I preached a short sermon this morning on a theme which was once very much a part of this blog - so thought I might try and restart the thinking process which was so much of the writings here, and see if I can drop by more regularly than I have.
The theme was 'Faithfulness' - and my usual bugbear that we have conflated faith and belief and placed both under an umbrella of doctrine, or intellect, in a misuse, or misunderstanding, of what both concepts are. I went through this at some length with regards to writings on the Creed some years back - so here's a much truncated version:
Faithfulness Faith – we talk a lot about it in the Church, funny that. But we do tend to talk about faith in a very western, very post-enlightenment, very post-reformation way. We talk about faith as believing, or rather, as intellectually saying yes to a certain set of propositions. To have faith is, apparently, to believe certain doctrines, certain statements that we think we can say yes to ‘God as creator’ check; Jesus as incarnate, God made human, check; Virgin birth, ermmmmm, well maybe check; physical resurrection of Jesus, check; etc etc. And if you get a certain magic number of these sorted in our brains, then OK, we consider ourselves believers, one of the faithful. A person of faith.
But that doesn’t seem to be the way our Scriptures talk about believing, or being faithful. Being faithful involves chopping animals in half and walking between them – or in the case of Abram’s vision, floating between them. So there you are.
Or as my son, Jack says, “say whhhaaaattt?”
Let me try and give a little background – at least share some of the background I was given on this Hebrew Scripture some while back.
There were various rituals that went with some of the tribal covenants of the ancients – one of them was a symbolic act of rending certain animals in half, as we read of in today’s passage from Genesis, and then walking between the the two halves of the carcasses. This was to symbolise the commitment of faithfulness between two parties – saying that if one betrayed the trust of the other then he or she deserved to be ripped in two just like the animals. Kind of brutal, but it makes a point!
And that’s the story we see here today. And the powerful part of the story is that it is God that initiates and makes the promise, who in Abram’s vision passes between the animal s in the form of a flaming torch and a smoking pot. A precursor perhaps of the image of the pillar of flame and the pillar of cloud in the Exodus story to come later on in Israel’s mythology.
The image is of remaining faithful to a vow, a covenant, a promise, a relationship. Faithful as we are called to be faithful in love and commitment to one another in our relationships, faithful as we seek to be to the values to which we are called, faithful in love, trust, service. Perhaps we should stop talking of faith and of belief altogether, and talk instead of faithfulness. Because that is what faith is really about.
I have mentioned before that even the word belief does not mean what we often take it to mean – the old English meaning of the word is be-leif, to be committed to, to cling to, to hold someone closely! That’s a lot more visceral, a lot more to do with our gut than with our head – a lot harder than checking off a list in our heads and deciding that, yes, I think I have a critical mass which allows me to call myself a believer.
It’s about how we feel more than what we have decided we assent to. How we act, rather than how well we speak.
That’s not to say that our faith should be thoughtless, or that wrestling with these things in our minds as well as our hearts is not an important part of what it means to be faithful. On the contrary, the search for meaning, and the struggle with that question which is the basis for all we are as Christ followers ‘where is God in all of this?’ is an important one to keep front and center in our minds as we encounter this world in all its wonder and all of its brokenness, in all of its beauty, and harshness, and hope, and fear.
But faith is not an intellectual exercise, instead I would say it is an attitude of the heart. I believe we are called to recognise the loving faithfulness of God and respond with our own commitment to the life of the Divine – seeking to find what that means as we live lives faithfully. I believe we are called, as today’s short thought from the Gospel reminds us, to bear good fruit – living lives which show the presence of the loving God who is faithful to us – and (to carry on the metaphor from our Hebrew Scriptures) is torn apart by our lack of love towards one another and towards Godself.
I believe – and by this I mean I cling closely to – that we are called to have the faithfulness of Jesus, not to believe in Jesus as we often have the words of the original Greek text translated. Again, not to join in a certain form of anti-intellectualism that has, and does, permeated the Church, but to push back against the primacy of rationalism that has also tipped the balance in favour of rationality and philosophy at the expense of lived, prayed, engaged, loving, experience.
We are called to be faithful, as God is faithful. Committed to our walk with Christ, as God is committed to walking with us – to being present for, around, within us. We are called to live in such a way that we know and show the love of God. May we be faithful. Amen.