Transforming Our Vision, Proper 14 (C)

In June 2010, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett announced a new charity initiative for billionaires: the Giving Pledge. So far, Gates and Buffett have received pledges from 137 billionaires from around the world who have pledged to donate at least half of their fortunes to charity. Five years in, a total of 365 billion dollars has been pledged.

365 billion dollars is a lot of money, so much that it’s hard to conceptualize. It’s more than the total cost of damage from Hurricane Katrina, at 108 billion dollars; but far less than the total cost of The War on Terror since 2001, estimated at 1.7 trillion dollars. The total US budget for 2015 amounted to 3.7 trillion dollars—or about 10 times the amount this group of billionaires was able to pledge, for just one year. 365 billion wouldn’t even cover the amount our government spends annually on discretionary items, like education, transportation, and the National Parks.

Of course, 365 billion dollars will make a difference in the lives of many people. This money will filter through charitable organizations and eventually work its way down to people on the ground, people who are hungry and need a meal, or homeless and need a place to sleep, or sick and need help paying for medical care. But 365 billion dollars isn’t enough to fundamentally change the persistent patterns of need in the world.

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor, reflecting on the charity initiative in his blog, thinks that this demonstrates that America has entered another gilded age, similar to the end of the 19th century, when “robber barons [like the Vanderbilts, Carnegies, and Rockefellers] lorded over the economy and almost everyone else lost ground.” The robber barons of the past, like the tech billionaires of today, could afford to give away huge chunks of their fortune and still maintain their relative position and power. The gap between the rich and everyone else, after flattening out somewhat in the middle of the 20th century, continues to grow bigger and bigger, approaching what it was in that previous gilded age.

Now against charity, as Paul writes in the letter to the Galatians, there is no law. However, there is a difference between the popular idea of charity, and charity as a theological virtue. The theological virtue of charity that we are called to as Christians goes deeper than merely taking out our checkbooks and donating money to a good cause. Charity, or Caritas, is that selfless, unconditional, and voluntary loving­kindness we see in Jesus—it’s the way Jesus loves us, and the way we are called to love others. Of course, it’s easy to see how caritas could lead us to the modern kind of charity: one way we can behave with loving­kindness toward our neighbors is by giving them money to help them when they are in need.

But that is not where caritas ends. A Christian heart truly possessed of caritas begins to wonder, sooner or later, why the needs are so endless: why are there so many mouths to feed? Why are there so many people without a place to sleep? What are the conditions that create so much suffering in the world, and can we do anything to change those conditions?

Such questions can be dangerous. As Roman Catholic Bishop Dom Camara of Brazil once said: “When I gave food to the poor, they called me a saint; when I asked why there were so many poor, they called me a communist.” Communist is a dirty word, of course, because as a political and economic system, we know that it doesn’t work. Capitalism does better in some ways, but without protections can run roughshod over the poor and weak.

In the end, the hope of the poor will never be in a human political system—human systems always have a tendency toward corruption. No, the place we find hope, the place we are called to live into, to build up, as we listen for and respond to the cries of the poor, can only be the Kingdom of God.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus says to his followers: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus’ central message during his life on earth was this: that the Kingdom of God is at hand. It’s coming. It’s near. And Jesus’ hope was that God’s Kingdom would transform life on earth, in the here and now, bringing God’s reign of justice and peace into the everyday lives of the poor people he lived among. In the prayer Jesus taught, we ask “your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s the earth that needs transformation into the way of God’s Kingdom.

The same concerns are echoed in the reading from Isaiah. In the very first verses, Isaiah accuses the leaders of Judah: “Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!”

Sodom and Gomorrah were evil places, but not for the reasons you might have heard. According to the prophet Ezekiel, Sodom’s sin was not about sexual violence. Rather, in Ezekiel’s words: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” If that’s the definition of Sodomy—that they had plenty of food for themselves, but didn’t share it with those in need—then who are the Sodomites of our day?

Isaiah accuses the rulers and elite in Jerusalem of behaving like the people of Sodom. They don’t try to “rescue the oppressed,” they don’t “defend the orphan” or “plead for the widow.” They try to win God’s favor by making all the proper sacrifices in the temple, but it doesn’t matter. The only way to please God is to seek justice for the poor.

