Saturday, October 26, 2013

Faith In the Midst of Chaos

Thursday September 19, 2013
Theodore of Tarsus

Malachi 2:5-7
Psalm 71:18-23
2 Timothy 2:1-5, 10
Matthew 8:23-27

"True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in integrity and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of The Lord of hosts."

Don't we all wish that such things could be said of all our priests, including someday all of us on the path to become priests? Don't we wish that all our priests were teachers of true wisdom, role models of integrity and uprightness, true messengers from God?

I wish it was so. It is an ambitious goal. Instead, my life right now looks more like the lives of the disciples in the boat on that stormy day in Matthew's gospel. Afraid, covered in the mess of life, calling out for help from anyone, especially God.

Thankfully, Jesus does not leave the disciples hanging. Jesus addresses the situation in two radical ways. Jesus addresses the disciples first and then he addresses the storm. Both are acts worth pondering.

Why are you afraid, you of little faith?

For years this question has seemed to me to be an accusation. Jesus accuses the disciples of not having enough faith.
It seems to say,
you should not be afraid.
If you had more faith, you would believe that you will make it through your present trials.
Because you are afraid, you have fallen short.

And it's easy to see the story this way because this is not the only time the disciples are convicted of not having enough faith. Many times when they stand convicted, the disciples become defensive, but this time we are not told what the disciples had to say for themselves. One can imagine that they probably thought the reason for their fear was rather obvious, but in the gospels Jesus does not seem to ask rhetorical questions. He asks questions to open our eyes to something new.

And in thinking about Jesus' question this year, I heard it a bit differently.

Why are you afraid, you of little faith?

This time, I heard it as a reminder. A reminder that having faith means you do not need to be afraid. A reminder that faith starts little, like a mustard seed, and with love and hope, grows. A reminder that God is on our side, even against forces so far beyond our control. While there are no stories in the New Testament of the disciples calming storms, there are stories of the disciples healing people and casting out demons with their 'little' faith.

It seems that a little faith can go a long way.

Theodore of Tarsus is one person who must have had a little bit of faith. He went in faith, from growing up in a small city in Asia Minor, to his studies in Antioch, Constantinople, and Rome. And although he had never been to the British Isles, he went in faith to assume the bishops throne at Canterbury when he was 66 years old (in the 7th century no less). For twenty two years then, he was an active Archbishop, building a school, teaching and writing, calling multiple synods, one of which settled the debate about the date of the celebration of Easter, pulling the divided people of the land together in unity, even intervening and stopping a war. Theodore was bold in his faith and we can still feel the effects of his faith today. He was bold because he was willing to go where God called him, into the unknown storms of a new homeland, and in his old age, relying on God to sustain him.

With a little faith we too can be bold in this world. With a little faith, we can work towards the goals Malachi gives us of walking with integrity and wisdom. With a little faith, we can preach and teach truth. With a little faith, we can live into the fullness of the kingdom of God here on earth. With a little faith we can boldly believe that we can love one in times of conflict, we can talk to people in Franklin County jail, we can pack groceries for the Community Action Committee, we can give money for Santa on the Mountain for children. All with just a little faith.

I have one warning for you about calling out to God in faith though. When you call out to God to come to your aid, you should expect great things, but not always the in the same way as you imagine. The disciples called out to Jesus to save them, but they obviously did not expect the response of raw power that they saw. Matthew tells us that they were amazed and questioned what they experienced. While I can only wonder what kind of aid they were expecting, I know that they experienced just a little part of the awesomeness of God through Jesus' calming of the storm. 

So, have faith, even if just a little bit, and be bold. Call out to God and expect great things. God can handle the chaos.