Faith is Vital for Living.
Matthew 4: 12 – 23; Luke 7: 36 – 50
Can we live without faith?
The exercise of faith is vital to our overall spiritual and physical well-being. Without faith despair is given a deeper soil in which to germinate. Without faith in others our friendships shrink. Without faith our dreams fade. The lack of faith negatively affects our spirit, our community and our vision for living. Faith is so important to us along with hope and love. All three work together.
Faith is so natural to us. Think how often we exercise faith in our daily transactions such as driving our car, receiving information, making new friendships and in so many of life’s everyday experiences. Faith is not just a religious thing. I mean we don’t simply exercise faith in relation to religious ideas and beliefs. Faith is distinct from belief in that faith is that ability to trust another whereas belief is about the content of that trust. Neither is faith static. The more we exercise faith the stronger it becomes.
Faith liberates us to act and experience things. I recall the time I went with a group of yachty friends to ride motorcycles in the northern mountains of Vietnam. Some of us went ahead and had a few days in the old part of Hanoi. That first night Mike and I decided we weren’t tired so we went out for a walk and a drink. We got to the main road we needed to cross. There was a continuous stream of motorcyclists. Then I remembered what Brian had said to us. The traffic doesn’t stop for you. Just walk looking at the motorcyclists and they will avoid you. I could see that they were not going to stop for us. Trusting Brian I said to Mike, ‘let’s go’. I stepped out onto the road looking left at the riders. They travel on the right side of the road. I got to the centre of the road looked right and kept walking. My heart rate was up. I wilfully put one foot in front of the other watching as riders made their way around me. It seemed an eternity, but finally I stepped onto the far pavement and said to Mike, ‘we’ve made it’. I turned to look at Mike and he was neither on my right nor my left. He was still on the other side. He eventually came across.
There are times in life when we have to exercise faith to free us from our fears, conventions, and old ways of thinking and embrace the new. Faith not only liberates but also widens our horizons.
We exercise faith in the daily routine of our lives taking the faculty of faith for granted. But when we come to religion we want to see it as a spiritual gift or something some have and others don’t. The fact of the matter is that we all have the faculty of faith. The notion that faith applies to religion and reason to practical living is false. I’m also saying that we need to exercise faith to enjoy its full benefits, but not to the exclusion of our other faculties. Reason therefore remains a loyal cousin to faith.
In the Bible we have many examples of faith shown by people such as Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Gideon, Ruth, Esther and many others. Our Matthew reading tells us about John the Baptist’s arrest, Jesus’ departure to Capernaum and the call of the disciples’. Normally a preacher will focus on the arrest of John or the call of the disciples. I want to focus on faith. Though faith is not mentioned each situation is grounded in faith. John is arrested because he has been faithful to his calling. Jesus’ departure is an example of faith practised with reason and the disciples’ response leads to adventurous faith widening horizons.
John the Baptist’s faithfulness reminds us that faith is not a matter to be superficially exercised. Faithfulness is dependability, constancy and devotion. He never diverted from his calling even though in prison he wondered if Jesus was really the Messiah. John is an example of sticking to one’s calling even against the odds. For so doing he paid the ultimate price – martyrdom. The Lord would truly say to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’[Mt 25:21,23]
Matthew tells us about Jesus’ reasoned faith. Matthew tells us that when Jesus heard about John the Baptist’s arrest he ‘withdrew’ to Galilee. Why? Now no one would question Jesus’ faith, so why does he leave and go to Galilee? John’s arrest took place in Judah and it was most probably the Jewish authorities who arrested him. Jesus would have left for Galilee because it was far away from Judah, and there was no point in getting arrested along with John. Also Galilee is a densely populated area with a greater freedom of ideas than in the conservative culture of Judah and Jerusalem. My reflection on this passage is that Jesus ‘withdrew’ to Capernaum in Galilee to avoid any conflict in Judah and to begin his ministry in an area more likely to be responsive to his message than in Judah. Jesus’ withdrawal is not a lack of faith but reasoned thinking about the best next step. It is one thing to be faithful, but we need to use our reason – that loyal cousin of faith.
The third example of faith in this text is the first disciples’ adventurous faith in Jesus – Andrew and Peter. Their faith is exercised through the hope and belief that God would send a Messiah and that Jesus seemed to fit the bill. Their faith was sufficient to begin the exploration that led ultimately to their wonderful ministries. Their names are written in the Church’s foundations. The more they saw of Jesus the more they trusted Jesus. Their faith led them to total commitment. Finally Andrew and Peter were crucified. We can be deeply grateful for the men and women who, down through the ages trusted Jesus and gave their all. The foundation of the Church is Christ and the blood of the martyrs. Following Jesus leads to eternal life but along the way we may have to suffer for our Lord. When I was called to ministry in South Africa I realised that there was a possibility that I might run foul of the authorities. Fortunately the only discomfort was seeing black people suffer and feeling alone amongst the white tribe I had been born into.
Luke’s account of the Gospel records a beautiful incident of costly faith [Lk 7: 36-50]. Simon, the Pharisee, had invited Jesus to a meal. A woman, supposedly of ill repute, heard and entered the courtyard where the meal was served. Out of her faith in Jesus and her deep need she came with possibly her most precious material gift of fragrant ointment. She lavishly and ostentatiously anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. Simon and other respectable persons frowned upon such extravagant and ostentatious behaviour. Jesus, on the other hand, spoke the most comforting words that anyone of us would want to hear. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” [Lk 7:50]
These pictures of faith provide us with an insight into the operation of faith. We are reminded in the first place that faith is natural to our humanity and essential to living a full life. Faith leads to faithfulness. Where would we be without the faithfulness of those in our community? Faith is about being considerate and thoughtful. There is little value in faith that does not consider situations carefully to determine what is best. It is adventurous faith that leads us to new horizons and opens up the future for us. Faith always involves a cost. Our preparedness to pay the price of faith leads to a blessedness that surpasses all our experiences of happiness.
In closing I will apply this sermon to myself. I know I have served God faithfully and God’s Church. Though, I must add, not always 100% of the time and only a few times at 110%. I am confident that I have been constant. However, I am not sure that I have always exercised adventurous faith, or costly faith or even that most tricky one of all – reasoned faith. Only God can answer such questions. So, with thankfulness for God’s graciousness I step down from fulltime ministry. I will always wonder if I could have done it better. But then again God has always taken our meagre talents and gifts and made them shine and be fruitful. So I stand content. I hope you too have a restless contentment, for with such God can do much.
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC: 26/01/2020