Justice is at the heart of Jesus’ message about the Kingdom of God. In God’s kingdom, there will be no suffering, and the resources God has given us will be shared equitably so that everyone has enough. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we live under the charity, the caritas of God. And as we imitate God’s loving­kindness toward us, as we are charitable toward others, our caritas must lead us inevitably towards justice. When we give to the poor, we move closer to them. When we serve them, we are able to listen to them. And in their cry, we hear God’s voice—and God’s voice cannot help but change us, transforming our vision of what the world ought to be, and inspiring us to strive for the justice of God’s kingdom.

Amen.

Download the sermon for Proper 14(C).

Written by the Rev. Jason Cox. Rev. Cox has served as associate rector for Youth Ministries at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., since 2011. Prior to working at St. Columba’s, he directed the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, a year-long service and discernment program for young adults, in the Diocese of Los Angeles. Before ordination, he served as an intern in the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, working with homeless clients in a transitional housing facility on L.A.’s skid row.

Listen to Love, Proper 14 (C)

[RCL]  Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

There once was a wise communications professor who had her students engage in an observation exercise. She handed out a picture of an elderly man sitting on some front steps. A young woman stood to his right, looking down toward him, and a child stood in front, facing both of them.

The professor asked the students to tell her what they thought was happening in the picture. “The child and woman are caring for the old man,” one person suggested. Another said, “The child is listening to a story while the mother watches.” “Maybe they are just passing the time waiting for someone to come out of the building,” was another guess. All sorts of stories came up until the professor finally pointed out what was really going on.

“The elderly man and the young woman are listening to the child telling them something. All the signs are there: the way the young woman is fondly looking down toward not just the old man, but specifically at the child. The man is watching the child intently. Notice the child’s hands? They are spread out away from the body and the body is leaning toward the two adults, like the child is emphasizing something and there’s a big smile on their face.” She concluded, “Communication is happening all the time, we just have to pay attention to the signs. We must be watchful and alert like Sherlock Holmes, noticing things that in normal life we gloss over.”

The Christian life is similar as we cultivate the Kingdom of God. We are both communicating our faith in our actions (showing where our treasure is) and also watching for where God is (waiting for the master to return from the banquet). We must ask ourselves whether or not we are being intentional about either. Like the professor in the story said, we are communicating all the time. The question is, “What are we saying as a Christian people?” Whether or not we think anybody is listening, God hears us, and that is the most important measure of all.

In our reading from the prophet Isaiah today, the prophet conveys God’s message to Judah and Jerusalem—a call to repentance. God has been watching the messages they have been sending through their patterns of living: giving lip service through their prayers, sacrifices that are not really sacrificial, festivals that hold little meaning to the heart. God sees a people who are glossing over the work of the soul. The effects have clearly been detrimental to the society. They commit acts of evil. They do not seek after justice. The most marginalized in Israelite society—orphans and widows—are abandoned.

How little have we learned? In our modern society, we can hear God crying out through the oppressed, through the orphans whose parents have been killed by the evil of gun violence, through the refugee widows of wars in foreign lands, and through the sacred places that have been violated by another’s judgment. The signs are all there and God is calling out to us, “Look! Watch! Be ready to do your part!” Are we willing? Are we obedient? Do we have the depth of faith, as a Franciscan blessing charges us, to be foolish enough to think we can make a difference in this world, bolstered by our love of Jesus Christ? The questions are difficult, and the answers take courage.

There’s a bumper sticker that says ‘Jesus is coming. Look busy!’ It is funny, for sure, but it also points to the heresy of believing that as long as we’re being nice people doing nice things, then we are good Christians, or more accurately, nice Christians. To be a follower of Jesus—to be a disciple—requires so much more. A transformed life means that you can never go back to simply being nice. It implies that the church has a deeper quest than humanitarian groups and clubs. Those are good things and we should be part of them, but that is not why the Christian church exists.

William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during World War II, is quoted as saying, “The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members.” Think about that. We exist to benefit non-members. The people who are not us.

According to our Catechism, found on page 862 of The Book of Common Prayer, ‘Our assurance as Christians is that nothing, not even death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ This assurance gives us the faith to share this promise with those who are outside our walls – those who are the reason we exist. Our Baptismal Covenant on pages 304-305 in the Book of Common Prayer reinforces this as it asks us to persevere in resisting evil, repent and return to the Lord, proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, seek and serve Christ in all persons, and especially strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being. This is a tall order, but we don’t have to strive alone: we have God and we have each other.

