A heart like a microwaved pizza

the 13th Day after Pentecost
Baptism!
September 8th, 2019

The readings for this day were
Ezekiel 36:24-28
Canticle 9, the First Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 12:2-6)
Romans 8:14-17
Mark 10:13-16

        The worst thing you can do with a piece of pizza is put it in the microwave.  And I’m serious.  If you want to put anchovies on it, that’s cool, go wild.  In Japan, I found that some people like to put mayo and corn on their pizza.  And I was like, really, but, you know, it wasn’t all that bad.  It was still a pizza.  But if you’ve got some left-over pizza from the night before, and you need to warm it up, don’t put it into the microwave.  Like all bread-based food, when you put pizza in the microwave, it comes out all tough and chewy and hard.  It’s inedible.  Sure, it’s still got the cheese and the sauce and all, but you just can’t eat it.  It’s not pizza anymore.

        And I say all this because, in a way, the prophet Ezekiel is talking about microwaved pizza.  Because it seems to me that, if we updated Ezekiel’s language to be more modern, we’d get something like this: “[God says] A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body a heart like a microwaved pizza, and I will give to you a fresh heart, like a pizza straight from the oven, eaten on the streets of New York City.”  Not a tough, plasticky, yucky heart, but a soft, pleasant, delicious heart that fills your whole body with light and joy.  Here, Ezekiel’s writing about how God lives with us in our lives and what God’s presence does to us, how it affects us, moves us, breaks open all those hard parts so that we can live lives of freedom and grace.

        Because we know what Ezekiel’s talking about, don’t we?  Whether we call them hearts of stone or hearts of micro-waved pizza, we’ve experienced that, haven’t we?  I know I have.  I remember, back in middle school, seeing a good friend of mine get bullied.  And all I did was watch, then turn away.  And why?  Why didn’t I do something to help my friend?  I was scared of getting involved, really.  I didn’t want to step in because, I thought, that was his business.  And, hey, my friend was a little annoying, so maybe he even deserved being bullied.  I knew it was wrong, but these thoughts took over, and I did nothing.  Nor was it just when I was young, but ever since, I’ve turned my back, walked away, ignored a call.  It’s something that happens, I think, to all humans, that we ignore those who are calling out for real and honest help.

        But his is all more than just being a good citizen.  I’m not just saying that we should all be neighborly and then everything’s gonna be alright (though being neighborly is a pretty good place to start).  This is about God; this is about life and letting the life of God grow within us and, through us, out into the world.  Because, just as much as we know what it means to have a micro-waved pizza heart, I think we also know, each one of us knows, what it’s like when our heart is freshly baked, straight from the oven.  Have you ever given a gift, not because you’ll get one in return, or it’s just what you do, but because you loved someone so deeply, so fully, so completely, that you just felt the need to give?  Have you ever stayed at the bed of a sick person, and stayed all through the night, even though you could do nothing, but just so that that person wouldn’t wake up lonely?  When we give with this kind of heart, when we live with this kind of heart, we don’t think about what we’ll get in return.  No, we give to the point where we become love, where we become life, and that’s because, the more we live this way, the more we are Jesus Christ, who was, and is, and forever shall be the fullness of life for evermore.

        Now, in a few minutes, we’re going to baptize little Cooper, but this softening of heart, this un-microwaving of the heart, this isn’t what’s going to happen to him when I pour water over his head.  It’s not like poor Cooper has some microwaved piece of heart in his chest and we all have to get him baptized so that *snap* he’ll have a heart of flesh and life again.  That’s actually a lot like microwaving, and we know what that does to the heart. 

        But something does happen in Baptism.  It’s not the sudden, boom, changing of a heart; it’s the planting of a seed.  In Baptism, God plants a seed inside our hearts.  It’s a Jesus-seed that will grow into a Jesus-plant (I usually think of it as a Jesus-tree, but if you’re more the Jesus-bush or Jesus-flower kinda person, that’s cool, too).  And as Cooper grows, he’ll meet all sorts of adversity.  He’ll get discouraged, he’ll get frustrated, he’ll doubt.  Maybe he won’t make star player on the team the first year out, or he won’t get the job he wants straight out of college.  Maybe, God-forbid, a deeper tragedy will strike.  Life, we all know, is full of disappointments and griefs, and unless we’re careful, these disappointments and these griefs harden our hearts.  But that Jesus-tree, it breaks up that stone heart not from the outside but from within.  It pushes against those hard bits, that doubt and discouragement, it pushes against them so that they soften.  It keeps the heart from turning in on itself in hatred or despair but opens that heart in freedom. 

        And here’s where you come in.  Baptism in Christ means the planting of a seed, a turning of the person to God.  And, like all seeds, that Jesus-seed needs to be nurtured.  It needs to be watered, given fresh sunlight, even manured every once in a while (I’ll let you parents figure out what I mean by manuring the heart).  This is all done by God, of course, but we, as the Church, will also take part in God’s work.  And that’s why, right before the baptism, we’ll all stand up and make promises for little Cooper, who one day won’t just be little Cooper, but Cooper, a man in his own right.  But until then, it’s our job, as family, godparents, other friends and acquaintances – as the Church itself, it’s our job to nurture that Jesus-seed within him. 

        And so, just as Cooper’s Jesus-seed is being planted by the waters of Baptism, so too will we be looking to our own Jesus-tree in ourselves.  This morning, we’re checking in on it, seeing how it’s doing, maybe pruning a branch here or putting in new soil there.  We will, yet again, renounce evil and all the forces of wickedness that enslave us.  We’re turn again to the goodness in Jesus Christ and promise, yet again, to follow him, and to keep on standing up each and every time we fall.  And we’ll make the promise to one another that we’ll help tend and nurture each other’s Jesus-trees.  And then, at last, we’ll look out into the world and promise to be the gardeners of God’s seed, those seeds that he planted in the hearts of every single person, every place, and every thing, when he sent his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to bring life and love into this dark world.

        Baptisms are a new beginning.  They’re a new beginning for Cooper, who has just started taking steps into this world; they’re a new beginning for us, who so often in our wayward lives need new beginnings; and they’re a new beginning for the Church, which is two-thousand years old but still forever young, forever reborn, in these waters that reach to the depth of Creation and back.

the Grace of God

the 12th Day after Pentecost
Proper 17
September 1, 2019

The readings for today are:
Sirach 10:12-18
Psalm 112
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

Click here to access these readings. 

         When I came to be your priest last summer, I didn’t make many changes to the liturgy here at St. James.  And this was because, well, first of all your worship was pretty beautiful.  You did most things by the prayer-book, and the extra stuff you did really went to heighten the beauty and the joy of the service.  I was really impressed with things like the silences you had all throughout the liturgy – and these silences that really let the weight of the readings, or the confession, or the Eucharist, they really let them sink in.  They brought and bring me, at least, more closely to God.  As for the rest of the service, I tweaked it a little bit, but, really, I left it the same.

        But there was one thing that I did change.  Before I got here, the wine and the bread were set up at the front of the church nave near the altar.  Instead, we now put them at the back and have someone in the congregation bring them forward during the offertory.  Right now it’s the Brazers and Gwendolyn who do this, but, really, it’s just important that someone from the congregation does it, not one of the LEMs up front or me, the priest.  And I didn’t start this because some of you want to get your steps in or just to add another complication to the liturgy; I did this because it is one of the most important parts of the service.  This simple act represents how we should live to God.

        You see, this little cruet filled with wine, and this small handful of wafers, they represent how we receive God’s love and how we then return it.  Look at our collect this morning for a moment.  Here we address God as the author and giver of all good things, and that’s true.  All good things come from God.  And this isn’t like how, on Christmas morning, we say that Santa Claus brought all the presents under the tree or in the stockings (though this is indeed an image of how God lives in our lives).  God is the author of good material things in our lives, but God is also the giver of all goodness, of all good things.  We experience the goodness of the Spirit when we’re surrounded by our families, or when we’re under the warm summer sun, or when we curl up to read a good book on a rainy day.  We experience the goodness of Jesus Christ when we are healed from our suffering or our pain, or when we experience the forgiveness of our sins and are reconciled back into our community.  And we experience the goodness of God the Father in our faith and our hope that grounds us, or when we look to the stars or the ocean and know God’s love to us in Creation.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg.  All good things, all of them, come from God.

