of worship. That would just be putting on an act. Thankfulness, worship, comes from within. Worship is an act of praise, and it is an act of service – we worship when we sing or pray, yes, but do we not also worship when we give, when we serve, when we speak?

Birds don’t sing because they've learned how. Birds sing because they have a song. The tenth leper didn't worship at Jesus’ feet because he was told to, he worshiped because he was in love.

May God grant that you and I realize that we, too, have been given our life as a gift from Jesus Christ, may we, too, sing because we have a song, and may we, too, spend our days falling in love.

Saturday, October 5, 2013


My deepest appreciation to Greg Carey and D. Mark Davis for their incredible insights into the Gospel reading. The commenter I refer to in the body of my sermon can be found on Rev. Davis' page.

If you're interested (and I hope you are), Tim Kurek's book, "The Cross in the Closet," is available on

LUKE 17:5-10
The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.
"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"

This is the Word of the Lord.

I have a friend, named Tim Kurek, who is an author. He and I were speaking on Friday about his book, “The Cross In The Closet,” which (as the title may suggest) has a very controversial subject matter. The book has sold pretty well, has gotten him some appearances on MSNBC and The View, and some speaking engagements. He told me about a review he’d gotten from a very conservative group of Christians, tearing the book apart. They hated it.


In the text of the review, the writer said, and I quote, “Kurek is an eloquent storyteller who transports readers into his world with skill and competence.”

So Tim took just these two sentences out of that whole scathing review, and posted them on his author page… making it look, for all the world, as if this hyper-conservative religious organization liked his work!

Context matters.

I bring this up because bits and pieces of our Gospel reading today have been used, out of their context, in a wide variety of very troubling ways.

The whole faith-the-size-of-a-mustard-seed has been misinterpreted to say, “if you have enough faith then you should be able to do the miraculous (heal the sick, world peace, etc) and if you can’t do those things it is because you are not faithful enough!” It’s been used to promote a Prosperity name-it-and-claim it Gospel, it’s been used to tell hurting people – the twenty-five-year employee whose corporation has downsized him out, the woman whose lump was malignant, the boy whose spot on the varsity was supposed to resolve old feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and unpopularity – that their faith just wasn’t ‘big enough.’

This is to say nothing of the latter part of the reading, which has been used though the ages to keep the oppressed – be they women or African Americans or whoever – in their place.

Context matters.

So I want to expand our reading just a little bit this morning, and add the first four verses of Chapter 17 to what we have already read:

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, “I repent”, you must forgive.’”

Isn’t it interesting that the antecedent to the apostles’ demand for increased faith isn’t the desire to do miraculous signs and wonders, isn’t a greedy quest to have more and better, isn’t to have more of something – faith, money, power – than the next person?

The apostles are overwhelmed with the fear of causing a little one to stumble, smothered by the idea of having to forgive, and forgive, and forgive, and forgive…

And yes, in the original language that the Gospel of Luke is written in, the apostles are pretty clearly making a demand: “Hey, whoah there, if you are gonna expect us to do something like that, all that forgiving over and over, well, we are gonna need a power-up, buddy. I don’t care if it’s an anabolic faith steroid or cosmic enlightenment or a get-out-of-Hell-free card, but pay up, fella.”

Now, in that context, all the rest of what Jesus says falls into place, doesn’t it? And in its proper context, we now learn a whole lot about faith in a very short time – real, substantive, useful-in-the-real-world information!

In his response to a commentary, Barry Rempp makes a fascinating observation about Jesus’ opening statement: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

Rempp says, “…[R]ather than being a ‘conditional statement contrary to fact’ (which is how the English-speaking world traditionally understands it), it is a ‘conditional statement according to fact.’ To illustrate [and] expand: ‘IF you have faith as small as a seed of mustard - AND YOU DO - whenever you were saying to this [sycamore] tree...’ Hence the purpose is to encourage rather than chide. …The point is not that they need more faith; rather, they need to understand that faith enables God to work in a person's life in ways that defy ordinary human experience.”

This excites me! It isn’t “oh, if I only had more faith, I wouldn’t have to struggle to pay the bills, my family wouldn’t get sick, if only, if only, if only…” It tells me that there are certain things that faith is not:

Faith is not the coins we drop into the cosmic vending machine, so God will dispense whatever we want whenever we want.

Faith is not a badge earned or an award achieved or proof that one person is holier than another. We do not, we cannot, earn faith. Faith is a gift from God, it is a component of grace, just one example of God’s egregious and inexhaustible love for us, God’s unmerited favor.

Faith is not the magic behind theological parlor games, be they snake-handling or faith healing or a perfectly crafted doctrinal statement.

And in the context – because, again, context is important – of the first four verses of the chapter:

Faith is not license to do whatever we want to whomever we want for whatever reason seems “right” to us at the time. We cannot use God or our faith or our Christian name to mislead or to do harm to another human being for any reason.

Faith is not permission to condemn another human being. “Rebuking” in the way Jesus uses it has the immediate goal of repentance and forgiveness, and that forgiveness is to be inexhaustible. It isn’t the Christian saying “you are bad!” it is the Christian saying, “You’re broken. I’ve been broken, and maybe I’ve been broken just like you. Please, let me help.”

Faith does not put the Christian in a superior position over any other person in any way, shape, or form – our namesake, the focal point of our entire belief system, on the very night he was arrested and led off to be brutally tortured and killed, this King of Kings and Lord of Lords, present at and active in the creation of the universe, took off his robes and donned the clothing of the lowest of household slaves and washed his disciples’ feet – even the feet of the man who would betray him to his death!

That is the context. That is our faith.

Jesus is telling his apostles, and us, that with the faith we have, we can do anything – replant sycamores in the ocean, or as Matthew and Mark recount the saying, move mountains into the sea…

So we don’t have to earn faith, we just have to use it. And in the context of the last part of our reading, we ain’t using faith to get in God’s good graces, or maybe merit ourselves a better mansion in the sky… we use our faith because it is who we are.

I don’t want to wander too far down a rabbit trail, but I think we in Western religious culture too often confuse great faith with good marketing and well-targeted PR, skillfully crafted presentations and masterful crowd manipulation. Faith is not about how many arenas a given TV preacher can pack or how well this or that Christian author’s last book sold.

Faith is about driving a sick acquaintance to the doctor. Faith is getting on the phone with a depressed friend. Faith is feeding, faith is clothing, faith is offering shelter. Faith is making sure a thirsty child in sub-Saharan Africa has clean water to drink, and it is making sure that no child in our country ever has to go to bed hungry because there is not enough food. It is giving up our seat for another person, and it is speaking up for the rights of all people.

Christ Jesus modeled a perfect faith in that he always put the needs of others before his own needs, even going so far as to give his life. Jesus modeled a perfect faith in that his primary and all-consuming focus, his singular goal, was to glorify God his Father.

If Jesus was popular, he was popular with all the wrong people. His fame got him killed, when you think about it.

But what he did, day in and day out, was to heal and to speak hope and to break bread and to walk and to listen and to give and to love. He did the boring things, the things no one else could be bothered to do, for the people no one else could be bothered to care about.

Phillipians chapter two, verses six through eight: “Christ was truly God. But he did not try to remain equal with God. Instead he gave up everything and became a slave, when he became like one of us. Christ was humble. He obeyed God and even died on a cross.”

Faith is the miraculous and the mundane. Faith is the mountain peak and the valley floor. Faith is the energy, the drive, the encouragement, the reassurance to forgive and to love and to forgive and forgive and forgive again.

Faith is what we do because of who we are.