We may wonder how we can join in God’s work outside our church walls when we feel that what we are already doing so much within. Perhaps looking outside is overwhelming and we do not know where to begin. Most of all, it is sometimes difficult to find or interpret the messages that we are receiving. In his book Seek God Everywhere, the Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist Anthony de Mello suggests:

In all actions, in all conversations, Ignatius [of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus] felt the presence of God and contemplated the presence of God. He enjoyed that mysterious gift of seeing God. So we are entitled to be called contemplatives in action if in all things and all actions we feel the presence of God and contemplate the presence of God. We can see that this is not the same as doing the will of God in everything.

To find God, to see God in all things, or to be a contemplative in action means much more than doing God’s will in everything. To feel and contemplate his presence is the experience of devotion, peace, quiet, and consolation… How do we attain this grace of finding God in all things? In all the documents I have read there is a key word: solely, only, or entirely. That is the key word — doing it only for God.

When we become quiet, when we become still, we are finally able to listen to God. Only then can we act. We hear the crunch of the master’s sandals on the road and begin to light the lamps. In Paul Showers’ children’s book, The Listening Walk, a young girl enjoys taking walks with her father and their old dog, Major, who does not walk very fast. “On a Listening Walk I do not talk,” she says. “I listen to all the different sounds. I hear many different sounds when I do not talk.” At the end she tells us, “You do not even have to take a walk to hear sounds. There are sounds everywhere all the time. All you have to do is keep still and listen to them.”

All we have to do is be still and listen to God, to listen to Love. God will take care of the rest. Amen.

Download the sermon for Proper 14 (C).

A native of Spokane, Washington, The Rev. Danae Ashley is an Episcopal priest who has served parishes in North Carolina, New York, Minnesota, and is currently serving part-time as an Associate Priest on staff at St. Stephen’s in Seattle. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate and seeks to use art, music, drama, poetry, and movement in counseling, spiritual direction, and creation of ritual, especially for pregnancy and infant loss. Danae is a trained facilitator of the Mandala Assessment Research Instrument (MARI), Prepare-Enrich, and Positive Discipline parenting workshops. She is proud to be part of The Young Clergy Women Project and has written for their online magazine Fidelia’s Sisters and their Advent devotional published by Chalice Press, as well as being a contributing writer to the Episcopal Church’s online ministry “Sermons that Work.” Danae is one of the contributors of the upcoming book Still a Mother: Journeys through Perinatal Bereavement that will be released in February 2016 by Judson Press. Her favorite past times include hiking with her husband and beloved dog, reading, traveling, visiting with family and friends, dancing with wild abandon to Celtic music, and serious karaoke.  

 

Beyond material worth, 12 Pentecost, Proper 14 (C) – 2013

August 11, 2013

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

Christians have always believed in a God who is concerned with the natural world. We have prayed to God from the depths of coal mines to the heights of Everest and from outer space. We have blessed ships and planes in God’s name, built soaring cathedrals to the honor and glory of the Almighty, and even equated scientific achievements to God’s guidance and blessing. These are all material things, because we believe in a material God.

Today’s readings cause us to step back for a moment and consider God in another light, as one who is beyond the material. In the passage from Isaiah, God castigates the people of Sodom because they have allowed material things such as incense and sacrifices of animals to become more important than their relationship with God. God defines the relationship as being centered on justice and care for orphans, not expensive feasts and liturgies, as God commands the people to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

The quality here is not material, but a spirituality that deeply honors a God who cares passionately for the whole of creation and doesn’t need to be appeased with sacrifice when things are going badly. It’s not about God; it’s about us. And God expects us to address the things that are amiss, not fix them through incantations.

However, we continue to write a check for the hungry without learning why there is hunger in the world. We pass legislation that addresses immigration reform without wanting to know why people want so badly to come to America that they are willing to risk imprisonment and deportation to do it, leaving their families behind while they work to send money home. The truth of the causes for both of these issues has as much to do with our demands for cheap goods and food as anything else. We cannot appease God while we try to have everything we want.

