Summary: The faith we inherit thanks to Jesus, is multi-coloured, full of mystery, and conquers the world.
Sermon for 6 Easter Yr B, 25/05/2003
Based on I Jn 5:4
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, AB
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
“For whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.”
An atheist fell off a cliff. As he tumbled downward, he caught hold of the branch of a small tree. There he hung between heaven above and the rocks a thousand feet below, knowing he wasn’t going to be able to hold on much longer.
Then an idea came to him. “God!” he shouted with all his might.
Silence! No one responded.
“God!” he shouted again. “If you exist, save me and I promise I shall believe in you and teach others to believe.”
Silence again! Then he almost let go of the branch in shock as he heard a mighty Voice booming across the canyon. “That’s what they all say when they are in trouble.”
“No, God, no!” he shouted out, more hopeful now. “I am not like the others. Why, I have already begun to believe, don’t you see, having heard your Voice for myself. Now all you have to do is save me and I shall proclaim your name to the ends of the earth.”
“Very well,” said the Voice. “I shall save you. Let go of that branch.”
“Let go of the branch?” yelled the distraught man. “Do you think I’m crazy?” 1
As we learn from this story, the atheist was only willing to believe in God; have faith in God if it DID NOT INVOLVE TAKING THAT RISK OF LETTING GO OF THAT BRANCH AS AN ACT OF TOTAL TRUST IN GOD. This story is a telling one in that it beckons us to take a careful look at ourselves and ask the question: “How much faith do I have in God? Is my faith willing and able to take risks—am I willing and able to place my total trust in God?” One of the central teachings of Jesus is his challenge to all of his would-be disciples to take risks and trust him—this is crystal clear, for example, when he instructs the rich man who kept all of the commandments to go and sell all of his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. It is crystal clear when he teaches that everyone who would be his disciple must deny him or herself, take up their cross daily, and follow Jesus. So, according to Jesus himself, a person of faith IS ONE WHO IS ABLE AND WILLING TO TAKE RISKS AND TOTALLY PLACE ONE’S TRUST IN GOD.
Be that as it is, the following question still arises: “If faith is a gift given to us by God through Christ, then why do some have it and others not have it?” Granted, some people face more horrendous kinds of sufferings and hardships than others. Therefore, the sufferings and hardships often serve as a purification and faith-strengthening process. However, there are others who go through the same sufferings and hardships and end up either angry with God (sometimes for the rest of their lives) or losing their faith. Why is that so? I don’t think there are any easy, pat answers about this. However, I do think that for those who have the gift of faith; that a humble, non-judgemental attitude is necessary towards those who are angry with God or who have lost their faith. After all, given the circumstances, we too might well respond like them. Such people do not so much need our arrogance and judgement as they do our kindness, gentleness and love!
In light of this then, how does our faith, as John puts it today, “conquer the world?” What does our faith consist of, for it to “conquer the world?” Is faith only a system of beliefs and doctrines, an academic assent to propositional truths? Is faith only a gift from God? Is faith a way of living or practicing our lives? Is it a mystery deeper than our human endeavours to know and understand what it is completely? Is it a combination of all of these and more? I would say yes to that last question—since, faith and believing are described by John often as a verb, therefore implying some responsive effort and work on our part. It does indeed involve our whole being—including the exercise of our minds, as well as our bodies, hearts and spirits-souls. Yet, paradoxically as a gift from God through Christ, faith is one of the deepest divine mysteries. It was theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, who put it like this: “Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.” This point of the MYSTERY OF FAITH is underscored in the following story: