Wearing Our Faith

Rev. Marilyn Washburn

[]This morning, there are some difficult words in the Gospel of John. John is not an easy one to understand. It's fascinating in that respect, but let's look at it and break it down a little bit and think about the ways in which it really touches who we are and where we are going. First of all, Jesus acknowledges the fact that his message is not easy to understand. I don't think there's anybody here who can say otherwise. Think about some of the stories that he told, some of the things that he did, the ways in which he would turn questions around. One of my favorites is the story of the Good Samaritan where the lawyer asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" and Jesus tells the story about the Samaritan who did what the leaders of the church did not do, which was to help the man who was in need. And then he turns around and he says to the lawyer, "Are you the good neighbor?" not, "Who is the neighbor?" He did not answer the question, but twisted it around, turned it back for the man to think about and to reflect upon.

Then there is the story of the Rich Young Man who said, "I believe in all of the good things of the Scripture, I faithfully say my prayers, and I participate in everything. What more do I need to do?" And then, of course, Jesus said, "Give up everything that you have and give it to the poor and then you will enter the Kingdom of Heaven." Well, of course, the man couldn't do that, or wouldn't do that, and turned around and left. Well, that's got to be a very hard thing to understand and to think about.

And we can go on and on. Think about all of the ways in which Jesus healed. There were some things that were very difficult to understand, some things that just didn't make a lot of sense to the people then, and to many of us today. And there's a lot of subtle nuances and symbolism that goes on in the Scriptures, the stories that Jesus told. So it is not easy to understand. And in many ways, we may never fully understand them. But yet there are times when they will come to light and something that maybe you didn't understand yesterday, you may be enlightened to know and make sense about tomorrow. Perhaps your life will have changed and something will have happened for you that will enable you to say, "Aha, that's what Jesus was talking about, or, "That's what he was doing when he did that." And you will sometimes say, "Okay, I can understand now a little bit more about what is going on."

And we also are reminded in the Scripture that the Spirit opens the eyes and enables the disciples to embrace even the difficulties and to come to accept Jesus' words, that the words moved them and opened them, and constantly changed them. And that is so important to be remembered, that the words are there and the Spirit is always touching us, always opening us, always changing us, always moving us in new directions, but we have to be open to that movement.

Then there is the talk about the reality of unbelief. I'm fascinated by that phrase when Jesus says, "I know that there are those of you who do not believe. And I know that there are those of you who struggle with belief." He takes it seriously, and that means, from the way I understand it, that it's okay to question. It's okay to say, "I do not understand," or, "I simply do not believe that. That doesn't make sense." Among the things that some people have trouble with are the Virgin Birth, for instance. How in the world did that happen? What was going on there? I have heard so many times people say, "I just can't believe that." Jesus is saying, "It's okay to have some unbelief. It's okay to have some difficulty understanding because I will be here for you no matter what. I will be here through thick and thin, that even if you have difficulty within the church or outside of the church, I will be here for you. I will be here to guide you, I will be here to enlighten you, I will be here to help you." And it reminds us also in this piece of Scripture that the unbelief is still touched by divine grace, that no matter where we are on life's journey, God's grace is available to us to touch us and move us.

Now, I have encountered many people in my life who have had struggles with difficulties, who have gone through some very dark times. And some of them have been able to allow God to work through that with them. Like Jesus moved through the crucifixion into the resurrected life, into the newness of life, so we also move with Jesus. And that's part of what he's talking about here today, that we are called to move with him, that even in the darkness there will be light at the end.

I remember one difficult time in my own life when I wasn't quite sure what the future held. I really didn't know what was going to happen to me and I was feeling very depressed and very down, very discouraged. It was early in my ministry and I didn't know what the next church was going to be; I was having difficulty in the church I was in. And I remember reading in the Scripture the story of Jesus praying in the Garden before the crucifixion. And he said, "Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done." And suddenly I sat up and I said, "Wait a minute. Wow. He went through the crucifixion and came out okay on the other side. So will I. Somehow God will help me through this. Somehow I will come out okay on the other side." And it gave me the courage and the strength to move forward and to make some choices and decisions that I was frozen with before, the inability to do. And it gave me the courage to move in new directions. And I will never, ever regret those decisions that I made because they were wonderful ones. And I moved from that time forward into new directions with my ministry that have been happy and healthy and wholesome with God's grace. But I came through that difficult time with a little bit of unbelief…which brings me to the reading from Ephesians about putting on all of those things that are mentioned there.

One of the difficulties that some people have is the sense of the 'armor' of God, that we are arming ourselves against whatever is out there, and that if we are going to be peaceful, loving people, how can we put on armor? But I like to look at it this way, that we are clothing ourselves in the things that will enable us to withstand all of those dark times, all of those painful times, all of those difficult times, all of those grieving times, that we are enabled to put on the truth of God and to hold onto that and be covered with it, to now that righteousness surrounds us. And I love the sense of the shoes that lead us to peace instead of warfare. Peace…God gives is to us. And God gives us faith, salvation, the Holy Spirit and, most of all, the Word and words of God.

One of the most important things I remember from my seminary days was one of my theology professors who said, "The Word of God is found in the words of God," that the Word can be found amongst all of those words of the Bible. And it pops out at you in unexpected ways. But when we wear our faith and put it on, we are enabled to live it out more freely in the world. We are enabled to live more like Jesus wants us to live. And we are enabled to see more of what Jesus wants us to see and be. It gets us through all of the dark times as well as the ordinary.

I'm always saddened by those who go through some kind of difficulty and don't allow their faith to help them. I have known, too many times, people who have had painful experiences who say, "Well, God doesn't care. I don't know where God is." But if we are truly wearing our faith, God will come through for us. There are times when some people literally turn their backs on God in those tough times, and I worry about that. I worry about that because they have not really been able to fully grasp and embrace the power of Jesus and the power of God and the love that surrounds us and covers us and that we wear every day. So I would encourage you to put on the powers of God, to put on the faith, the hope, the peace, the love that comes from Jesus Christ, to take your unbelief with you and let that be part of you, to not be afraid of it and say, "Help me in my unbelief." And God will help you to find a new way of understanding.

And so, my friends, I believe that the living God, the living Christ stays with us, covers us, dresses us, renews us, refreshes us, and guides us every step of the way. Jesus never abandons us. Even when we turn our backs, Jesus is there. And hopefully we can turn around and see that God is still there for us, no matter what. So I encourage you to put on your faith and wear it each and every day, and it will get you through those very, very trying times. It's a wonderful reminder of the power of the living God in our midst. Thanks be to God! Amen.

August 23, 2009

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