In our gospel reading today, Jesus addresses this issue of how we are to live with God:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Recently a conversation took place in a coffee shop. A woman with a loud voice revealed how frustrated she had been because she couldn’t find a parking spot. She then related how she had loudly prayed, “OK, God, I give up. You find me a parking place or I’m going home.” As she drove around the block for the fourth time a place opened up right in front of the coffee shop. Her friend, a rather quiet woman, smiled and then shared how she had been praying for weeks for her friend who had received a bad prognosis for her recurring cancer. She had just spoken to her friend that morning and learned that the doctors were now confident she would recover. Both of these women were sincere, but the one who asked for healing for her friend knows what God’s power is for – it’s not for finding parking places!

We are not going to get very far with God as long as we understand the Kingdom as material rather than spiritual. We are not going to have much of a relationship with God when our weekends are spent spending the money we have earned on more material things. Sabbath is not shopping; it is rest. It is time set aside for us to enjoy quiet, rest and refreshment.

Sabbath is the rest that helps us to prepare for the return of the Son of Man, the final breaking in of the kingdom. We are given the commandment to observe the Sabbath for our better selves. We are given the space to rest, restore our spiritual lives, and avoid being completely swamped by the world’s material goods. Nothing that rusts or wears out will enter the kingdom of heaven. We need to be able to leave it all behind.

Outside of these readings but deeply inside their message, is the great voice of the Creator reminding us how much we are loved, not for what we have, but for who we are. We are treasures, servants who are blessed by the Holy One. Our economic standing, our homes and wealth are of no account to God. What matters is our lives. How we live, how we approach justice, care for the poor among us, and how we treat one another is the bottom line for judgment. Our success in worldly things will mean nothing.

Summer is a good time to take another look at all that we possess and inventory in our hearts and minds the spiritual treasures we have, the friends who love us without condition, the church that keeps us in communion with each other and God, the beauty of the material world that belongs to every human being. It is a good time to look up at the stars in awe, and remember that the God who made us also made them, but they are nothing compared with the treasure we have of being loved by that same God who asks us to show that love and care to every person we meet.

 

— The Rev. Ben Helmer is part of a ministry team at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Eureka Springs, Ark.. He lives with his wife in nearby Holiday Island. 

People of the question, Pentecost 11, Proper 14 (C) – 2010

[RCL] Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 and Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24 (Track 2: Genesis 15:1-6 and Psalm 33:12-22); Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

A young man decided to plant a church in a southern suburb of Seattle. The neighborhood was marked by lower income and lower educational attainment than the suburbs to the north. His plan was simple: gather, share, explore.
Gathered around a table, around a hearth, his small band of friends and neighborhood acquaintances shared their experiences of faith, God, and church, and they explored their common longing. In the absence of a building, they discovered what kind of a home they desired. In the absence of a clergyperson they raised up a leader they could respect. And in the absence of the Eucharist they explored what it was they hungered for. They were on a quest to discover the question to which their faith was the answer.

We are a people of the question. We celebrate this as Episcopalians, our ability and space to question, to doubt, to wrestle and rest in the tensions. But as Christians, we are also the faith descendants of people of the question.

Today’s reading from the letter to the Hebrews refers to the ancient Israelites wandering in the desert: “They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.” In the writer’s interpretation, the Israelites’ very identity becomes a question, a longing.

Like our faith ancestors, our identity is stated as a question, a hope, an unfulfilled and always fulfilling prophecy: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. We, by our identity as Christians, choose to live in a liminal place of hope. Is hope not always liminal, marginal? Is hope not always searching, traveling, and restless? To be hopeful and to be Christian is akin to and descended from a long line of nomadic peoples.

A nomad by definition is a person who travels according to the seasons but has a place to call home. Is it then inaccurate to call the Israelites “nomads”? For their home was not known to them. And yet, they resided spiritually in the home that had been promised to them, to their ancestors by their God. Is a home hoped for not a home? Can we claim a home of faith and yet be wanderers in a foreign land?

Every Sunday, Christians gather in just that hope. We come to this table with our umbrellas in hand, our keys burning holes in our pockets, and our watches ticking away the minutes until brunch. We do not see this as a place we come to stay, and yet it is the central table around which we, as Christians, live our lives. Away from here we are strangers and wanderers; but if we resided here full time, our faith would be dead. The life of the nomad is the life to which we are called.

