Leading with faith—homily 01 July 2018
Leading with faith
July 1, Proper 8:
Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.
How’s the battle between fear and faith going?
Last week, I highlighted the tension between fear and faith, and pointed out that faith calls us to go deeper than simply affirming that we love God and our neighbor as ourselves. When confronted with the fear that surrounds us, faith asks: Do I trust God to be in charge when fear seems to have the upper hand? Do I—can I—trust my neighbor? Do I trust myself? Can I let go, and really trust God’s relationship with all of us—God’s care for all of us?
These are challenging questions…and the tension between faith and fear hasn’t let up. “Do not fear, only believe.” Jesus says again today.
So how is it with you this week? Who’s winning? Faith? or Fear?
Unlike last week…which was filled with these big, scary metaphors for faith and fear (David and Goliath—Jesus and the disciples in a boat in a storm), this week we’re offered a very tangible, down-to-earth portrait of this dance.
First there is Jairus, and then there’s this woman. Focus on her. Picture her. Suffering for twelve long years. I know you can picture her, because I know you’ve seen her. You’ve seen her on the news. You’ve seen her on the street. You might have even spoken to her. She is, in essence, the opposite of Jairus. He is a leader—he has power. He has a voice. He is visible, honored, has a place in society. And she does not. She is about as powerless as she can be…with no voice (save for her internal monologue)…and the only place she seems to have in society is one of making others uncomfortable, or being the one others take advantage of. She has every reason to be fear-full. She has every reason to trust…no one. And yet, her first thought—at least the first one we hear—is one of faith…”if I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
“I trust that God is in charge and will provide. I trust this fellow human…this stranger…I have faith that I can do this.”
And what happens?
This miraculous…cosmic…ineffable…transfer of power…”Who touched my clothes?” he asks. He might have added “in faith.” “Who touched my clothes in faith?” Because clearly there are plenty of others touching him, as the disciples are quick to point out. But there is something different…special…potent about her touch. It’s… magnetic…compelling…it draws power from him….and he notices.
And it’s only after that power-full touch that fear makes an appearance.
“Who touched my clothes?” And she, “knowing what happened, came in fear and trembling…” it says. But wait. She comes in fear and trembling, but then she does what? Tells him “the whole truth.”
Have you ever told anyone the whole truth? Not the “I’m-going-to-give-it-to-you-straight-for-your-own-good” kind of truth. But the “this is what the deepest part of my soul knows and longs for…this is who I am—in all my brokenness and all my beauty.”
The first kind—the “I’m-going-to-give-it-to-you-straight-for-your-own-good” kind of truth is almost always a way of deflecting attention away from how really uncomfortable and vulnerable you’re actually feeling. It’s a fear-driven control mechanism.
The other kind: speaking the truth of your soul…is one of the most profoundly vulnerable…and faith-full acts we undertake. And you know when you’ve done it, or you’ve been fortunate enough to be present when someone else does it. There are few holier or more powerful moments in life. That kind of soul-baring, faith-full truth must have been what she revealed because Jesus recognizes it and affirms it… “Daughter (notice how close and intimate this relationship is now), your faith has made you well.”
It’s not that fear wasn’t present. Clearly it was, but she lead in faith…reached out in faith…spoke in faith…fear was there…but it wasn’t in control.
Fear drives us to seek control…fear want to be in control…often demands control…Faith is about letting go…faith is about turning control over to the only real power in the universe…God.
That doesn’t mean being passive…or disengaged…or a door-mat. In fact, just the opposite. This woman’s faith drives her to action…bold action…just as faith drives Jarius to action. Fear driven action…gets in the way…puts up walls…insists on it’s own way…In this story, fear of “troubling the teacher any further…” drives people to intercept Jesus on his path to help. Fear and “knowing what’s what.” “We have this figured out. The child is dead. I am in control…you don’t need to worry.” That’s a fear driven action.
Faith is risky. It opens pathways…it expands horizons…it challenges the our fragile sense of control and keeping it all together. “Help me…my daughter is at the point of death…my life is out of control…I’m hurting, scared, lonely, vulnerable…and I want the same things you do…safety, health, the best possible life for our children…” Those are actions driven by faith.
Initially, this sermon started out in a very different place. It happens sometimes. I wanted to talk about David lamenting over Saul. And reflect on the image of kingship and power that this offers. David is a very complicated figure. He amasses tremendous power…makes horrible mistakes… triumphs over numerous foes through cunning, subterfuge, and military might…and faith…and I wondered which pop-culture figure he was more like…is he more like Michael Corelone in the Godfather? (He certainly shares some of those attributes), or is he more like Aragorn from Lord of the Rings (the destined king who only rises from unknown origins to be the Once and Future King). It was a dead-end, but in following it…I came across an article by Peter Kreeft from up the street at Boston College on “The Presence of Christ in the Lord of the Rings” which contained a stunning paragraph on this tension between the Cross and the Ring of Power that is exactly the tension between faith and fear.
“The most fundamental Christian symbol is the Cross,” Kreeft writes. “This also is perfectly opposite to the Ring. The Cross gives life; the Ring takes it.” Just substitute “faith” for “The Cross” and “fear” for “the Ring”.
Faith gives life; fear takes it.
“The Cross gives you death, not power; the Ring gives you [the shadowy, false promise of] power even over death. The Ring [fear] squeezes everything into its inner emptiness; the Cross [faith] expands in all four directions, gives itself to the emptiness, filling it with its blood, its life. […] The Cross saves other wills; the Ring dominates other wills. The Cross liberates; the Ring enslaves.” [link]
Faith offers up its Self for the sake of others. Fear tries to dominate others in order to save the self. Faith liberates. Fear enslaves.
So how’s it going with you? What do you need to let go of? And put in God’s hands? What do you need to ask for in faith? What bold, expansive, faithful action will you take this week?