A reflection on Proper 14C Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 and Luke 12:32-40, St. John the Divine, Burlington, WI
Many of you have probably heard this old joke:
A scientist figured out how to clone humans out of cells and began to tell people that now there was no need for God. One day God spoke to the scientist and convinced the scientist to enter a contest with God. The idea was that each of them would create a human being from the dirt of the earth, just like we read about in scripture. Ah said the scientist no problem. The scientist then reached down to the ground and picked up a pile of dirt. Just then God intervened and said, But first you have to make your own dirt.”
Our reading today from Hebrews reminds us that faith is intangible,” faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”.. Faith is not something solid that we can put our hands on. Our faith in God, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, is founded on prayer and trust, on scripture and the teachings of the church, these are the bricks and mortar of our faith, the foundation that sustains it. Nonetheless our confidence that God is active and present in our lives and our world, is rarely based on concrete evidence. We believe that God is active but God, who is the focus and purpose of our faith, tends to work in mysterious ways that we cannot see. Some of us think that because we cannot see God at work that God must not be working. Again Hebrews suggests that expecting to see the fullness of God at work will never be a reality. Mystics and saints give witness to the presence of God, and remind us that our inability to see God is less because of who God and more because of who we are. We humans are limited in our ability to see, hear, and sense, the presence of God.
When I was a little girl I loved to watch falling stars. One summer I lived in Idaho, out in the country. Back then there was little extraneous light from cities, so the night sky was very dark. But the dark sky was littered with thousands of stars – it was breathtaking. My brothers and I spent most of August lying in our front yard on a blanket, heads up to the sky, counting the falling stars. Now we know that what we saw were actually meteor showers not stars. In that dark night sky we saw countless streaks of light suddenly appear, zoom across a span of space, and then dissolve. Staring at this vast expansive of sky and space made me wonder about what is out there. I once tried to imagine something that went on forever and never ended, which some folks think is the case in the space beyond our solar system – that dark space goes on forever. But I really couldn’t imagine it. Some things are just beyond our ability to see or hear, even when we think they are true. I mean, if there is an end to space, then what? Is our world, or solar system, just a small particle in some other larger life, like a cell in a body? And if so, what is that life like? Does it have shape and form? It’s hard to think about.
Rick Marshall is the Pastor of Brea UCC church in Brea California and he says this: “Scientists talk about dark matter. It’s there, but they have no way of detecting it. In fact, it might make up the majority of “stuff” in the universe. In a similar way, our conscious awareness cannot detect the expansive created order that is beyond our ability to sense. It’s not that God creates out of nothing, but that the word of God creates what is seen from things that are not visible. God’s creativity is part of the natural world. If our conscious mind is but the tip of the iceberg of mostly unconscious experience, then why would we deny the existence of the majority of that which is submerged just because we can’t see it? We see its affects all the time in our life experience. In fact, much of the natural order might make up the majority of the “stuff” of life which we have no way of detecting.” (Process and Faith blog for Aug. 8, 2010). As the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen….”
So just as there are vast amounts of space that are unknown to us, and yet space exists. And just as there are new things being discovered in science, things that have always existed and yet were unknown to us, and just as technological advances are made every year, so too, God is active in the world and in our lives, even though we may not be fully cognizant of what God is doing and how God is present.
Of course in a world filled with tragedy, sorrow, suffering, war, famine, natural disasters, oil spills, economic failure, disease, and countless other challenges it is maybe easier to think that God is doing nothing or worse that God does not care. The challenges of these times are so intense that at times it seems as if we are really lost and will not recover. Mother Teresa, is credited with saying, I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish He didn’t trust me so much. I don’t know if God actually decides to hand out suffering and pain and struggles in order for us to learn some lesson or accomplish some goal. I tend to not think of God as some master puppeteer orchestrating every detail of my life. And yet I do believe that God is invested in my life and yours and in this world.
Frederick Buechner, a well known Christian author often writes about the mystery of God made known in and through the events of life. He says, “we understand, if we are to understand it at all, that the madness and lostness we see all around us and within us are not the last truth about the world but only the next to the last truth….Faith is the eye of the heart, and by faith we see deep down beneath the face of things–by faith we struggle against all odds to be able to see–that the world is God’s creation even so. It is he who made us and not we ourselves, made us out of his peace to live in peace, out of his light to dwell in light, out of his love to be above all things loved and loving. That is the last truth about the world.” (Kate Huey, ucc blog)
If that is true, that the last and ultimate truth about life and faith is not suffering and struggle by about learning how to live in peace, live in God’s light, and live out of God’s love, regardless of the rest of what is happening in life, then clearly faith is the only way for this to be possible.
In the Gospel of Luke we are reminded that God desires us to participate in the world God has created – Luke says, “do not be afraid, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Again Buechner informs us on this: “Faith is different from theology because theology is reasoned, systematic, and orderly, whereas faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises…. Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting.”
The Gospel of Luke reminds us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Faith in God is our treasure, our heart, our life, and all that we yearn for.