Two words spring to mind around the identity of a nomad: readiness and detachment. He who is always traveling in lands he does not own is detached from the world. Nowhere is this Christian vocation more clearly articulated than in the writings of Paul. But Jesus states it differently in today’s scripture. The readiness to which Jesus calls us is not detached but springs from a profound attachment to both the master and, by extension, the master’s property. The ready servant waits for the coming of the Lord and guards that which belongs to the master out of reverence.

By extension, we cannot truly be devoted to Christ without being also devoted to that which Christ loves: God’s people and God’s beloved creation.

And yet we live in a world of ever-increasing homelessness and placelessness. In our own country we might consider the rates of homelessness, unemployment, and underemployment in the wake of wave after wave of layoffs, downsizing, and outsourcing. Thousands of people are losing their homes, moving to cities, moving outward, westward, homeward.

Placelessness also affects business. Consider the fleets of jets that carry business women and men hundreds of miles each week, each day, rewarding them with silver, gold, platinum, and diamond elite status for a more comfortable home amid the clouds. Consider the young adults without clear career trajectories, facing the uncertainty of the seemingly daily rise and fall of entire industries: one year an intern in San Francisco; the next, back in school in Minneapolis; a few years later, moving to Boston for a job.

Also consider the larger displacement of people due to climate change. As glaciers melt and rivers dry, entire countries are without place. Bangladesh, a largely underdeveloped, agrarian nation that has contributed only minimally to greenhouse gas emissions is soon to be one of the hardest hit by climate change. Not only are they facing a less abundant Ganges river as the Himalayan glaciers disappear, but rising sea levels are forcing more salt into the heart of their agricultural heartland. With 150 million people to feed in a nation the size of Wisconsin, they will soon find themselves among the growing number of climate refugees, placeless in the world.

What is the Christian call in a world of such placelessness? Is it to erect fences, fortify borders, and protect our own sense of place? Is it to sit idly by while ethnic tensions erupt into religious warfare because people are so afraid of being without a place? In a world such as this, the call to placelessness, to the life of a nomad, to care for place while exerting no ownership, is increasingly necessary, increasingly desperate.

Hospitality is not merely coffee hour and greeters, but it is a radical welcoming of the stranger into a home we ourselves do not own. It is a readiness, always, to welcome the master home, in whatever form he or she takes.

As a church, we currently sit on some of the most beautiful architectural assets of our communities. We occupy spaces, places, that are not our own. How might we make these spaces available to the communities that surround us? How do we open our doors wide enough, inviting others into a mutual responsibility for that over which none of us hold ownership, so that we all might have a place? And how also do we open the inner doors of our faith to invite others into that city “whose architect and builder is God”?

Our calling is one of courage. The nomads, the placeless, must have courage, must rely on hospitality just as readily as we provide it, if we are to have a place at all in this world of wanderers.

This is the call of the hope in which we reside – forever placeless and yet always home.

 Download large-print version for MS Word

Written by Jason Sierra
Jason Sierra is a member of the Office for Young Adult and Campus Ministries at the Episcopal Church Center. He resides in Seattle, Washington, and holds a BA in American Studies from Stanford University.

Faith is a process, Pentecost 11, Proper 14 (C) – 2007

[RCL] Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 or Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23 or 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

As it says in today’s reading from Hebrews: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Have you ever noticed that so many of the words Christianity uses are little words? Little words packed with big meanings. Words like God, Christ, love, sin, and the word for today: faith.

Words like faith often have a “churchy” sound to them; maybe they even sound boring or irrelevant. But in reality, they are rich words that point to vital realities. While even everyday words can have a spiritual dimension, just as the ordinary events of our lives can speak to us of holy things, a word like “faith” points to the realm of mystery and depth that lies beyond our ordinary experience, perhaps in the land of “beyond-words.” Words alone cannot convey their power.

There are many things in life that are indescribable: the power of music or art, falling in love, the death of a friend. As Frederick Buechner writes in his book, Beyond Words: “How can we begin to describe such things other than to say that they are ultimately indescribable? You can know them only by experiencing them for yourself.”

