Saturday, July 18, 2009
Struggling With Faith
I have always found it difficult to understand those who would opt for and easy faith, an understanding of Christianity that is “nice” rather than a continuous call to renewal and hard work of living the life of change and justice that I perceive Christ’ s life incarnates. This difficulty has often put me at odds with those who would opt for a ‘simple faith’ or a ‘Jesus-and-me’ religion that serves no one, certainly not God, but themselves. It is the kind of popular religion that is bandied about by independent churches that have no rootedness in the apostolic faith that is characterized by the mainline denominations.
The history of Christianity bears out that Christianity has changed quite significantly over the past 2000+ years. From the days of the apostles in which some Christian communities lived communal lives through the imperialization of the Church during its Byzantine era, through the medieval era with its embracing of the magical, the reformation’s rejection of that magical era to the present day, the message of Jesus was to repent and to trust in the one and only God of the people of Israel. It was a faith that was based in hope and rooted in a man who incarnated God so that we humans could imagine how we humans can live together with integrity and peace.
However, I often find churches filled with those who learned something about Jesus in their school years and have not bothered to read Scripture, study the faith, or even understand the history of their church who would prefer to hold the church hostage to a facile faith, a cheap imitation of the life that Christ offers. And it is usually those who find the most fault with their preachers, create unrest in the church and live lives that belie the faith that they think they profess.
Over the past 75 to 100 years, Christianity has undergone some incredible new learning. With the development of the sciences of archeology, philology, linguistics and historical scholarship, the incredible finds of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammani library, the knowledge that informs our faith has grown exponentially. There has been more study of the Bible in the past 100 years than at any other time in history. And yet there are those who would prefer to exclude any such information from faith matters. Like those who prefer to embrace that the earth was created in seven 24hour days rather than engage God in that wondrous wrestling with knowledge that is at the center of educated faith.
Granted, faith is a gift from God. It is not something that I can even initiate. It is God’s grace that allows me to grapple with what it means to believe. But it is incumbent upon me to stay current. Salvation does not require our assent, but it I often wonder about those adults who never allow themselves to be engaged by Scripture, never open themselves to the ever-growing understanding of faith through scholarship, and never question their faith to make it stronger.
It is not for nothing that Jacob wrestled with God. Our relationship with God is not passive. It is not just a matter of being ‘nice’ and saying the right things. Faith is learning day in and day out how to trust in God for all our needs. Faith is a wrestling with ethical issues to form consciences that tell me how to live in a world in which addiction assails our children, war warps our young men and women, financial irresponsibility and speculation allows CEO’s millions of dollars at the same time as they are laying off thousands of workers. It is our relationship with God that calls forth from me a conscience in how I pastor, how I preach, and how I live in the world.
I attended a good seminary, studied beyond that Master’s degree and went on for a doctorate not because I wanted letters behind my name, but because I felt I could best serve others if I understood the complexities of what it meant to believe. But when I try to teach what I have learned, I find that the majority of the church would rather be ignorant. They got all they needed in their confirmation class when they were 14. They even become upset when some new archeological find disturbs their well-constructed ignorance and blame the preacher when they have to struggle with a new find.
Salvation is not the sum total of my faith life. Salvation is perhaps the ground floor of faith. But it is the use of my faith that makes for a deepening of my relationship with God. It is the daily struggle with what it means to live with others, cheek by jowl, in the light of Christ’s love for me and for all Creation that requires something more than passively listening to a ten minute sermon.
Luther said that a sermon should not be longer than 45 minutes. I think I am safe there. But when I was in seminary we were trained to preach 20 minute sermons. It allowed for three points to be developed and addressed in the span of one sermon. The attention span of congregants has gotten much shorter. Partly this is due to television and sound bite news reporting. However grappling with faith is not a twitter or a tweet. It is a profound engagement with difficult issues. It is not merely Law and Gospel or repentance and hope. It is nourishment for those who dare encounter God incarnated in the lives of those around them.