This week in the readings there is an emphasis on faith.
In Romans, Paul assures us that it is our faith and not rules and regulations that provide connection with God.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells the hemorrhaging woman that it is her faith that has made her well. Also the leader has faith that Jesus will heal his daughter.
What is faith?
These are miracles we can’t pretend to truly understand, but the faith aspect is something we can live into.
What is faith - and how do we define it?
It isn't really the same thing as belief.
Our secular culture wants to merge belief and faith and deaden their meanings by attaching fact or fiction to their definitions. Instead of internalizing faith, we have started intellectualizing faith … then people begin to say, well I don’t believe in God because I only recognize the “facts.”
But having faith in God is to have faith in a way of life. "Jesus is the way and the life." It is a loving pattern we are trying to live into. In this real sense, faith is a verb not a noun.
We also use creeds that try to put a structure around what we believe, but ultimately as Jesus says, "I desire mercy not sacrifice." Jesus cared about his Jewish tradition deeply. He knew it well; in fact his quote comes right out of Hosea. Jesus cared about tradition, but more than that - he cared about each individual more than about religious rules and regulations. Faith is a way of being that honors one another and God. It is about choosing that relationship for support and guidance. We are born into a World embodying faith as vulnerable creatures who can’t put a word to it. It is how we move and how we have our being…how we survive - and as we age - it becomes more or a renewal in participating in that primary relationship of being: of life!
This year has been very difficult for many of us on many fronts. We are witnessing crises around the world, but for many of us there is also personal crisis. For Rita and for others. My husband Craig, as most of you know, who is struggling with stage 4 cancer. We talked about faith and what that means at a time of deep struggle.
When Craig was first diagnosed and going through radiation treatments he seemed to turn inside. I had a difficult time feeling like I could reach him - or understand what was going on. This gregarious guy had really turned inward. Became very quiet. What I later learned is that Craig was communing with God. He was trying to desperately get down to the basic relationship that he had with trust and with his maker, that primary relationship, to find himself.
In our recent conversation he said, “My rough edges of resentment seemed to burn away. What emerged was a more compassionate and loving version of myself.” He said, I always thought of myself as loving and compassionate but in reality - I didn’t always demonstrate it. It emerged when I went into that space to find a relationship with God and found my true self.
He describes this as a “faith healing.”
We may not be able to heal a hemorrhaging woman or bring a child back to life, but when we say these miraculous healing stories of God matter and we want to be part of it, we are saying “yes” like Matthew, to a relationship with God and walking a healing path.
This Gospel’s version of Matthew’s conversion is very simple. Jesus sees Matthew at the tax booth and says follow me, and Matthew does. Wow. So simple..
The next thing that happens is a big gathering at Matthew’s house: a group, it says, with many tax collectors and many sinners.
We need a little more time to absorb this scene. I’m sure a lot transpired in Matthew’s heart and mind. Like Craig, Matthew’s encounter with Jesus helped him find a way back into that primary relationship with God.
Matthew then opened his home to Jesus and to many others to hear the healing message of God:
All of you - and together we are going to make things new…
Then, and today by recognizing that we are already participating in the life of God. We call it faith. It is not intellectual it is embodied.
In the passage from Hosea we hear the prophet crying out to Ephraim and Judah. Ephraim is another name for Israel and comes from the name of the tribe that secured that area when Israel was split into two Kingdoms.
Hosea’s life is full of struggle but his response is to show mercy and forgiveness to his wife and to those around him.
In the book of Hosea, the personal relationships of the prophet are a reflection of the relationship that God has with Israel. Essentially the book is about God wanting to be in relationship with us, which requires forgiveness, mercy and love.
What we know as Jesus’ famous words, “I desire mercy not sacrifice” are found in this passage from Hosea. At a time in the prophet’s great struggle we hear these words too:
God Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.
Doesn’t that sound familiar?
Jesus borrows from Hosea on more than one occasion.
Mercy and forgiveness: how do they relate to faith and to renewal - to this rising up!?
Many of us feel that things are failing in our lives and in our churches, but I was reminded in a meeting this week among clergy that we have to remember there is a bigger picture of God at work in the World.
We will be revived, and in fact our consistent participation in pursuing a relationship with God is that revival itself, no matter how slow or uncertain it may feel. No matter how personal. It is happening. We will be raised up. We don’t know what it looks like. We just know we need to be constant “like the morning dawn” and seek God’s face. That is where we are going to find faith healing and offer the kind of renewal that Jesus offers others.
Our healing may not be what we are expecting, but rather what God is doing in us in new and unexpected ways.
To have faith is to choose to participate in the renewal of ourselves and the world.
To have faith is to recognize that each of us is integral to that world.
To have faith is to offer that mercy to others.
To have faith is to continue to spring forward (or go deep) and make that connection when there is no going back, to embody our very being that is primary and forever wrapped up in God.
As the psalmist sings, “Let us press on to know the Lord; his appearing is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth.”