Keeping Faith Amid A Culture of Fear

The most stunning vistas of the Dakotas arise out of a marvelously quixotic mixture of hills and plains. Stopping at any mountain pass on our travels this summer, Steve, our daughter Grace, and I could literally see for miles and miles. Growing up in the Midwest, I was more acclimated to the flat cornfields and small towns of Ohio or the carefully manicured suburbs of Chicago than the stark beauty of the plains.

Amid that great expanse of sky and land, I quickly realized how small my field of vision was in the Midwest. Yet, if I happened to rente a helicopter and fly above the areas which I call “home,” would the view be any less expansive than that of the Dakota plains? Probably not. It is all in the seeing.
This is more than a geography lesson to me. It is also a parable. The question it raises is important for seeing with our eyes and seeing with the eyes of faith. What is our field of vision? Can we take the long look, when we are satisfied and happy? Can we take the long look, when we are buried in class work or buried in life’s contradictions? Can we take the long look, when we are immersed in suffering, illness, or other loss? Can we just stop, and take the long look?

To live as people of faith in times like these means to commit ourselves to a field of vision that transcends the external order of things. It transcends the temporal, the material, and the physical. It transcends the temptations and allures of our entertainment-driven culture as well as the risks and dangers of a culture of endless activity. Continually, faith cuts through the insignificant in its yearning for what is truly real.

Our dog, Irie, is a hunting dog, as many of you know. Her keenest sense is her sight. As soon as she detects a moving object, she shifts into hunting mode, even if it turns out to be a pile of dead leaves swaying in the breeze. I’ll be walking along and feel the leash pull behind me. Irie is several feet back, fully engaged in some interaction I can’t even see. At spotting a squirrel, she will stand at attention for minutes on end. I heard a story once about a Brittany that chased a raccoon up a tree and remained at point all night long.

As I watch every muscle in Irie’s body at its most alert, I can’t help but think of our own call to fix our eyes upon Jesus and sustain that gaze. Hear the words of the author of the Book of Hebrews:

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in.
Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed–that
exhilarating finish in and with God–he could put up with anything along the
way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right
alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that
story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That
will shoot adrenaline into your souls! (The Message)

 

Do you feel spiritually dry and empty at times? Sustain your gaze. Are you stuck on a life detour you never expected? Sustain your gaze. Are you praying the same old prayers that you’ve been praying for years for someone you love? Sustain your gaze. Do you face the silence of God when you need God the most? Sustain your gaze.

Don’t give up. This is the challenge of the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. Let’s give these characters names today–let’s add faces and personalities to the story. It’s a parable! It is meant to be a universal story. So, for today, let’s call the widow Alma and the judge, Judge Mason. As soon as we name the characters, the story takes on more life.

Everything is piling up against Alma. She may be right, but Judge Mason doesn’t care! Does that stop her? Heck, no! Alma decides to be a holy bother, a continual irritant, until the powerful judge listens and responds.

Jesus’ haunting punch line echoes through the centuries–When the Son of Humanity comes with his holy angels, will he find faith on earth? (Luke 18:8) Will Jesus find people willing to be holy pests, insisting on the right, standing up to the powerful? Will he find those who will pray for years for the same thing and won’t give up? Will he even find disciples who combine prayer with seeking justice? Or will he just find the pious who neglect justice and the activists who scoff at prayer?

While faith calls us to take the long view, there are moments in our lives when we cannot. Sometimes faith is about putting one foot in front of the other and getting out of bed each morning. That can truly be a victory of faith.

“I believe–Lord, help my unbelief!” is the cry of an anguished father, dealing with the untold misery of his son’s intractable illness (Mark 9:24). Sometimes our yearning for faith is accompanied by a host of doubts and questions. Sometimes our faith is in crisis. Even broken or shattered faith finds welcome in the heart of God.

We need to guard against expecting our faith to look amazing and grandiose. Let’s face it–faith often does seem grandiose in the bible. I don’t think any of us have subdued kingdoms, tamed lions, or raised the dead lately. Faith can express itself in many ways. It can be a profound vision for the Reign of God and how that Reign is meant to shape our lives. It can be rooted in the memory of what God has done in the past as we see so clearly in the recitations of the Psalms and the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews.

Faith can be as small as a mustard seed, quiet and hidden, buried in the earth of our hearts, ready to blossom into something unimaginable (Luke 17:5,6). Faith can be mustering the will to live when it is faltering in our hearts, throwing our exhausted prayers on God. Faith can be the raging voice in the wilderness, calling out for justice, asking why, then getting to the place where knowing “why” is no longer necessary (The Book of Job). Faith is never a one-shot deal–we have it or we don’t. Like hope, faith must be tended and nurtured throughout our lives.

Peace Community Church has been on a journey of faith ever since a small group of people gathered for a prayer meeting and formed The First Baptist Church of Oberlin in 1866. That’s 140 years ago! In my 27 years here, countless stories of faith have been woven and are still being woven. It is a holy process, and we are partners with God in this journey.

As we prepare for our offering, I invite you to consider anew your own journey of faith. If you are struggling and have lots of questions, invite someone else into that journey to walk beside you and support you in prayer. Don’t struggle alone in silence. If your faith is strong, let your light shine and become a source of inspiration and support for others. If your faith has withstood many trials, embrace its hard-won maturity–even if it feels very rough around the edges–and befriend those who have yet to walk a long time with God. If you yearn for faith and it seems far away, don’t despair. Many of us have been there and back again and would be glad to offer encouragement and guidance. Always know, too, that Steve and I are here to be there for you.

Let us pray.