Friends, last week we were asked to consider, “What are those things in our lives that truly last—to consider what it is that we strive after, and to ask, ‘Am I on the right path—is there more peace in my life because of how I choose to live my life?’ Am I in fact growing closer to the One I profess to follow, the One who is the way, the truth, and the life; or am I adrift and lost?”
This week we are challenged to consider our faith, what is it that we believe? I reflect back to the few times that I have baptized individuals into our faith community, one being our grandson, Elliot, or of when my own children were baptized. When the one to be baptized is an infant, the parents, godparents and all present are asked to answer questions about commitment and about what they basically believe. Of course the child can’t answer at this point and the fact that the parents, family and community answer the questions, speaks to the fact that they will attempt to be good role models for the child.
As the child grows, she/he will act in accordance with what they see lived out in their parents’ lives and the lives of others who are close to them. When I baptize, I tell the parents during the service, and I know I heard these words at my own children’s baptisms, “You are your child’s first and best teachers” which underscores their responsibility to show their child “the way.”
The fact that parents ask for baptism for their children says that they want them to be part of a community that tries as well to live out what they say they believe. Jesus tells us all today, “Wherever your treasure lies, there your heart will be as well.”
When I was still working as a chaplain, staff members would occasionally ask to have their babies baptized. Somewhere in their history was the notion that baptism is an important thing to do for their child, even though they weren’t always sure why.
I would always ask if there was a faith community that they were part of as I told them that baptism is meant to make us part of a community of believers who will help them in their responsibility toward their child to basically show them the way to live. Either I would invite them to come to our community or help them get connected to another. If they came out of a Catholic background, I would always try to dispel their urgency to baptize because of “original sin” and instill more of a notion of their child as an “original blessing” and to take their time to find the right fit of a community for them.
Let’s look at this idea of faith then and consider what it truly means for each of us. We often hear the adage, “Seeing is believing.” With faith, it has been said that the opposite is true—“Not seeing is believing!” When we consider our faith, we realize how often this is the case. We believe, we trust—we hope about many things that we aren’t totally sure of.
I have many times had this conversation with people when they are considering the after-life. No one who has gone on before us has come back to say that heaven exists, but yet most, if not all of us professing Christians believe eternal life with God is a reality yet to be experienced. When we consider heaven, most of us, in the past and perhaps even now consider it a place we will go to one day. Maybe that place is here, but only with a heightened awareness. We don’t know. When we consider the reality of eternal life, the words of the writer to the Hebrews today come to mind, “Faith is the confident assurance of what we hope for, the conviction about things we do not see.” This is one of those lines that rings like a bell upon our hearts and one we recognize even if we aren’t the types to remember bible quotes, book and verse. I want to repeat that line: “Faith is the confident assurance of what we hope for, the conviction about things we do not see.”
Faith is indeed a gift—no getting around it. It isn’t something we can sit down, study about, think over and then say, “There, I’ve got it—I believe! Faith is something that tracks us down over a lifetime, through the ups and downs—all the experiences of life. And this is especially so when we say that we don’t believe. When we are perhaps angry with God for what feels unjust and believing becomes hard. For me, faith has grown more through the wonder of life—in an exquisite sunrise or set—the first time I looked upon the faces of my new-born children—upon that of my grandson at 3# 2oz., so tiny, yet so perfect! At such moments—one can only say, “I believe!” And in the times when it is difficult to believe, I hold on, as you do.
Faith it seems, gives us reason to get up each day, to keep hoping against hope for better times, for fulfillment of dreams that await the age when all will be at peace, when all will walk hand in hand, when we will go to war no more, when there will be no distinctions among us—not gender, not race, not age, not lifestyle differences; where we will truly see God’s face clearly, “Not as through a dim glass,” as Paul says, but as God truly is, and we will then finally understand all. I recall a parishioner’s words recently, talking about God and God’s simplicity—so different from what we think of who God is.
Our readings today from Wisdom, Hebrews and Luke each give us pieces to hold unto in our grasp of the faith. I have already mentioned the line from Hebrews about “confident assurance” which leads us to wonder where that confidence comes from. Wisdom tells us that “devout parents beget devout children.” Again, we reflect on the sacrament of baptism and the challenge to the parents that their child will be as faith-filled, good, compassionate and loving as they themselves are! A child that is loved and made to know of their true worth, first to their parents and others and ultimately to God, will grow up as fruit that falls not far from the tree.
