Sermon for Sunday, June 2, 2013 || Proper 4C || Luke 7:1-10
Here’s a common situation in this day and age. For one reason or another – say, you’ve got to figure out how many packages of plastic cups to get for a party – you find yourself needing to do long division. Your phone’s battery is dead, so the calculator app is gone too. You flip over your shopping list and put pen to paper, and then you stop and realize that you have no idea how to do long division. You learned in fourth grade, but (wow) was that a long time ago. Has anyone else had that experience?
So, if basic math escapes us sometimes because we haven’t thought about it in a long time, I’d hazard a guess that we sometimes also lose sight of the basics of being followers of Jesus Christ.
Today, I’d like to get back to the basics. I’m going to talk about faith – specifically about how faith works in our lives. Hopefully, at the end of this sermon we will all rejoice that, while faith seems like an abstract, ephemeral concept, faith is in truth the fuel that fires our lives.
To start this little discussion about faith, we need to clear up one minor issue. In the English language the word “faith” is a noun. This grammatical construction makes it normal for us to ask a question like “Do you have faith?” Faith here is the object of your possession: “Yes, I have faith.” This sounds like completely correct and acceptable English, right? The trouble is, while faith is a noun, it should be a verb. I should be able to say “I’m going faith-ing today” or “We faith-ed yesterday and we’re going to faith again tomorrow.” But those sentences sound really strange, don’t they? I wish they didn’t. The word “faith” is a noun but whenever you use it, I hope you will remember it should be a verb.
Here’s why. We can possess things like concert tickets and hiking boots, but such possessions just sit on the counter or in the closet until we need to use them. If we have faith in the same way we have concert tickets, then we run the risk of storing our faith in the kitchen cupboard until we think we need it. But faith doesn’t work like that. Faith cannot be stored up or hoarded. We might get into situations where we say, “If I just had a little more faith…” But this turns faith into a commodity, something we can trade for something else. That’s not how faith works.
Thinking of faith as a verb removes it from the kitchen cupboard and puts it in our actions. We cannot store up or hoard our actions like we can our possessions. Rather, each action tumbles into the next in a never-ending stream. The problem we run into here is that, since the word faith isn’t actually a verb, we have trouble imagining what faith as action looks like. You know exactly what I mean when I say, “I saw someone running on my way to church this morning.” But you’d have difficulty conjuring up the image if I said, “I saw someone faith-ing on my way to church this morning.”
Because of this difficulty, I’d like to invite you to imagine with me a reality that we don’t often think about. When God created animals, God gave us all sorts of biological systems that allow us to live. The respiratory system lets us breath, the circulatory system cycles our blood through our bodies, the digestive system turns food into nutrients. There’s the nervous system, the endocrine system, the lymphatic system and so on. But we were made in God’s image and likeness, which means we have one more system that other animals don’t have. We have a spiritual one to go along with all our biological ones. We have a faith system.
The faith system works a lot like our muscular system. We all have muscles (yes, even scrawny guys like me). We need our muscles to do simple tasks like getting out of bed, standing up, even smiling. We also need our muscles to do more difficult tasks like running a marathon or lugging a couch to a third floor walkup. Exercising hones and strengthens our muscles, making them more durable and less likely to fatigue. But whether we exercise or not, our muscles still put in work day in and day out.
So, too, with our faith system. The faith system spurs us to seek out life-affirming relationships, to support one another in our daily walks with God, to reach out to those in need, to welcome anyone into our midst, and to share with them the good news of God’s love. The faith system also sustains us through dry, desolate periods, giving us enough endurance not to give up quite yet. Like our muscles, our faith can get weary and fatigued. But also like our muscles, we can exercise our faith to hone and strengthen it, to make it more a part of our actions and less a thing sitting on the shelf in the kitchen cupboard.
If we’re going to exercise our faith, then we should figure out exactly what we mean when we say the word. We’ve already said how faith is a noun that should be a verb. Faith then is the action that happens when we participate in our relationships with God. Faith borrows the best parts of trust, confidence, and humility and molds them into our response to God’s presence in our lives. From trust, our faith borrows the willingness to give ourselves over to the power of another. From confidence, our faith borrows the courage to take the leap into God’s waiting arms. And from humility, our faith borrows the recognition that God (and not we ourselves) initiates the action that results in the giving ourselves up to God.
In today’s Gospel lesson, the Roman centurion actively engages his faith system. He trusts that Jesus can help him. He has courage actually to do something about that trust. And he shows his humility when he sends friends to Jesus to tell him he need not come all the way to the house to heal the slave. The centurion displays such strong faith that even Jesus is amazed. But no matter how strong or how weak our faith is, we each have a faith system that God gave us so we would be able to join God in relationship. The more we exercise our faith system – the more we act out our faith – the deeper can we go in our relationships with God.
Imagine if we exercised our faith in the same way we exercise our muscles. Going to the gym once doesn’t do much, but going every other day can work wonders on our bodies. God yearns for us to have this kind of dedication to our lives of faith. When we are serious about exercising our faith systems, we build time into every day to be in prayer with God. We start with faith and allow it to motivate all our other actions. We take part in the act of worship, both on Sunday mornings and in the moments of our days when our faith shows us special signs of God’s presence that our eyes alone might not see.
I invite you today to remember that faith is a noun but should be a verb. Faith is not a commodity or a possession. Faith is the active component of our relationships with God. God loves us and we love God. What could be better than cultivating that love everyday? What could be better than exercising our faith system so that we resonate deeper and deeper with God’s movement in our lives?