Friday, 30 September 2016

Is this the idea that will make you rethink faith in God?

This morning I decided to go with a click bait title for the sermon:

Is this the idea that will make you rethink faith in God?

Faith involves doubt.

To increase the gift of faith you have received, no matter how small or large it might be, requires doubt because it is doubt that drove the disciples to ask Jesus to increase their faith.  Jesus had turned the disciples’ world upside down.  His stories and sayings challenged everything they believed and shook them to the core.  They were confused.  Following Jesus and believing in the God that he witnessed to left them floundering.  They asked him again and again to explain things, to show them, to help them understand and from the reading today “to increase their faith.” 

Faith involves doubt.  It is OK to have doubts.

Now some of you may have a strong faith, a faith that you feel is formed and shaped and grounded.  And some of you may feel that you have only a little faith, a faith that feels weak and unstable and unsure.  Yet, strong or weak, to nurture and grow the seeds of faith that you have been given requires you to doubt.  For it is in doubting that we question?  It is in questioning that we search?  It is the journey of a dynamic doubtful and searching faith that we grow?

As a follower of Jesus, as a baptised person and now as minister, my faith is driven by the constant clash of what I think I know and comprehend and what lies beyond my reach and experience.  It is my doubt that leads me to constantly rethink my faith and drives me to discovery.  It is my doubt that leads me to attend prayer retreats and conferences.  It is my doubt that inspires me to persist in my studies, and to read, and reflect.  It is my doubt that causes me to listen to the stories of your lives and your faith and to seek to know and understand.  It is doubt that inspires me to seek the wisdom and teaching of mentors and friends.

Faith is not an end point it is a starting point and I believe that without doubt faith sits and stagnates and does not grow but remains the same.

Faith involves doubt.  It allows questions.

Maybe it is the unspoken doubts and questions that you have that keep you coming back and searching for a rekindling of your faith week by week.  Maybe it is your doubts about your experience of life and what you see occurring in the world around you that has you coming here to find hope and to take confidence in God’s love and power.

I believe that doubt is usually seen as a negative thing, an impediment, but is having doubt the idea that might change and transform you as you grow in your relationship with God.

It is the midst of a faith filled with doubts that I found a way to cope with the words of the last words of Psalm 137. 

The words of this Psalm are written as a reflection on the sorrow of God’s people after they have been defeated and carried off as slaves to Babylon.  For most of us these concepts are beyond our comprehension: defeat, death, and utter disempowerment.

The response of the Psalmist though is more than a little disturbing:

Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!

Can this be right?  The people of God will be happy when they are killing babies in retribution and revenge for what has been done to them.  As much as it was known to be a practice in ancient warfare to decimate an enemy, even to the point of killing children, is this realty a reflection of divine retribution that we should blithely and blindly accept?

These are the words of our Bible.  Are these words which reflect God’s will in any way shape or form?  Are God’s people meant to be happy as baby killers?

I doubt it and I doubt it deeply.

Without doubt as part of the makeup of my faith these words of the Psalmist could be taken to suggest that God affirms the violence and the revenge killing reflected in the Psalm.  Passages such as this one often drive people away from Christianity who perceive God as of being callous and cruel.  More disturbingly I have heard passages such as this one used to justify Christians perpetrating violence.

These words of the Psalmist do not reflect the God I have encountered in the New Testament.  God, who rather than respond to violence with violence submits to the violence of the cross in the person of Jesus.  The cycle is interrupted.

So what do we make of these words of the Psalm? Do they carry any authority and weight for us still? What do they do to my reading of the Bible?

In my mind the authority of these words of the Psalm is in exposing the fallibility and confusion of human beings in response to the violence we perpetuate against one another. 

Throughout all of history we humans have found constant ways and means of hurting each other and killing each other.  We have been great at portraying other people as our enemy. We have not learned to love our neighbour or our enemy who is different to us.  We have been good at ignoring the impacts of our behaviours on others, especially those who are distant from us.

Just as I have doubts in my faith which drive me to question and grow so too I would say that I have deep doubts about having any faith in humanity.

As people who live after the age of enlightenment there was great hope in humanity to mature and respond to crises as they arose.  That we would shrug off the anachronism of religion and actual care for one another and the world in a much better way.  We thought our wisdom and advancement as human beings would bring us peace and security.

Beyond the obvious violent conflicts that continue to unfold across the globe, beyond the clear inequality and exploitation between the extremely wealthy and those in poverty, it was yet another climate milestone that pricked up my ears this week as I contemplated increasing my faith.  

This week I read that the atmosphere has passed a saturation point of carbon dioxide 400 parts per million and that it is not expected to drop below this bench mark again.  Whether or not you have doubts about climate science and the contribution of humanity to global warming, this figure is significant.  Human made or not we are on a trajectory that could see warming, accompanied by sea level rises, which may result in the collapse of society as we know it.

One of the most popular genre’s at the moment for young people are books and movies which look to societies in a not too distant post-apocalyptic dystopian future in which human beings have to cope in a world which has collapsed in on itself.  One of the constant themes in these novels is the violence of that future.  Movies and books like the Hunger Games and Divergent have echoes of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies as community breaks down.

If doubt drives my faith in God to go deeper ironically it is my doubts about human behaviour that leads me to lose my faith in humanity.

If the human response to bad stuff is more bad stuff – to kill the babies, then I am lead to look elsewhere.  I am lead to look again to God.

Is this the idea that will make you rethink faith in God?

That faith involves doubt.  Doubt can drive you deeper into your faith or it can cause us to lose your faith.  For me the faith that is deepening through doubt is my faith in God. 

Faith in God who rather than stay aloof and distant shares in our created existence.
Faith in God who rather than continue the cycles of violence submits to death on the cross in Jesus.
Faith in God who says to us in the resurrection that death is not the last word.
Faith in God who walks alongside us through our own questions, confusion and fears.

Faith is not about having all the answers.  Faith is not about what we can prove by our experience or argue through our knowledge.  Faith is a journey responding to doubt and gaining wisdom, strength and hope from the relationship.

When Paul writes to Timothy he encourages the community to rekindle their faith by the laying on of hands.  So on this day let us share in this moment, let us rekindle our faith and let us give strength to one another.


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