        And all of this is what we call ‘grace’, the grace of Jesus Christ.  And grace isn’t just those things in life that gives us joy, like stopping for ice cream on the way home, or hitting snooze on the alarm for just another five more minutes of sleep.  These are good things (and things which we should thank God for, surely), but grace goes quite a bit deeper.  Grace does quite a bit more.  One author I read recently wrote that grace is the “quickening and sanctifying” of life.  Grace is the yeast that we add to flour to make bread.  Grace is the sun and the rain and good soil for a seed that helps it grow.  It’s the Eucharist added to Morning Prayer to make our worship here on Sunday moving and powerful and that draws us to God.  Grace is that presence of God, that impossible presence of God, that lifts life beyond itself, that makes all good things come to pass.

        I once saw grace at work while in my hospital chaplaincy.  Truth be told, grace was always at work in the hospital.  I would go into rooms and talk with those who had been there just a day and those who would surely die there.  People told me of their lives and their troubles, and in doing so, something was righted inside them, something was turned from grief and fear to, well, to life.  I didn’t do much of anything; I just sat and listened and watched God at work in these people’s lives. 

But there was one couple who was different.  The grace in that room, I could almost see it, could almost feel it on my skin.  The husband had an illness that was terminal, and he was going to hospice.  There was grief, surely, and there were tears in their eyes, as they both knew that he would soon die.  But there was love, both of one another and of the Lord.  There was hope.  And this hope, this love, this sense that I could see in their eyes and hear in their words, it wasn’t just acceptance of the inevitable, or the smile on one’s lips who looks back on a good life.  This was something more than these two people, it was a goodness and a life that radiated out of them, that caught hold of me and the other seminarians who met them, as well as the doctors and nurses with us.  This was grace, the quickening yeast of life, even at its end.  This was God’s loving presence with we humans who are so lost and alone without him.

Grace isn’t something that fades like emotions or memories fade.  Nor is it something we have, that we can, say, stick in the bank to use later or keep hidden under our bed for a rainy day.  Again, grace is the quickening of life, the enlivening of life.  It builds us as people, as Christians, in the image of Jesus Christ.  It takes the gifts that we have been given in our birth and in our new birth in Jesus Christ, and develops them and furthers them, like a teacher who sees nurtures the potential in a student.  Grace is how God works us more fully into his own image, which is Jesus Christ.  And all this so that God can achieve his great intent: to bring all us humans, and God’s Creation with it, home. 

There are many moments of grace in our liturgy.  Really, I think you could say that the whole thing, from the opening hymn to the dismissal, is an experience of God’s grace.  But the Offertory is special.  Here we take two symbols of our work in life, work that we struggle through, that tests us and can even beat us down, these two, small symbols of all our life, and we bring them before God to be made into the very Body and Blood of God’s Son Jesus Christ.  But that’s us, too, isn’t it?  We human, we broken, wayward, sorrowful people.  We bring ourselves before God as well, and what does God do?  He loves us.  He gives us life and nurtures us, so that our frail hope and longing can be made into an image of God himself.  For we give to God everything that we have, and what we are given in return is more than we can possibly imagine.

 

Stuff and God

the 11th day after Pentecost
Proper 16
August 25ht, 2019

The readings for today are:
Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 103:1-8
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Click here to access these readings.

            Have you ever heard of the liturgical workout? No, it’s not what Episcopalians do when they go to the gym. It’s what we do right here in our church nave. It’s often said that we Episcopalians, and many others who worship God liturgically, are always standing up and sitting down. And you might not notice this if you’ve worshipped this way for a long time. It all seems, to us, pretty simple. We sit down for readings – unless it’s the gospel reading, then we stand. We also stand for the Nicene Creed, but then we sit back down for the Prayers of the People. And when it comes time for the Eucharist, some people stand and some people sit (both are just fine, by the way). And some people, if their piety is just right, will kneel instead. We are always getting up but then sitting back down.

