Lectionary Passages fro August 11. Gen. 15:1-6, Ps 33:12-22, Heb. 11:1-3, 8-16, Luke 12:32-40
I had a conversation with a friend recently where we talked about religion and our faith. We both grew up in Mennonite churches, went to a Mennonite Bible school, and are still involved in Mennonite churches today. We're both in our mid-forties now, and the idealism of youth has been tempered by experience and continued learning. Well, maybe tempered isn't quite a strong enough word, maybe snapped is more accurate! Lots of what we believed has significantly changed. Sometimes belief has grown, and sometimes it has disappeared. He said some things that really intrigued me-things that point out some of the differences between religion, beliefs, and faith.
What is faith anyway? Hebrews 11 says it is; "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." The passage lists a number of examples of faithful people, and then in a twist, says in verse 13 that these people were still all living by faith when they died. In their lives they did not receive what they hoped for, but saw and welcomed it from afar. Hmmm. They lived and died in hope-but that doesn't tell us if they ever got what they hoped for. It's also hard, in today's world, to accept that we can be certain of anything.
Faith and beliefs were simpler when we were children and hadn't had to figure much out for ourselves. In addition, we were still living in a time when the church held a lot of power over everyday life, most people went to church and basically "toed the line" (at least publicly) even if, in their hearts, there was no real belief. The practices that made up church life were straightforward, there was wrong and right and maybe a tiny bit of grey area. For both my friend and I, as we've aged, the grey area is the part that has really spread and pushed away a lot of the black and whites that made things easy. When we talk about our beliefs now, my friend says he doesn't have many, at least he doesn't believe in most of the "religious" stuff, the traditional beliefs of the church. While that may come across as shocking to some, it's exactly what has always happened to established 'beliefs' of the church through history. The flat earth belief was part of the church at one time, and when scientists were able to prove "flat" was incorrect, there was a crisis in the establishment. But faith persisted and the church lived on.
The Church as an institution is in crisis again. We are an increasingly secular society and there is, once again, new information and situations (like our incredible multiculturalism) that will change our collective beliefs and practices-and that is often, admittedly, uncomfortable. Right now, society is not particularly 'church-going'. Churches and church organizations are struggling. There are issues with all of this, but I don't think faith in God is one of them. People are spiritual beings, many people now don't go to church or profess religious belief, but if you ask them if they believe in a God or higher power, they say yes. They are just unwilling and unable to describe much more than that. Some, very rightly, have issues with religious tradition and institutions. Faith is alive, it's just changing again. The church is going to look different, but I certainly don't want to predict what it might be. I guess I have faith in something I cannot see, and maybe won't live to see.
My friend rejects (or at least doesn't put his faith into) a lot of the traditional Christian beliefs he was raised with.At the same time, however, he believes there is life after death and that God is. I'm certainly with him in a distaste for platitudes and blind acceptance of doctrine and practices that simply don't make a lot of sense any more. I do, however, still hold on to hope that the church (in some form) is important and the study and interpretation and reinterpretation of scripture needs to happen within communities of people striving to live faithfully, in hope for ongoing life with our Creator.
Another definition for faith from this passage is in verse 14. People are "longing for a better country-a heavenly one." If faith is longing for something better, we can be certain that there is no shortage of it in our world.