16th Mar, 2003

The Second Sunday In Lent

Preached by the Rev. Ian Elliott Davies

This morning I’d like to talk about faith, a simple thing, but hard for many of us to comprehend. A good many people are confused on the subject of faith. Some think that faith is nothing more than a mental assent to truth, if you think, or wish, a thing to be true, then that is exercising faith. But faith is more than merely thinking or wishing that something is true. Some people think that faith is a feeling, a sense of feeling euphoric or confident. If you happen to have confidence, you must have much faith. On the other hand people think that if you do not have confidence, then you must be sorely lacking or have no faith. Thus faith then depends upon how much feeling you can generate. But that is not true faith, and that kind of definition of faith has misled and deceived many people and caused untold heartache. If you wake up one dull Monday morning feeling low and utterly irreligious, by that definition, perhaps you have become a back-slider, perhaps God has turned his back on you? As a former Baptist, I used to worry about my lack of faith, if I didn’t feel saved perhaps I wasn’t a Christian, perhaps I wasn’t “saved.”

And there are people who think that faith is a type of self-deception. Somebody once said that faith is a way of believing what you know is not true. You see, there ARE people who actually try to believe or convince themselves of something that they know is not true, they talk themselves into believing it and call it faith. “I believe that mother will get well soon, even though she is dying of cancer/ I do not believe that our relationship is over/ I believe you still care for me/ I believe that all Republicans/ Democrats/ Evangelicals/Roman Catholics/ Members of Forward in Faith/ are evil and wicked people.” It’s amazing the things that we can convince ourselves of if we really put our minds to it!!

But if you really want to know what faith is, you have to see it at work. We see faith at work in today’s Gospel, or rather we see it NOT AT WORK. St Peter has just made the confession, “thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” and it looks as if he might have got it right for once; but then the very moment he is confronted with as dose of reality when Christ says that he must suffer and be betrayed, St Peter immediately reverts to his old way of seeing things, the human, all too this-worldly hierarchy of success=certainty but weakness/ doubt=disbelief. The old way is certain, static and unmoving; the new way is tentative, less certain, dynamic and dangerous.

There’s a really bad and unhealthy attitude that the opposite of faith is doubt: that is, if you’ve got doubts or questions or uncertainties then you’ve not got any faith; but the frightening reality is that the diametrically opposed opposite of faith is not doubt but CERTAINTY. Now that will be a challenge to the fundamentalists when they get to heaven.

St Paul talking about Abraham, in the Epistle to the Romans, (do we have to have Abraham and that utterly inhuman account of trying to sacrifice his own son?) tells us that faith is not trying to obey and fulfil some kind of law or set of rules. It is not doing your best to live up to a standard that you think you ought to live up to. Abraham received the gift, the promise of righteousness. “It was not through the Law,” says St Paul, “that Abraham and his offspring received the promise, but through righteousness that came from faith.” C. S. Lewis once said, very wisely, that the whole world consists of just two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God is saying, “Thy will be done.” There’s all the difference in the world between saying to God “look, I don’t understand how this will work out, I’m not sure which way Thy will is leading or where I will end up, but nevertheless Thy will be done,” and those who say “now listen to me God, I know very well what I should do, I have it all worked out and I can stand on my own two feet thank you very much, I know what I want and where I want to go,” to those people, C. S. Lewis said, God replies “Thy will be done.”

Isn’t it about time we stopped pretending and bargaining with God? In a relationship of total acceptance with another human being, we dare to confront our reality, our frailty, and it’s the same with God. We are naked in reality before him, but instead of trying to hide our stretch-marks, trying to hide our spindly legs, acne, birthmarks or distinct lack of six-pack, we slowly come to realize that we are beautiful and loved as we are, frail, inchoate, mixed up. And oh the freedom of not having to pretend or buy love any more. And oh the risk of daring to let ourselves be naked, when we would like to cover our shame, cover our lack of self worth with our good deeds, with our ritual, and with our smiles. But naked we must be, and that includes the painful stripping away of our demands for certainty, knowledge, reward. How can we really love someone and have a relationship with them, how can we really have faith in God, if we start that relationship by telling them what we want them to be, what we want them to do? Faith, however weak and frail is the beginning of a trusting relationship, the beginning of dialogue, coming to know that we are loved without question. What greater joy or pain or privilege than to love the world without question (and difficult as it may be, I mean Iraq and the Middle East as well today), all that is, all that it might be? Isn’t that what the Church, the Body of Christ, is there for, to proclaim that message and tell people that God is longing for them? To tell the world that there is a potential, a possibility- not just an inevitability. God is longing for a relationship, a dialogue of trust and faith. This is only the beginning, “hints, followed by guesses: and the rest is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.”

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