Sunday, July 16, 2017

Faith in the Face of the Absurd



May the Words of my Mouth and the Meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord and my strength and redeemer.

As a pastor, and a person of faith, and an activist, who seeks daily to follow Jesus Christ, I am acutely aware that life, for many people, like our democracy is risky, it is unwieldy, precarious causing many to be confounded.  We are living through a time when the absurd, the illogical and preposterous are seemingly being normalized with little to no accountability or shame, a time when millions are at risk of losing their healthcare insurance while the richest families in America stand to get a huge tax break, an immigration system which seeks to make America Great again and an ever-increasing polarization along historical issues and concerns around race, religion and economy.  I fear that a tragic blindness has crippled America as many people and organizations see profits, stock portfolios and a booming stock market as the primary and in some cases the only means to characterize life in America. I feel like there’s a powder keg ready to blow. Like James Baldwin, an author, lecturer and activist who lived through the turbulent 60’s amidst the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy, I wonder what will happen to America. I ask this question because it is an important critical question of our time and because it gives voice to a faith which overcomes the profoundly unjust. More importantly I ask this question as a pastor concerned with the issues which impact my Church family.
Rev. Dr. William Barber, a Disciples of Christ Minister and former president of the North Carolina NAACP said, in a talk given at Yale Divinity School, “If a Pastor is not concerned with the social and public conditions which create the pastoral needs of their people it is a form of malpractice.” Rev. Barber’s words remind us that in the face of the absurd, and the unjust this is not the time to be silent. Recently, after a long day of meetings around healthcare, HIV/Aids, and funding I found myself somewhat frustrated. At some point that evening, I went onto Facebook and typed, “At times the absurd can be so deep I have to laugh to keep from crying.” A colleague replied, Genesis 18. As I read Genesis 18, I came across the story of Abraham and Sarah, and the Lord who promised that Abraham and Sarah would have a baby. Both Abraham and Sarah were advanced in years and Sarah was beyond child bearing years. Considering this very real reality it would seem to be impossible for Sarah to have a child.  Knowing that she could not bear children in her old age, Sarah thought the promise of a child in her old age to be strange, as she laughed under her breath saying, “After I am worn out, and my Lord is old, shall I have pleasure? Hearing this the Lord said, “Is anything too hard for God?” The question, “Is anything too hard for God?”, resonates down through human history in opposition to the absurdities of injustice in this life.  They remind us today that nothing is too hard for God; indeed, God fulfilled the promise made to Abraham through his beloved son Jesus Christ for he is our salvation and peace with God from the seed of Abraham. (Galatians 3:16)
 The question posed by the Lord is one which asks, “what or who do you put your faith in?” Is your faith in your circumstance, situation, is it in perceived human limitations or in your God?  The question is not naive denying the difficulties, challenges, and complications of the promise. The walk of faith is real and involves looking our difficult circumstances in the face and with the promises of God, defying the discouragement, disappointments, and frustrations that would tempt us to abandon hope in God. These words call Sarah and us today to maintain our hope in God through Christ Jesus, for in the final analysis a redemptive God is active in history and always has the final word in all things in this life. And, like Sarah, God’s actions may be beyond our understanding as it is written in Proverbs 3:5-6, 
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    
and he will make your paths straight.

The Apostle Paul in his Epistle or letter to the beloved of Christ in Rome continues this foundational teaching on faith as he writes of faith being the means to realize the promise made to Abraham.  He writes in Romans 4:13-25 that the promise rests on faith in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares faith with Abraham. 
While the law has its place, the law cannot answer or deal with the deeper historical and systemic concerns of the heart and soul.  It can only address the action or actions of the group or individual. The law in and of itself cannot fix any of the cultural or social ills of this morally impoverished nation.  The law is useless in the case of the heart and soul of the matter although it would seem to be an easy fix and profitable for some who favor law enforcement and the prison industrial complex.  Only a heart given fully to God can be changed, and made new, a very personal courageous endeavor indeed.
Mahatma Gandhi, one of the greatest religious/spiritual thinkers of the 20th century said, “Far more indispensable than food for the physical body is spiritual nourishment for the soul. One can do without food for a considerable time, but a person of the spirit cannot exist for a single second without spiritual nourishment.” Considering the complex personal and social problems of our day and profound moral poverty faith, that is the faith of Abraham our Spiritual Father, must be our nourishment.
In the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesian he writes, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” The Apostle Paul was clear in his analysis of the struggle for justice and considering his analysis our faith must be strong and without waiver.  And so, it is a faith enduring that overcomes the absurd, and the unjust, which each of us must lay hold of and it is through a faith deep that we will survive and thrive.
The great joy of faith is that it occurs in a community of believers.  I am mindful that as the Apostle Paul traveled he was building churches but more so he was building and nurturing relationships which would last beyond time.  And to this end his faith was made stronger each day.  The Apostle Paul’s faith was strengthened by living and moving in relationship with communities of people who were striving for Christ. Considering, the life’s of Abraham, and Paul and the Absurdities faced faith becomes the bulwark which overcomes profound injustice. In closing a poem
Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home!

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same
Isaac Watts
Amen!