May 8, 2016 – Participatory Faith


What maintains us in times of change, in times of stress?  Is it our faith that allows us to know that even when we cannot see the future, that all will be well?

SpringWhat exactly is faith?

  • belief and trust in and loyalty to God
  • belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
  • firm belief in something for which there is no proof
  • complete trust
  • something that is believed especially with strong conviction
  • a system of religious beliefs

We all have our own definition and we all have our own experiences of faith.  But too often faith has been handed to us.  Faith has been held up as a standard of beliefs and lifestyle so that a person can be judged on whether they have and exhibit that faith.  This is unfortunate because it makes faith into something that is written on paper instead of written on our hearts.

Faith like trust is something that is pretty important if we are going to have a relationship with God.  Since Genesis God through the inspired writings of scripture has been trying to help us understand and practice our faith.  The leaders and prophets of the New Testament tried to explain and live out what faith looked like..  Some people understood but many did not and their faith came and went, ebbed and flowed.  We certainly can name the pillars of faith, Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, and Job.  They all exhibited and struggled with their faith.  Many of them were sort of unlikely men that God chose to be examples to their people.  God then sent John and Jesus to show people a new way of believing a new way of expressing faith

When Jesus began his ministry he called men and women to become his disciples so that he might teach them this new way of loving and living in God.  God sent Jesus so that we might also believe in him, as the example of real living faith.

Today’s scripture talks about faith in Jesus and the faith of Jesus.  There is much scholarly disagreement about how to correctly translate and interpret this passage in scripture.  Are they talking about faith in Jesus or the faith of Jesus?  To explain this difference, I borrow extensively from Richard Rohr’s, discussion of faith.

Many scholars over the years have pointed out that what is usually translated in Paul’s letters as “faith in Christ” would be more accurately translated as “the faith of Christ.” It’s more than a change of prepositions. It means we are all participating in the faith journey that Jesus has already walked. We are forever carried inside of the “Corporate Personality” that Jesus represents. That’s a very different understanding of faith than most Christians enjoy.

Most people think having faith means “to believe in Jesus.” But, “to share in the faith of Jesus” is a much richer concept. It is not so much an invitation as it is a cosmic declaration about the very shape of reality.  We  participate in Jesus’ faith walk with  our own varying degrees of resistance and consent.

Remember, it’s the God in us that loves God. We, on our own, don’t really know how to love God. It’s the Christ in us that recognizes Christ. It’s the Holy Spirit, that responds to the Holy Spirit. Like recognizes like. That’s why all true cognition is really recognition or knowing something again.  As we surrender to Christ and allowed the Christ in us to come to fullness can we love Christ.

“Faith” is not an affirmation of a creed, an intellectual acceptance of God, or believing certain doctrines to be true or orthodox. Yet that seems to be what many Christians have whittled faith down to. Such faith does not usually change our hearts or our lifestyles.

We heard three passages of scripture today.  We know that Paul wrote Romans and Galatians, however it is believed that Ephesians is authored by a devoted follower of Paul’s after his death.  All of them speak of the faith in and the faith of Jesus.

In Romans Paul speaks of righteousness through faith.  He explains that Jesus came to illustrate a new righteousness that fulfilled the law and then became more than just the law.  Jesus faithfulness to his ministry went beyond any act of faith that the people of his time had previously witnessed.  Jesus’ example of living in a relationship with God, as a part of God shattered the old idea that we are separate from God.

In Galatians Paul again addresses that a person is not justified by the works of the law but through the faith in Jesus Christ.  This faith enables us to recognize that we sin and separate ourselves from God and that following the old Jewish law can only get us so far in really being present to God. He says that through the law he died to the law, so that he might live to God.  One of the most powerful passages is when Paul says that it is not longer he who lives, but it is Christ who lives in him.  And that his faith is likened to Jesus’ incredible faith, as he loved humanity so much that he was faithful to his death.

Finally Ephesians talks about the grace that is given to us and that we have been saved through faith.  The author makes it very clear that this is not our doing.  Unlike simply following the law, Jesus has brought us a new interpretation of the relationship between ourselves and God.  We are still intended to obey the commandments that were set out for us in the Hebrew bible, but now we understand them in the light of how Jesus  has personified God.   We now have a new image of what faith is.  And this faith, this grace, is a gift, just as Jesus was a gift to the world.  The author says “ for we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

Our faith in Jesus and God is participatory.  When we only have “faith in Jesus” then we are like the multitude of paintings in which people gaze up at Jesus, looking to him to solve the problems of the world.  It is passive and does not change us into disciples.  But,  if we have the “faith of Jesus” then we have a model of what that faith looks like as it is practiced in the world.

We are called to this faith to enable us to not only believe but to act.  Sometimes this action is outward and community focused.  Our faith is given legs when we help others, provide clothing, food housing for the poor, when we give of our resources to ensure that people in struggling nations have basic necessities.

Sometimes this faith is more quietly expressed.  It is when we know, in our hearts that God is at work in our lives and in the life of the church.  It is when in the face of fear and anxiety we don’t just say the words that we have faith, we feel the assurance that Christ is within us.  We participate in our faith when we believe that Jesus is a part of each and every one of us and that we need only to tap into that God given grace to know that “all will be well.”

Do you ever let your concept of faith beat you up?  In the last several weeks I have said to myself over and over, I should not be afraid I am a woman of faith.  I shouldn’t fear the change I desired and the one that the church is calling me to?  It is then that I have to lay the world aside and spend those moments finding that part of God that is inside me, that restores my calm and at least helps quell the fear.

The faith of Jesus is present for all of us.  It is the constant as we face all the transitions of our lives.  When we think of the faith of Jesus we remember that he too had doubts and fears, questions and uncertaintites.  Yet he knew that he and God were united.  His faith is our faith.  It is this type of believing that makes us participants in the present kingdom of God. God is a part of me, I am a part of God and together we act in faith, we participate in the faith of Jesus.  Amen






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