Wisdom continues; holy people share all things—blessings and dangers alike. Our faith is based on our God having been faithful in the past. When Abraham considered if he could trust God, there seems to be no doubt, even when he was asked to give his son, Isaac. Abraham knew of God’s goodness in the past and even if his son would die—the one from whom his generation, that would be as many as the stars in the sky and the sands on the seashore, would come; he knew God could and would bring him back—such was his faith!
Now that is quite a faith! I think many of us feel we would be hard-pressed to believe so steadfastly, yet life calls each of us, at times, to put all our trust in God when we can’t truly see the outcome and simply believe that as Julian of Norwich said so well, “All will be well, and all will be well.”
Looking back again at Abraham and Sarah, and seeing that even though they were, as Scripture tells us, “as good as dead,” they trusted in God and God’s promise that a child would be born to them, the beginning of a great family. But we know their truly human response when the word came, in their old age, after waiting their entire married lives for this to happen, that they too would be parents—Sarah laughed and probably Abraham too and thus their child, Isaac, which means, “he who laughs, was born! But Sarah and Abraham, even with their great faith, struggled to believe—this is good for all of us to know.
Sarah gave her servant girl Hagar to Abraham because she worried that no children were being born, even though this caused her great pain to see another woman have the child that apparently wasn’t, to come to her, but she did it because she believed so completely in God’s promise—she believed that God would be faithful to the promise even if she might have to intervene to make it so. This couple exemplifies perfectly the words of the Hebrew writer, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. This action on Sarah’s part calls each of us to ask if we have done our part in making that which we hope and pray for in our world to come about.
As we reflect on these readings today, we see that peoples’ faith is built on what came before them—God can be trusted because of past promises fulfilled. The Hebrews looked to the example of Abraham and Sarah as proof of God’s faithfulness.
The gospel of Luke calls us to realize that we are the recipients of so much faith lived out in those who have gone before us—we may possibly think of our parents and grandparents in this regard. We are now the stewards of the gift of faith and it is our duty to carry it on with the integrity of past figures—certainly in the footsteps of our brother, Jesus. Peter asked, “Are your words just for us, or do you mean them for everyone?
Jesus responds, “Much will be required of you who have been given much—more will be asked of you to whom more has been entrusted.” Jesus is never easy on us when it comes to passing on the mission which he lived and died for.
But if we can keep it simple and keep it in focus—we only need to remember—love God and love our neighbors as ourselves—anything we are about in life; we can ask the question, “Are these two commandments violated in any way by what I am proposing to do? We then know how to proceed.
Yesterday, August 6th marked the 71st anniversary of Hiroshima Day in 1945—the day our country dropped a bomb equivalent to 20,000 tons of TNT on a people. We have talked about this in the past, but a review of it is always important so that we never forget. And just to put it all in perspective, the largest bomb during World War II was equivalent to 100 tons of TNT—the Hiroshima bomb was 20,000 tons. Today this is considered a small bomb because we now measure bombs in megatons and one megaton is equivalent to one million tons of TNT. It would seem to me that these actions wouldn’t pass the two great commandments’ test—to love God and others as ourselves.
Joan Chittister, in reflecting on the actions of this day asked this question: “Does that sound like the presence of God to you? She also reminds us that August 6th ironically, is the feast of the Transfiguration, the awareness of the apostles that Jesus, alight with God, brought divinity into their midst. She concluded with this challenge—“When we become aware of the conjunction of these two things on the same day, we become mindful of our obligation to bring Jesus into chaos again.” Wow! Let me repeat that ….When we become aware of the conjunction of these two things, Hiroshima Day and the Transfiguration, we become mindful of our obligation to bring Jesus into chaos again!”
When we reflect on our mission in this world, first as divine beings birthed by our God to have a human experience while here, and as followers of Jesus, the Christ, his final words to us give hope and strength in our ability to truly make a difference; “Remember, don’t be afraid, I am with you all days, even to the end of time.”
So friends, it would seem that we are called to keep looking to our brother, Jesus, keep checking his words, keep striving to be our best selves, striving to bring to each situation that component that is, as Joan Chittister says, “alight with God!”