Years ago, while living in the Seattle area, I had told one of my friends about something called cash flow, and how to add a second income stream to your life. Then I moved away from Seattle to Los Angeles area for seminary, and spent about 7 years in LA before heading back to the Northwest. When I returned to the Northwest, my friend helped me find a place to live, and so it happened that we were neighbors. In catching up, I discovered that he had purchased a bar and was working there in the evenings and weekends when he wasn’t doing his regular work as a high school teacher. I commented on what an excellent choice that had been – adding a second income stream – and that’s when he told me it was because of the conversation he had had with me all those years ago.
Now, once I moved to Tucson, I told my dad this story on one of our regular walks, and after I had explained both what my friend had done, and the underlying principles, my dad asked me why I hadn’t done anything similar.
At first, I gave excuses, like “I was in grad school, I didn’t have time to do anything other than my regular job,” and “I was in grad school – I was mostly broke.” But then as we continued our walk, I finally admitted that if I had truly believed in the knowledge I shared with my friend at the time, then I too would have followed through. But clearly I hadn’t fully believed my own advice. Because – IF I HAD BELIEVED – I would have put my knowledge into action.
Today’s Gospel talks about Faith, and the dictionary defines Faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” The Bible itself, in the book of Hebrews chapter 11 tells us about faith by giving us examples:
11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see….
7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. …
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going…
17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.…23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict…
Now, I could go on in the passage, but what we discover from these definitions is that Faith is not simply knowing something, but also acting upon that knowledge.
Isaac Asimov, the very prolific science fiction writer, wrote a two-volume book on the Bible, and for that he had to read and re-read the Bible from cover to cover and dig into the history surrounding the Bible so that he could put the Bible into its historical context. He knew an enormous amount about the Bible and the context in which it was written.
But Asimov was a life-long avowed atheist.
He never turned the knowledge of what he learned from the Bible into faith in God.
His actions in his life were never motivated by the knowledge he had acquired of the Bible.
Having knowledge of something – even huge portions of the Bible – doe not equate to having faith.
Two Different Acts of Faith
In today’s Gospel, we hear the story of a man and a woman who reached out to Jesus based on what they had heard of him.
The first person we hear about is the ruler of the synagogue, whose daughter is sick. He approaches Jesus and falls at his feet and begs him to come to heal his daughter: “My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.” The Gospel says very simply, “And Jesus went with him.”
Just like that.
Jesus heard the man’s plea and followed him because the man acted on his faith.
On the way to the man’s house, Jesus is surrounded by a large crowd of people who “thronged him.” <pause> Think of a red carpet type event, or a concert where people are trying in any way to get near a celebrity. <pause> That’s what this would be like. Jesus the star, surrounded by fans.
And in this throng of people, we hear of a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, who told herself that “if I could only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” And so she came up behind him – <make pushing motions> pushing through others, I’m sure, just to be able to get close enough to even touch his cloak. <pause> And when she did so, it says that “Immediately her fount of blood was dried. up.”
Now this part is interesting. Jesus turns around and in this huge crowd of people says, “Who touched me?!”
I can imagine a wave of people suddenly backing off from Jesus and probably at least one person saying, “I’m not touching you,” just like we did when we were kids.
Even his disciples are confused. “You see the multitude thronging you, and you ask, ‘Who touched me?’” I mean, come on, Lord, e v e r y o n e is touching you.
But the touch that Jesus was referring to was a touch that wasn’t based on his celebrity status, it was a person who touched him with purpose.
We know that he must have said this forcefully, because this woman came up to him “fearing and trembling,” and then she explained her actions to him.
And Jesus responds, “Your Faith has made you well. Go in Peace and be healed.”
And that is where we leave the story of the woman. She quite literally reached out to Jesus for healing, because her knowledge of him moved her to action, and Jesus healed her.
And as Jesus was still talking to the woman, some people from the man’s household came up to him and told him that his daughter had already died, and, “Why trouble the teacher any further?”
That’s a reasonable and logical conclusion, right? “Your daughter is dead. There’s no need to trouble the teacher for any more of his time.” The people were only thinking logically, and thinking of the best of all people involved in the scenario. “Don’t bother the good man.”
Jesus clearly must have noticed the man’s reaction to that news – most likely fear, and quite probably a wavering in his faith for a moment – because as soon as he heard the words from these people from the man’s household he turns to the man and tells him, “Do not be afraid. Only believe.”
