Steve Zwettler’s Homily, October 2, 2016

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OCTOBER 2, 2016

  • Habbakuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
  • 2 Timothy 1:1-14
  • Luke 17:5-10


As I begin my reflection this morning, I first of all want to ask a question.  I wonder how your faith is doing right now?  How is your relationship with the God that you believe in doing right now?  It is so important to keep this relationship alive in our hearts if we are to be loving believers.

There is an old Yiddish Proverb that says:  “Be careful of words-for they beget either Demons or Angels.  It is my sincere hope this morning that these few words I share with you may beget the better Angels of our Spirits roaming around in our hearts today.

All of our readings today are about Faith!  So, Faith is our focus this morning.

Habbakuk—and I love this name.  It sounds like a law firm from Istanbul-“Habbakuk, Habbakuk and Habbakuk.  But Habbakuk is complaining to God that the world is going to you know where in a handbasket.  There is injustice everywhere and everything is falling apart.  And God responds to him by saying “Wait-there is a vision-all is not lost-things will turn around.  For the righteous live by Faith.”

And in the letter to Timothy, Paul speaks of Timothy’s beautiful faith which has been nurtured by his grandmother Lois and his Mother Eunice.  How much of the faith we experience is nurtured within family life!  Paul says this Faith is not a cowardly faith or timid but one which is “Strong, Loving and Wise.”  And he encourages Timothy to keep the flame of this faith burning brightly-and to treasure and nourish it.

And in Luke’s Gospel, we hear the Apostles ask Jesus to increase their Faith.  And interestingly enough, Jesus does not give them teaching  or any direction in how to do this, but almost seems to be chiding them saying that if you just had a tiny bit of faith like this miniscule mustard seed, you could do amazing things-you could do miracles!

So, Faith is our focus this morning and I would like to do four things in this homily:

  1. Pose a modern Problem about Faith
  2. Share a gentle suggestion
  3. Share a bit of my personal Faith
  4. And close with a prayer from a woman of great Faith

So, let’s begin with the modern problem about faith.  It is centered in a problem with the meanings of two words:  “Believe” and “Credo.”

Blaise Pascal, the 17th century mathematician, spiritual writer and philosopher said:  “Belief is a wise wager.”  But the problem is that the word “belief” has become impoverished in our modern times.  And it has to do with translation.  We commonly translate the latin word “Credo” as “I believe.”  And because modern people –since the 17th century understand “I believe” to mean “I give my intellectual assent to”, many Christians today have difficulty with creeds.  Many Christians think that saying “I believe” means giving one’s mental assent to the literal truth of each dogmatic statement in the Creed.  They or we identify assent with Literalism of the dogma.

But many historical theologians-especially Marcus Borg on whom I lean for some of these insights-say that “Credo” does not originally mean that “I hereby agree to the literal-factual truth of creedal statements.  Rather –its latin roots actually mean:  “I give my heart to.”  What a huge shift in meaning!

Just as the word “Credo” involves a level of self deeper than the intellect-so do the pre-modern meanings of the word “believe.”  Prior to the 17th century, the word “believe” did not mean believing in the truth of dogmatic statements.

The object of believing was not statements, BUT A PERSON!

And this is what Habbakuk and Timothy and Luke are saying to us today about Faith—-Stay faithful to our relationship with God, rooted in the Person of Jesus.

So, most simply we can say today that “to believe” meant to hold dear, to give one’s heart to, to trust, and most importantly to believe meant to belove.  Indeed, the English words “Believe and Belove are related.  What we believe is what we Belove.  Thus, faith is about Beloving God and all that God Beloves.  The Christian life is about Beloving God and all that God Beloves-namely Neighbor, and all creation.

Faith is not about excessive precision or intellectual certitude, although it is important to note that it is not easy to give our heart to something our mind rejects.  This is why quality theological exploration is so important.

But primarily Faith is a “Way of the Heart.”  As it says in the Jewish Talmud:  “What God wants is the Heart”-not necessarily all of our beliefs in a neat row.  Faith is about Searching, Seeking, Doubting and Loving.  And as it says in Habbakuk it is often about waiting.  Faith is more a process than a finished product.

The Second thought I wish to share with you today is a Gentle Suggestion.  In my preparation for this homily I came across a quote from an Anglican Monk named Fr. Martin Smith.  He wrote in his monastery’s newsletter some years ago that:  “I have come to believe that Ambivalence is a Holy and Sacred Emotion.”  Holy Ambiguity!  He wrote:  “There is a widespread need in contemporary spirituality to find ways of praying, and engaging with God, ourselves and one another that have room for simultaneous contradictions—the experience of opposite emotions.  We need to find the Sacredness in living the tensions of dealing with the Mystery of the Holy.”

Is this not where many of us find ourselves today?  Psychologists tell us that living with ambiguity is a sign of maturity……not tying ourselves up in absolute certitudes in the midst of a flowing and changing culture.

So, this is my gentle suggestion:  I recommend to all of us a good dosage of Holy Ambiguity for a healthy Faith Life.

My third thought today involves sharing a bit of my personal Faith.  This I know:

  • When I sink down into deep and rich Silence and Prayer—and I still the restlessness of my heart—and I seek the Divine with my entire spirit-I know there is Something More!
  • When I gather here with all of on Sunday morning-to Break Bread, to share the cup, to sing together, and to break open the Word—I feel the energy—and I know there is Something More!
  • When I reach out in service to my brothers and sisters broken in body and spirit—and for me that is in visiting the sick and dying—or mopping the floor at Luke House, or eating with a Homeless person or having the privilege of serving a hot meal to people who are struggling—I know there is Something More!
  • When our neighbors come to our home to visit-a young couple just beginning their family-and they bring their little one year old girl Sophia—and I pick her up in my arms and we dance around the room together singing “Rockabye Sweet Baby James” by James Taylor—and I see the light in her eyes and her sweet smile—and I know there is Something more!

And this Something More is what I call God—the Divine—the Spirit of all that makes the world go around-the Ground of my Being-the ultimate Mystery—the Passion of my Heart and my Eternal Love.

I close my thoughts this morning with a beautiful prayer from St. Teresa of Avila, a woman of great faith, who challenged the people and culture of her time with her deep mystical experience and who was constantly under threat from the Spanish Inquisition because of her holiness and wisdom.  This little prayer was found in her prayer book after she died.  I find it a deep prayer of faith and is apropos this morning:

“Let nothing disturb you.

Let nothing frighten you.

All things are passing.

God never changes.

Patience obtains all things.

God along suffices.”

May the tiny seeds of our humble faith continue to do miraculous things in our lives, as Jesus promised.  I wish you God’s peace.

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