4.15.2008

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14
Acts 7:55-60

What Do You Really Believe?

You have heard the stories of people who were asked at gunpoint whether they believe in God or Jesus or maybe you have heard the stories of emergent medical decisions that put a person’s faith to the test. In different places at different times the question is raised: With your life hanging in the balance, what Do you really Believe?

Today, our evidence for Christianity is based on a combination of scripture and personal experience. The scriptures have been handed down to us through generations of folks that edited the stories, decided which ones were important to share, used the language they understood to convey the ideas they named as key, and shared the thoughts and ideas in forms that were meaningful to them at the time. The scriptures are a form of personal experience that have been passed down to us from our fellow Yaweh / Jesus followers through thousands of years. Today, we pass The Faith to our children and to new adult believers and to one another through our own personal experience with God.

This is hardly scientific method.

What do You really Believe?

This week’s scriptures offer us some examples of invitations to belief and examples of people who put their complete belief in God even in dire circumstances.

If we read all of Psalm 31 rather than just the 7 verses selected in the lectionary, we see the writer of this psalm putting his / her trust in God based on what seems to be personal experience. He has experienced in the past that God has “redeemed me, seen my affliction, not delivered me into the hand of my enemy, set my feet in a broad place, shown his steadfast love to me, and heard my supplications”…. Of course, he also refers several times to being aware of the presence / care of God because his enemies, those who were against him, etc suffered afflictions and received punishment at the hand / behest of God. Was this Psalmist motivated to belief because of the benefits of being in relationship with God? Is faith or belief really faith or belief if it is based on fear or revenge?

When we look at our next piece of the first letter of Peter we see the writer’s continued encouragement that it is only now (“that you are God’s people”) that each person receives God’s mercy. Now that you are “a holy nation, [one of] God’s own people” you are able to share God’s light with the world. He seems to be almost shaming or pressuring people in to believing in God when he says, ”you may grow in to salvation IF you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Certainly, in faith and belief there is an element of choice, but should any of us be pressured (or forced) in to belief?

Then in John 14 we see Jesus, after having spent much time with these folks and having shown them many signs and wonders, being a bit directive with the disciples and encouraging them to believe in him, to know him and to know the Father. And still the disciples (Phillip specifically) ask for more evidence. And Jesus tells him again, directly, to Believe in him because he is in the Father and the Father is in him. Jesus tells Phillip (and, we assume, everyone else in the room) that they need to “Believe” in him because he is a direct connection and representation of the Father. In fact, he tells them “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask for anything, I will do it.” Wow, that is a big promise. In this instance, Jesus does not put any parameters around what it means to “ask for anything”--he just tells them that if they believe, if they ask, they will receive. Again, is this encouraging belief on the basis of what one can receive from it? Or is that the basis or purpose or even the genesis of faith in general – that we have faith because we believe it will be of benefit to us?

Finally, we see an example of ultimate belief in Acts. The scene is already well under way when we join it in verse 55…Stephen is about to be killed. He believes all the way until the end…he repeats two phrases that Jesus says from the cross….he was completely committed, but it does not seem to be a personally benefiting commitment. An important facet of this verse is seeing Saul (the same Saul that becomes Paul) standing there showing what he believed. He is a witness of this act. He does not intercede and he does not participate. He is “only” a witness.

Flash forward. What will it mean to Saul to witness these acts once he believes that Christ was indeed resurrected? Do our evolving beliefs change the past? Does our past affect our evolving beliefs?

What do you Really Believe?

Sometimes, it is hard to look at these stories of faith and to accept at some rational level that these are “proof texts” for the divinity of Jesus Christ. And yet, what gave rise to these texts? What were people witnessing in the days, weeks and months that followed Christ’s death and resurrection that gave rise to this oral tradition and eventually to these texts?

Everyone believes something. To profess a lack of belief in one thing is to assert belief in another. Our beliefs are a combination of what we experience and what we adopt from those experiences. To value a scientific method over other methods is in itself a form of belief…an assertion of where the highest power lies.

• What do you believe?
• What has shaped your beliefs over time?
• What is your responsibility in sharing your beliefs?

“It came to me ever so slowly that the best way to know the truth was to begin trusting what my inner truth was…and trying to share it – not right away – only after I had worked hard at trying to understand it.”
Reverend Fred Rogers (aka Mister Rogers)

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