And he man too chose to believe and not to be afraid. He could easily have said, “OK. Thank you, Jesus, for being willing to help me, but now that my child is dead, nothing more can be done.” He could have hung his head and acted upon what he knew to be true, rather than what he hoped for: the healing of his child.
Instead, he disregarded the naysayers and continued on to his house with Jesus because Jesus told him not to be afraid. At his house, Jesus tells the people that the girl is only asleep, and again, the naysayers step in to cast doubt upon the situation. Jesus tells them all to leave, reaches out and takes the girls hand and tells her to get up, which she does.
And everyone is amazed.
A father’s faith made his daughter well.
Now, both of these stories that we heard today revolved around people who reached out to Jesus regarding something that they wanted. The man wanted his daughter to be healed, and the woman wanted to be healed, and in faith, they acted upon their knowledge of God with a sense of purpose by approaching Jesus and making their desires known.
If we stopped right there, we could have a wonderful Positive Thinking type sermon about going after things we want and desire with strong conviction and purpose; one particular speaker’s mantra comes to my mind: “If you believe, you will achieve.”
If we did stop here, we would have a great motivational speech, but only half of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Faith in Christ involves action, and sometimes God will answer our desires that we make known to him, but that’s not the complete picture of faith.
If we stop here, and focus on God providing our desires because we persist in faith, then we very clearly run the risk of viewing God as nothing more than our servant, who is tasked with fulfillng our desires because we prove how faithful and persistent we can be.
If we stop here, and focus on a God who fulfills our desires and wants, then when those prayers go unanswered, or what God provides is not quite what we had desired, then we are left to question either the strength of our own faith, or question whether God really cares for us.
Or worse, maybe we begin to question if God really exists.
But going back to the Bible’s own definition of faith, we hear again about Abraham.
Abraham moved from his home, on a promise, without knowing where God would take him. Purely on faith, Abraham took his own son out to be sacrificed on an altar, not knowing in advance what would happen. Abraham, who had thought that he would never have a son, was given one by God, and then asked to sacrifice that child – and he followed through on the commandment, despite his fear of losing his own son.
This teaches us that Faith is acting upon what we know to be true, even when it is what we don’t want. When it goes against our desires. It is confidence in what we hope for, and assurance of things we don’t see – even when what we see seems like nothing we want or need.
God’s desire for our Faith is more than just believing for things that we think we need, but believing for everything, regardless of what can be seen.
Or – when what can be seen looks difficult or frightening
Especially when things look frightening.
Faith is believing for what we want – and it is acting upon what we know to be true – even when we don’t want it – simply because God has commanded it.
If we stop there, we have a good understanding of faith. But even stopping here does not give us a full understanding of how we are to live our lives in relation to God, because stopping here leaves us framing Faith in the context of our desires. That is – what we WANT and what we DON’T WANT. It’s definitely a better understanding of faith, but it still puts the focus on us.
There’s a story of a young boy and his father out hiking and exploring. As they were exploring, they ended up taking a wrong turn and ended up on a ledge, without a clear path for how they could get down back to the trail below. Finally, the dad decided that he needed to get down in some way, and told his son to stay put while he searched for a way to get there. After a while, the father was down on the trail, and called out to his son that the boy should jump, and that he would catch him.
The boy responded with, “But dad, where are you? I can’t see you.”
To which the father responded, “It’s OK to jump son, because I can see you.”
And the boy jumped – right into his father’s arms.
This is what living in faith looks like.
This boy knew his father. He knew his father would not let any harm come to him. He knew that his father wanted what was best for him – and that assurance led him to jump off that cliff into his father’s arms even though he was afraid.
Now, where does that leave us?
Sometimes we need to exercise our faith by asking God for something we desire and want and persisting in our faith that God can bring that about.
Sometimes we need to exercise our faith by hearing what God has to say, and acting on that commandment even when we are afraid or do not want to do what we have been commanded.
God wants us our relationship to be so strong that we understand that every answered prayer – every unanswered prayer – every command – every correction – is guided by the desire that God wants what is best for us.
God desires that our faith is so strong that we would figuratively <air quotes>jump off a cliff,</air quotes> just like that boy did in the story, simply because we believe that God’s will for our lives is what is best for us.
That truly is confidence in what we hope for and assurance of what we do not see.…[This sermon was delivered at Christ the King Episcopal Church in Tucson, AZ on July 1, 2018. Listen here.]