       And we don’t do all this just because it’s fun to stand up and sit down all the time. When we pray liturgically, we don’t just pray with the voice but with all the senses and the whole body together. And each of these different ways we pray – they mean something. Why do we stand at the gospel? It’s because we are people of Jesus Christ, people of the Gospel, and we stand to show respect to the words of our Savior. Why do we sit or kneel at confession? It’s because in our confession we are humbling ourselves before God. Nor are we just saying, “God, I’m sorry”, but using our whole body, our knees and our shoulders and our hands and our voices to confess our sins to God. And why? Because we feel that doing so helps us come to a fuller realization of our sins and mistakes and, hopefully, leads us to an amendment of life. Physically sitting or kneeling, we believe, helps that process, as does, when we’ve been absolved, standing up helps us enter more fully into God’s mercy, grace, and love.

       There’s a kind of “stuff-ness” to liturgical worship, isn’t there? There’s a lot of stuff, a lot of physical things that you can touch or things that we do. We’re always standing or sitting, bowing and crossing ourselves, or using water or oil or chrism or bread and wine. We have chalices and patents, bells in towers and hand-bells that acolytes can ring through the whole Eucharistic prayer (not that this happened recently…). Our priests wear three layers of clothes and we like holding hymnals better than using projectors. We like stuff – things we can reach out to and touch, things we can hold, things that help us reach out and touch God and one another in love.

       But then comes the letter to the Hebrews. The author seems to be saying something different here. He writes that, when we come to God, we come to something that you can’t touch. Being with God isn’t like holding onto stuff like bread or a book, but like a blazing fire, something that is there and that you can see but that you can’t reach out and hold in the palm of your hands. Or like darkness or gloom, or the raging of a tempest, or even just the sound of a trumpet. These things move us, or allow us to see, or send us running, but no matter how much they affect us we can’t hold them. You can’t put God a box or a nice pretty bag. We can learn about and be brought to God through things, through stuff, through God’s Creation; but at the same time, it’s important to remember that God isn’t Creation. God is more than this world. God isn’t tangible, he’s not what we can see on the surface of things. God is more than that.

       So, does that mean that we’re wrong to like all this stuff in our worship? If God is something that we can’t touch, if God is like the sound of a trumpet, or the blaze of a fire, or darkness and light, things we can’t hold, then is it okay to have so much stuff here in church that we can hold? Well, yes, it is. This is actually an old question for us Christians, one that folks were talking about over a thousand years ago. You see, back in the 7 and 8 hundreds, people were worried and wondering: should we really be making art that depicts God? Should we paint pictures of God or build statues of him and his saints? People were, of course, already doing this, and doing it quite a bit, but theologians were wondering if it was such a good idea. They were worried that people would see those pictures and statues and think, well, here’s God right here – and then worship the pictures and statues and forget about the true God. In other words, they asked: doesn’t all this stuff – these images, these statues, these bits of our worship that are just things – doesn’t all this stuff get in the way of worshipping God?

       And the answer from a thousand years ago is this: no. Keep your art and love your art. Keep all that stuff in your churches. And they said this not because they just really liked art but because of how God saved humanity in Jesus Christ. God did not come down as some vague spirit to save us. God did not just think us into salvation. And God didn’t just give us some great, intelligent, wise person to lead us into a better way of life. No, God came down to us as Jesus Christ – as St. Paul writes in Philippians: God humbled himself to be with us, to walk on this earth with us, to kick around in the dust and to lift us from the dust, all to save us. God became that dust, entered into and became that dust that we are, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, so that that dust, so that we who are dust, could walk in eternal life.

       But the essence of things, the truth of things, is not in the dust, but in the one who became dust, who humbled himself, even to death on the cross. All this stuff here in church is beautiful and joyful and so very helpful to our lives in God, and while these things aren’t God, we shouldn’t just turn from them all to a form of worship that is somehow more pure because there are fewer things in the room. For in being Incarnated into this world, God said to a bit of metal with a rope attached to it (a bell): you are worthy to sing my praises. And God said to some sheep wool and probably a bit of plastic fabric (a chasuble): you are worthy to stand at my altar. And God said to us, who are dust, and to dust shall we return: you are worthy to shine with the same light as that of my Son, Jesus Christ. Because through all of it the light of Jesus Christ, which is like a burning flame lighting our path, or the sound of a trumpet calling us home, through all of it shines the holiness of Jesus Christ.

God is Life

South Coast Convocation Beach Eucharist
August 17th, 2019

The readings for this service are:
Job 12:7-12
Psalm 98
Philippians 4:4-7
Matthew 19:13-15

       We heard a lot about God’s hands this morning, didn’t we? In the Old Testament, we heard how all life, every living thing, is in God’s hands. In the Psalms, we heard how God’s right hand has worked salvation. And in a little bit, we’ll pray together the Prayers of the People, where we will give thanks that God fashioned us and this beautiful place with his life-giving hand. This all reminds me of a song we used to sing as kids: “He’s got the whole world, in his hands.” Do you know that one? As a kid, I imagined this big set of hands, cupped around, and a bunch of people, or even the Earth itself, just sitting there in God’s open palms.

       Now, hands signify something really important in the Bible and for us Christians; they signify the life-giving presence of God. Think about the Bible, where people are always reaching out and touching Jesus with their hands; and when they do, they’re healed. Or that Jesus, and the disciples with him, lay their hands – physically touch – the sick and the injured, the lonely and the destitute, folks no one wanted to be near, much less touch. Some of these people are suddenly healed, miraculously, though others are shown, rather simply, that they are not alone in their pain, that someone cares for them and loves them. For some, that’s healing enough.

And our practices at church continue this focus on hands. At the passing of the peace, we shake hands or hug one another, all in the name of Christ, welcoming them into our hearts and our lives. Or in the sacraments: In Baptism the pouring of water and the anointing on the forehead with oils, or Reconciliation, where at that most beautiful moment, when we are reminded that we are loved by the God of all things, the priest puts his or her hand on the head. Or in the Eucharist, the simple and vast depths of the Eucharist, where a small wedge of wafer or bread, the very Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, is placed in an outstretched hand. And all this, all these moments, signify something: a presence, a life, a depth within the world that is far beyond ourselves.

       And God, and our church, and our Christian lives extend out beyond the four walls of our worship space, don’t they? I think also of the hands that I have seen in my own life, as well. I think of the hands of my father, who was a woodworker. His hands are like anyone’s hands who works with wood all day: they’re nicked and scratched, they have deep callouses and are scarred, but they’re also deft, able, skillful, and sure. Or I think of my daughter’s hands and my own when we go out to play in the sand. After just a few minutes of building castles and burying each other in the sand, our hands are grubby and dirty, and they most certainly have to be washed before we can eat lunch – but even so, they are full of the life and joy of digging about in the earth. And I think of the hands of Jesus, which I have seen in paintings and statues and in my own heart (and surely you have, too): the hands of Jesus, our God and our Savior, human hands but holy hands as well, as they were lifted to heal and as they were laid on the cross and nailed to its hard wood.

       And all these images – hands in healing, hands full of dirt and grime, hands giving bread, hands bleeding at the palms – these images all point to one thing: not just of some vague presence but the presence of Life and it’s advent into this world. Now, our own hands, our fallen, human hands, can bring other things, too. Sure, we can bring life into the world, we can be God’s hands, but we can also work death, destruction, and pain as well. But God’s hands are different. God’s hands are life. In God’s hands is life, not sitting on the top but deep down inside them, like a bit of salt baked into a cake to enhance all that flavor; or, if you’ve spent some time in the South, you’ll know sweet tea, where the sugar isn’t just added in later but brewed into the tea itself to make it, oh so delicious. And all these are just more small, partial images, because that goodness and hope and life of God’s hands are deep down at God’s core, who he is; because God is Life. God is Love.

       And all this love, all this life, it’s not away on some mountain top. It’s not locked away in secret somewhere so that only smart and adventurous people can find it. It’s not something that only our great spiritual ancestors can find because they were just more special than we are. It’s right here. As St. Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I will say, Rejoice!” And why? Because the Lord is near to you, or, as in the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord is very near to you. This Life, this Hope, this Goodness, and this Love, they are here for us, because God is here among us. Whether we’re under the church roof or out here on the side of the beach, whether you’re in a hospital room or on the other side of the door, waiting in anxiety, God is with you.

       But sometimes, truth be told, it’s hard to remember all this. We live in a troubled world. Each day, it seems, we are met with new tragedies, news that awakens our anxiety or anger or even our hatred. And it seems that we have just two choices: to push it all away and hide from it or else enter into it and risk becoming that pain and anger ourselves. But whether we go out or stick home, whatever we do, we Christians don’t begin there. We don’t begin in pain or anger or despair, but in Life. We begin in Hope, even if (or especially if) there doesn’t seem to be any. We begin in community, in listening to one another, in the seeking out of all people, regardless of who they are and how different their cultures or thoughts or politics are from our own. We begin in Love because God began in Love. God created the world, we believe, not because he was bored and needed something to do, or that God was incomplete and so needs a world; no, we believe that God created the universe, this world, and all the creatures in it, for Love. And that Love is the foundation of all things, from the grains of sand out there on the beach to the planets and stars out there in their courses.

       And we, too. We have been created anew by that Love. It is a Love that we have long yearned for, long hoped for, and that Love found us and is bringing us home. And our work now, we pilgrims on a journey to our true Home, is to shower the world with that Love. To open our hearts when it’s easy and when it’s tough, to listen to those we agree with and those we think are fools, to seek God in all people, no matter who they are. For Love was at the beginning, Love is now, and Love forever shall be the beating heart of Creation and the center of all our lives.

 

Faith

the 9th Day of Pentecost
Proper 14
August 11th, 2019

The readings for today are:
Genesis 15:1-6
Psalm 33:12-22
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Click here to access these readings.

        This past Tuesday was the Feast of the Transfiguration. It’s one of the really important days of the Church Year, and so it would be a pity to skip over it without much comment. But, apart from the good Christian work of following the Church Year, the story of the Transfiguration is one that says some important things about the theme of our readings this morning. And that theme is: Faith.

        The story of the Transfiguration is quick to tell: in it, Jesus takes three of the disciples up to a mountaintop with him. There he is suddenly changed: his whole presence, from his face to his clothes, becomes radiant. Standing on either side are Moses and Elijah, and a great voice comes from the sky that says, “This is my Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him.” You can imagine the disciples’ surprise and alarm as they witness their teacher suddenly changed so drastically. There’s great light, loud, booming voices, prophets of old, and sight to the true nature of all things. And then, just as suddenly as this vision appears, it fades, and there is Jesus, just Jesus, alone.

        What do you do with a vision like that? How do the disciples go back to their normal lives? Isn’t everything changed? Well, in a way, not really. After the Transfiguration, after they see Jesus in all his glory as the Son of God, the Foundation of the world, the disciples follow him back to their normal lives. Jesus continues on the way, doing miracles, surely, and preaching the Kingdom of peace and love and the Glory of God – and the memory of that vision, of the Transfiguration, becomes, perhaps, just that: a memory. How do the disciples know that they weren’t dreaming when they saw Jesus suddenly revealed? How do they know that it wasn’t just some sort of trick of light, that they only thought they heard a voice, or that the sun didn’t just come out at just the right time? How did they know that what they saw was really Jesus revealed and not just some part of their imaginations?

        I’m not sure if the disciples asked these questions, but Christians have been wrestling with these sorts of questions for our whole history. We read the Bible, and we come to Church. We learn about our traditions and teach them to our children. We talk about God’s love and God’s hope and build up our faith. But then tragedy happens. Pain and suffering come our way, and we may wonder: is all of that true? Is God really a loving God?

        Or, perhaps, we may be gifted with a religious experience, moments or periods of time when God comes right up close to us. These experiences can look different, and have looked different, all throughout our history: they could be sudden flashes of insight, or times of great peace and comfort. I once had one while walking on the campus at the University of Oregon. I felt the palpable presence of God the other day while: everyone in the house was napping one afternoon, I sat at the kitchen table writing a letter and listening to the wind in the trees. Others have had much more dramatic experiences of God. St. Paul got knocked off his horse and was blinded. Julian of Norwich, a medieval mystic, had visions of Christ on the Cross while she laid dying. Religious experiences can take many forms, but at the end of the day, they always fade away and we return to normal life. How do we know that these experiences were true? How do we know that they weren’t just dreams or, as Scrooge says in A Christmas Story, weren’t just undigested pieces of beef or a fragment of underdone potato?

        These questions, and others like it, are some of the things we find in the letter to the Hebrews. The author, whoever he or she was, was concerned with teaching about Faith, what it is and how we are grounded in it. And what is this thing called “faith”? It’s something we name our girls, sometimes, along with felicity and hope, and it’s something we struggle, at times, to have. Sometimes we use it as a synonym for “hope” or as another way to say “belief.” And sometimes we misuse the word and pretend that it’s a blind acceptance of something that we have no control over or any assurance of.

But faith – true faith – is sight. It’s sight to the bottom of things, that underneath all the changes and suffering and worry and pain that there is something else, something good, something firm and hopeful and trustworthy. Faith isn’t the assurance we might find in direct proof, but it’s not counter to that kind of proof, either. Faith is continued assurance, through thick and thin, through joy and pain. Faith is a lot like what we talk about in our marriage ceremony when we promise to love the other person “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health.” We don’t love our spouses because every day is a rollercoaster of joy and fun. We love them because we love something deeper than times of fun and joy, deeper than times of the snotty noses of sickness and the disagreements, even deeper than that thing that, for a time, parts us all: death. We love, or at least we hope to love, our spouses because of the core of who they are, something that is often, but not always, played out in the world. That “not always” doesn’t speak for who they truly are. We have faith that they are more.

        This faith that we hope for in marriage is an image (sometimes a pale image, sometimes a broken image) but an image of the faith we are called to in God through Jesus Christ. And marriage is an image of faith and a sacrament not because it’s something we can learn like our multiplication tables, or something we can exercise by going to the gym, but because it is a relationship. And that’s one of the points that the author of Hebrews tries to bring forward. All through this letter, the author isn’t trying to define “faith” as a technical term or in an equation but as a relationship. Here in our reading he points to Abraham, and elsewhere in the letter he writes about the faith of other great figures like Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Moses. He writes, look at the prophets, (or for us) look at the saints, look at the Church and all those who have come before. We learn about faith through stories about them, through who they are as people, their struggles and their hopes. We learn about faith, in part, but learning about the saints and the Church, in who these people, who once lived and often died, for their faith.

And, from them, we learn that when we ourselves have faith, we don’t have it in abstract principles but in a person, and that person is alive and living and full of life: Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Redeemer, who walked around with folks in Israel, who tied his shoes on every morning and ate dinner every night, who hiked up mountains and whose very clothes caught the transcendent light of his Being.

        We live in some turbulent times. After weeks like this, and with a rather contested election coming up, we can wonder how to muster up our faith in a God that loves us and sticks by us through thick and thin. Well, the good news of our readings this morning is that we don’t have to muster it up. There’s no button inside our hearts, or muscle that we can flex, to get more faith. To increase in faith, we are called to live with one another, to live with the Church and the world that we serve, with the light and life and hope that is given to us in the Holy Spirit. And we are to live, quite simply, with Jesus Christ, our friend and our savior, in war and in peace, in sorrow and in hope. For in that relationship, in that companionship and friendship and Daughter- and Sonship, there is where we will find our salvation.