s180e01 Somerton Park Sunday 13 1/ 7/ 01

"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit." Galatians 5:22-25

Again, I choose to look at this passage from Galatians, since I have already preached on the passage about following Christ in the gospel for today.

As I reflect on these words, I recall hearing someone say that the opposite of faith is apathy - a not caring - a giving up. (This is besides the other opposite of faith - certainty). And while I agree that not caring is not a good thing, there is another sense in which we have do have to let go of our passions and desires.

And I specifically do not mean those passions and desires which accompany - say young lovers - which seem to me to be normal and natural.

No, I am actually thinking of the passion for justice and peace, of thinking that we must "change the world", that it "depends on us". I would not want to stop political activism, but as one priest said to me recently, it is very liberating to realise that it doesn't depend on me. There is a sense that God does have a part to play in our world and most often when God acts it is the right thing at the right time, whereas when I do things it might be the right thing but the timing's atrocious - and it falls completely flat.

How often in my ministry, I've thought that it's a bit like pushing the proverbial wheelbarrow through treacle, only to find something else happens which achieves things without any effort on my part whatsoever! So once I recall having a phone call from the Archbishop one night to congratulate me on some events in the parish. I thought he would be referring to some of the things I had done. But no, he was congratulating me that the Auxiliary had done an interfaith tour ... something which I had nothing whatsoever to do with! I was very happy for the Auxiliary to do the interfaith tour, it was just that I hadn't asked them to do it or encouraged them to do it at all - the Auxiliary had decided to do this all by themselves :-)

And I suppose that this is a good object lesson here, that often asking the Rector to get someone else to do things is counter-productive. Anglicans are a contrary mob. If someone in authority asks them to do something, they do precisely the opposite :-) So I don't think that I'm going to lose any sleep trying to get others to do this or that. You are here in Church. You are already doing your primary duty - putting up with my sermons :-) If you choose to do other things, I am sure that you will be blessed, but I am sure that you don't come here to be told of all the things you might also do ..

The first sentence of my text is the favourite of charismatics. It is interesting that the word here translated as faithfulness is actually just "faith". So faith is not something that is given to us in the beginning of our journey with God, a sort of "cash advance" to see what we make of it - and if we run out of it prematurely then it is just our bad luck or bad management. Faith is actually the end product of our Christian journey too.

So the real question is how do we increase our faith, or really how do we get God to give us more faith, as we journey through life?

I have the distinct impression that if we have sufficient faith to meet the demands of our situation, then we don't need more and no more is forthcoming. If we don't have enough faith to meet our present circumstances, then there are three possibilities.

The first option is perhaps we misjudge the faith we have. If in fact we were to step out in faith, we might find we have resources we didn't know about, and so we find faith within us to which we were completely oblivious.

The second is that we are not actually meant to do that anyway. So I often think of all the good I could do if I won the lottery :-) The fact that I haven't won a lottery means that I'm not actually called to do these things.

The third option is a variation of the second, and that is that God gives us not more faith, but other people to help us through. This is most often the case when we get sick. God doesn't give us faith to get better all by ourselves, with no help from others. God gives us other people, like doctors and nurses and other care givers. And we are called to listen to them and act on their advise.

For the reality is that we can use faith - really misuse faith - as a devise to keep us independent, when the reality is that we are all interdependent, one on another. If we use God's gift of faith to bolster our independence, then that is quite definitely "time limited". We can stick it out for just so long, but everyone of us needs, if no one else, someone to carry out our coffin and put it in a hole. We can do it earlier or later, it is indeed up to us. But the reality is that we are likely to find life easier if we do this earlier.

So perhaps we should look not so much for faith from God. Perhaps we should look for faith in those around us.

For much of our Saviour's life was spent, not so much telling people to believe, but to find faith already in them. So Jesus found faith in the Samaritan leper (Luke 17.16), the one out of the ten who returned to give thanks. Jesus found faith in the Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to cure her daughter (Matthew 15.28). Jesus found faith in the devout centurion beyond all in Israel (Luke 7.9). Jesus found faith in the rich chief tax collector of Jericho (Luke 19.2). Jesus elicited faith in the man whose son suffered the terrible convulsions - "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9.24)

Often I find people in the Church somewhat downcast and wondering at the seemingly increasingly secular society in which we live - that it seems, people do not come to Church in anywhere near the numbers that they used to do, in the "good old days". And if this is so, perhaps we ought to take a leaf out of our teacher's book, and look for faith outside our community of faith, outside our circle of friends. Jesus found faith in the heretical Samaritan who, because of his leprosy, was not fit for normal society. Jesus found faith in the alien woman. Jesus found faith in the officer of the otherwise hated occupying forces. He found faith in the rich tax collector.

Oddly enough, yet it is quite significant, the place where Jesus looked but found faith difficult to find was in his own home town, amongst the people with whom he grew up and amongst whom he had worshipped all his life. (Mark 6:5-6) They sought to kill him, because he dared to suggest God care for others, other than themselves.

So, if we want to find faith in our society, the odds are that if we were to look with the eyes of Jesus, we too would find faith in others, in many people outside our Church, indeed in people where we would least expect it.

For I have no doubt that we will find faith in all sorts of people - people who are quietly getting on with their lives as best they might. We will find faith in an AIDS ward, we will find faith amongst gay people, we will find faith amongst people of other faiths and religions, we will find faith amongst self professed atheists and agnostics - faith which doesn't express itself in the formularies of the church certainly, but faith nevertheless.

For the reality is that we, I as much as anyone else, are apt to look at our formularies, and see them as defining who is "christian" and who isn't - who has faith and who doesn't. But the chief of our formularies, the creeds, were not composed to define such things at all. The creeds were argued and fought over to ensure the sovereignty of God, that puts God beyond the exclusive possession of any one person or denomination, and to safeguard the doctrine of the incarnation, that Jesus came to live and to die and to rise again for all humanity, not just the religious amongst us.

The salvation of the world doesn't depend on us - for God has a whole lot of people at his / her disposal - not just us. The salvation of the world doesn't depend on us, it has already been accomplished on the Cross and the resurrection, and it is up to us to see this reality. Every action done to assist another is done because of the realisation that God cares for all people - that the other person has just as much right to exist as anyone else. Sadly of course, sometimes a belief in this is less, not more evident, in church people.

Bishop Spong talks about us giving life to the world, loving wastefully and enabling all people to be everything they can be. Here is indeed a person of great faith.

It seems our Master is not just a messy eater when it comes to food. The scrapes that fall from the master's table are indeed manifold. The scraps the disciples collected after the multitude were fed numbered baskets full. The wine for the wedding feast would have satisfied a small town. But it is not just bread and wine - it is faith also. God gives faith to what might seem to us the most unlikely of people, yet if we look, I have no doubt we will be astonished at just how much faith is in fact spread around. It's a bit like the sower, the seed fell on all sorts of ground, some ready to receive and nurture it, others not so. Still the seed is cast by the sower every which way.

Finally St Paul tells us: " If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit." Surely we would acknowledge that the person who was led by the Spirit par excellence, was Jesus himself. And so, led by the Spirit, Jesus was able to find faith in the nooks and crannies of life, in all sorts and conditions of people. We are bidden to do likewise, though this command is not given in a spirit of sending us on a wild goose chase, an exercise in futility. No, as we all do this I have no doubt we will indeed find those other words of Jesus finding fruition: "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10).

 

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