Follow Me

lonely_footsteps_in_the_sand_by_daila0701-d3ncbfdOur reading from Matthew chapter 4 this morning tells us how Jesus called his first four disciples – all fishermen; saying to them, “Follow Me.”

This puzzles me, because the first chapter of Matthew tells us that Jesus will be called “Emmanuel” – “God with us.” This speaks to how we see God as always right here, alongside us. Through Jesus-Emmanuel, we know God experiences what we experience. God feels what we feel. God knows birth and death just as we are born, and will someday die. “Emmanuel” is a statement of our equality before God. We are one of the many children of God standing alongside the first child of God, Jesus Christ.

So, how can the same Gospel teach that we are following behind Jesus (as the disciples were and at the same time walking with Jesus, our sibling, at the same time? Is Jesus our leader or our companion?

Now, how some interpret the idea that we “follow” Jesus troubles me. “Following Jesus” does not mean that we are desperately clutching at the hem of his robe to be dragged into Paradise. “Following Jesus” does not mean that we must adhere to some very specific interpretation of God’s Word or risk eternal damnation. “Following Jesus” does not mean we check our brains, or our hearts, at the door.

On the other hand, some people go a bit too far with the idea of Jesus as a companion. Yes, Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us.” But, this does not mean that Jesus goes everywhere that we want to go. Jesus is our companion. But companions walk together. They support each other.

We do not slavishly follow Christ. But then again, we cannot expect Christ to follow us just because we want him to! And yet many, Fundamentalists and Progressives alike, believe exactly that: justifying their own particular perspectives as the only one that is blessed by God. (Well, except atheists, who just want you to believe their particular perspective!)  Many go further, claiming we’ll be blessed only if we have enough faith in what they believe. Really?

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What is Faith?

Hebrews is unique, no other book in the Bible is quite like it. It reads like an old time evangelist’s sermon: full of color, movement, stirring imagery and ringing phrases that were meant to be memorable when spoken. We are familiar with many of those phrases, such as: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” – and – “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” – or – “Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” So then, what is Hebrews 11 teaching us about what “Faith” is?

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What is Faith?

 

It’s not a simple question.  For us, the answer to that question begins with Genesis … and never really ends.

As I’ve said before, Faith defines how we see ourselves, who and what we choose to have relationships with, and what we envision our end (and the eventual end of all Creation) to be.  Faith helps us make sense of the events and circumstances that shape us and our world.  It lays out a path for us to follow into the future.  Faith enables us to gaze into the infinite and the unknowable and find a place there for ourselves.  It helps us make sense of the mystery of God and the vastness and beauty of Creation.  And, it enables us to exist in a world of uncertainty and change.

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A lot has been written on the topic of Faith; not just the in Bible, but in everything from Hamlet or Pilgrim’s Progress, to Harry Potter and Star Trek. We admire those who have faith, and we honor those who die for their faith.  We seek to encourage faith in others, and our faith impels us to minister to those in need.  Faith is a powerful thing, and central to our existence, even though we may have a hard time defining exactly what it is.

 

The 11th chapter of the Book of Hebrews is a profound response to the question of “What is Faith?”  Hebrews is unique, no other book in the Bible is quite like it.  It reads like an old time evangelist’s sermon: full of color, movement, stirring imagery and ringing phrases that were meant to be memorable when spoken.  We are familiar with many of those phrases, such as: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” – and – “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” – or – “Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”.

Much of its Theology is subtle, but the delivery isn’t, nor was it intended to be. The author was addressing a community in crisis.  The people had lost their faith, and had no hope in their future.  The author intended to stir them up; re-awaken their faith; and help them reclaim God’s hope and plan for themselves, their community, and their future.

Chapter 11 is where the evangelist reaches the crescendo of their message.  I imagine them preaching it: arms waving in the air, voice thundering, starting each new thought with the ringing phrase “By Faith” …

By Faith Abraham obeyed when he was called … (and)

By Faith he and his descendants dwelt in the land God promised them, even though they did not yet possess it… (and)

By Faith Abraham believed God’s promise of descendants, despite he and Sarah being far too old to procreate…

By Faith!

Continue reading “What is Faith?”