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Pastor’s Word for August 16, 2020
During the summer months I would like to foster conversations in our community about our faith, which touches on the most profound matters of our lives. To help get the conversation going I’m providing a weekly set of questions that you can use to help tell parts of your faith story.
I invite you to pick a question and share your answer with a family member or friend, and, if you would like, write it down and share with me. I would love to hear your story! I would also love for our members to hear each other’s stories, so be sure to let me know if you’d be willing to share in the weekly newsletter. I will never publish your story without your consent.
Here are the questions for August 16:
Memories:       Tell about a sermon or inspirational talk you remember.
Etchings:         What is one of your favorite Bible stories? Why?
Values:            How do you define the word faith?
Actions:           What causes you to sense that another person is a person of faith?
How do you define the word faith?
Faith is a funny word. When people use it—and it doesn’t matter whether they themselves are religious or not—they’re usually referring to a religious person. “Ethel was a real woman of faith,” someone might say admiringly, meaning that Ethel had religious habits and perhaps a virtuous life. Or a scientist might say in a radio interview, “I’m not a person of faith,” meaning he or she has an atheist outlook on the world. In church circles we sometimes worry about how to pass on “the faith” to the next generation. In every case, “faith” seems to be equivalent to religious habits or beliefs.
But this is not how scripture defines faith. In the New Testament the Greek word that is usually translated as “faith” can just as easily be rendered as “trust.” When Jesus admonishes his disciples as being “of little faith” he means that they don’t trust God very much. Or when he talks about having faith the size of a mustard seed he’s not talking about belief in the existence of God or strongly ingrained religious habits, he’s talking about having even a little bit of trust. Faith has to do with a quality of relationship.
Whereas we—religious and nonreligious alike—usually talk about faith as the willpower to believe a certain set of doctrines that can’t be proved, the Bible thinks about it as trust in the unseen presence and power of God. A short parable illustrates the difference.
Charles Blondin (1824—1897) was a tightrope walker who became famous in North America for his crossings of the Niagra river gorge, more than 1000 ft across and 160 ft above the turbulent river. His first time across was a solo act, but on later crossings he added various theatrical elements like pushing a wheelbarrow or going blindfolded. In August 1859 he carried his manager, Harry Colcord, across the tightrope on his back.
As an excited spectator of Blondin’s show, you might “have faith” (believe) that he could make it across the gorge on his tightrope. But it would be a whole other thing to be Harry Colcord and “have faith” (trust) in Blondin’s abilities so that you would climb on his back for the ride. The first definition of faith (belief) is what we usually mean by the word. The second (trust) is what the Bible is talking about.
For me the word faith doesn’t even have an exclusively religious definition, any more than hope or love (the other two so-called theological virtues) are the sole property of religious people. It’s a little hard to define, but it seems to me that faith has to do with being present to the task, relationship, or situation at hand. It is about being willing to accept the present moment, setting one foot in front of the other, even without knowledge of the outcome of events. Faith also has to do with remaining in relationship with others – “keeping faith”. All of this implies a sense of trust—in God, the world, or other human beings.
What causes you to sense that another person is a person of faith?
To me, a person of faith is someone who approaches life with a quiet confidence. You sense in them, not a bright cheery optimism, but a steady conviction that, in the words of Julian of Norwich, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” A person of faith has weathered storms in their life, you can tell, and they have an assurance about them, a strong sense of themselves and their ability to make their way. You sense that you can rely on a person of faith, that you can turn to them in a time of difficulty, and they will be a strong oak to lean on.
I have met many people of faith in my life, some of them Christians and some not. I think they would be surprised if I named them as such. Faith seems to go hand in hand with humility. I am grateful for the people of faith who have been supports when I needed them, and models of the way I hope to follow.