Even things that are really beyond words can still be talked about. The words we use might not encompass the subject, but they help us to get a handle on it, to look at it from various angles in the hope that we might gain a little understanding. So here goes.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Did that line make you think, “Huh?” or did you just let it blow past? Did you notice that even the author of the Letter to the Hebrews wasn’t very clear on exactly what faith is? He throws out that one-liner and then treats us to a recital of actions by the faithful men and women of old. If we were to look up these stories in the Hebrew scriptures, we would notice that there is almost no reference to faith as a moving force in the lives of the characters. It may be implied, but it is rarely there for us in black and white.

The author of Hebrews uses the word “faith” in a variety of ways. Sometimes it will indicate trust or belief, and sometimes it will refer to the quality of loyalty or faithfulness. One thing is clear: as used here, faith cannot be severed from hope. The lives of our ancestors are important to the author because those men and women lived lives of faith. The brief sketches we read and hear are to be read and heard as God’s testimonies about their lives.

When we think about having faith, we often mean assenting to intellectual propositions. Do we believe there is a God? Do we believe that God is the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of creation, of humanity, of us? Do we believe this or that about the Bible or the teachings of the Church throughout the ages?

Faith, as used by the author of Hebrews, is much more than belief that there is a God. Rather, it is trust that God rewards those who seek God. Faith has a long memory and profits from the experience of those who have gone before us. Faith also hopes, looking beyond the immediate to God’s future and our part in it. Faith is tenacious and enduring, able to accept promises deferred in the conviction that even death does not cancel out God’s promises. Faith is indeed the conviction of things not seen, a conviction firmly held, but it is more: it is the substance, the essence, the very being of things hoped for. Faith is not the permanent state of once and for all, but is often fragile and elusive.

God entrusts us with a holy freedom; people of faith always have the option of returning to “the land that they had left behind.” We know that land; it is the one we always view with the rose-colored glasses, the one that the Israelites in the wilderness longed for, the land with the leeks and the garlic, forgetting they were slaves in that land.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Our God is a God who is always calling us into new life, into the future. Faith is future-oriented, trusting that God will keep God’s promises. In a nutshell, faith and hope are one, and the life of faith is pilgrimage, a journey. As an example, the author of Hebrews reminds us of Abraham and Sarah. The author focuses not on God’s call, but on Abraham’s response. Abraham’s response is expressed in obedience; Abraham sets off for the place God has promised, not knowing where it might be. Even when he gets there, the place is not his to claim. Indeed, he and his children and his children’s children sojourn as foreigners in the land of promise. Abraham anticipated a city with sure foundations even though he spent his life living in a tent, a city with a river flowing through it, even though he lived in a desert.

The God who calls us into new life gives us a vision of the homeland we seek. Such vision enabled Abraham to remain faithful to the elusive, unseen God who called him. Such vision enabled him to live as a resident alien in the new land, and to see with fresh eyes the goals, values, and relationships of the society encountered in the new land. The faith of Abraham and Sarah was more than right thinking; it also involved right acting. It involved not just their minds, but their whole beings.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

If you’re thinking, “This is all too much for me on a warm August morning,” I want to offer you another way of thinking about all this, about faith.

Have you made pancakes lately? Or muffins? Anything that involves a batter containing a leavening agent like baking powder? The batter doesn’t look like much, does it? Before they are baked, yeast breads give us a hint at what’s to come after their time in the oven. But it’s the quick breads that really surprise us. There they sit, batter in a bowl. We old-timers know what to expect, so the miracle is often wasted on us, but make waffles with a young child, and you will be reminded of the miracle effected by a hot waffle iron and a little patience. Batter goes in, wait until the steaming stops, and voila! Breakfast! Slathered with butter and anointed with maple syrup, it becomes a feast!

So the next time you are trying to wrap your mind around faith, or worrying that you don’t have any or enough, just think about making waffles and trust that what comes out of the waffle iron will look and taste better than what went in. Frederick Buechner reminds us: “Remember that faith is more of a process than a possession, on-again-off-again than once and for all. Faith is not being sure where you’re going, but going anyway. A journey without maps.”

Written by the Rev. Mary K. Morrison
The Rev. Mary K. Morrison is pastoral associate at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Los Gatos, California. E-mail: mkmorrison@stlukeslg.org.