For almost the past four years, you’ve heard me repeat over and over again that faith is more than simple trust or belief, more than mere conviction or reliance, more than a laundry list of doctrines that we say are true. And that is true. Faith is a dynamic, living relationship we have with God because of Jesus and everything he accomplished for us—and continues to accomplish for us through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives today. But—you knew there had to be a but coming—but there’s a reason that we have come to think of faith as trust, belief, conviction, reliance, or dependence. This relationship we have with God is something we can trust in, something we can believe in, be convinced of, can rely and depend on. And so faith has come, in the wider, broader sense of the word, to mean these things. Our faith not only gives us confidence that God won’t abandon us, that God loves us, it is our confidence.
And so we can rightly speak of having faith in God because of Jesus Christ—that we can and should trust God because of Jesus. After all, it’s because of Jesus that we have the special relationship we call faith, and so to say that we can trust God, or believe God because of Jesus is really one and the same as saying we have faith in him and his word, in what he says. All this to say, that though we speak of faith as more than simply believing in God, but rather living lives as God intended for us and for all creation since the dawn of time, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also think of our faith as something that means we believe in God as well. They go hand-in-hand—living in special relationship with God because of Jesus and having faith in God because of Jesus. They are as inseparable as we are from the love of God in Jesus—and we know, and we believe, because we have experienced it in our very own lives, that nothing in all creation, not even things that would seek to kill our spirits and our bodies, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And so with that in mind today, let us pray before we delve deeper into what it means to be disciples of Jesus. May only God’s Word be spoken and may only God’s Word be heard; in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Did you know that African impalas are a kind of deer? And did you also know can spring over 10 feet high in a single jump? That’s higher than most living room ceilings, which are typically only 8 feet high. And the African impala can vault itself over a distance of greater than 30 feet, especially once it’s going. Boing, boing, boing, like they do…
And yet—despite these fantastical kinetic abilities, any zoo with a 3-foot wall can easily keep an African impala contained. They won’t jump if they can’t see where their feet are going to land. One of the features of faith, when we speak of it as trust, is the ability to go forward without necessarily being able to totally see what the outcome will be. In this sense, faith, trust is what frees us so that we can go forward with our lives without needing to be totally confident or totally convinced that whatever will happen will be totally known to us before it happens. Faith in the sense of trust frees us from whatever closes us in and keeps us back, whatever imprisons from going off and embracing life. Faith frees us where fear entraps us, where suspicion and skepticism imprison us. Faith allows us to realize our full potential.
Speaking of the impala, it’s an animal known for jumping, for leaping. We’ve probably all seen some documentary about Africa, or even a commercial put out by the World Wildlife Fund or some other nature organization, whatever the case—we’ve probably all seen something where we’ve seen impalas joyfully jumping through high savanna grass. Of course, they can see where they’re going, where their feet are going land, and so they’re jumping.
But we also speak of taking a leap of faith—something the impala doesn’t do. But we’re different than impalas, though. We like to think of ourselves as higher order beings, created in the image of God, in his very likeness, after all. We’re different than other animals…and so unlike impalas who’ve got to see where their feet are going to land when they leap 30 feet at a time, we can take a leap of faith. We can go forward without knowing exactly what the outcome will be—precisely because we know that the consequences of not doing so outweigh the risk of doing so.
That is to say, we know that the consequences of not taking a leap of faith mean we most definitely won’t realize our full potential. Without a leap of faith, without going forward not knowing fully what the outcome will be, we will most definitely never know what could’ve been. Put another way, without going forward not knowing fully what the outcome will be, we will most definitely never live the full and abundant life God envisions for us as his beloved children, created in his image, in his very likeness—blessed to have dominion over creation, to steward this whole bountiful world as he God would care for it.
On this Gaudete Sunday, we are coming closer and closer to Christmas—to the celebration of God’s birth among us in Jesus. His first coming. We are looking forward to that celebration, the celebration of that first time that God came down from heaven for our sake, for us and for our salvation. But even now we have reason to rejoice because just as Jesus ascended back to heaven, taking his full humanity with him, the totality of his human experience—even bearing the marks of death in his hands and side. Taking it back to heaven for us and for our salvation, he promises to return, in a second coming. We rejoice because we have this promise. We are joyful, full of joy that we have this promise. But the nature of a promise is inherently that we don’t necessarily know totally and completely right now how everything will turn out in the end. And yet part of our joy is knowing that God does keep his promises.
Throughout history, down through the ages, God has remained faithful to his word at every turn. To Noah. To Abraham. To Moses. To David. To the whole of the Jewish people in exile. To the disciples in Jesus. And now to us, who in these days live not only in the hopeful expectation of Jesus’ second coming, but in the joy of knowing that every single time that God has made a promise to us, he’s kept that promise. Even at little old Emanuel in Fitchburg. Do you want me to list them for you? Okay, well, just a few. Just in the past four years, we’ve been to the ash heap and back because of God’s faithfulness in ways we couldn’t have orchestrated ourselves. We’ve faced down disease and God has seen us through. Yes, beloved pillar members of the congregation have died, but we rejoice in their victory in Jesus, even as we welcome new members who don’t replace our beloved ones who’ve gone before us, but now make us into something new. God is always doing something new, even here, at Emanuel, through us, with our hands, our resources. With our trust. With our faith…
“All things,” St. Paul writes to the Romans, “work together for good for those who love God.” This is God’s promise, and it hasn’t failed—never. Not once. It’s God’s promise to us, and it’s this promise that fills us with joy. And this promise that undergirds not only our trust in God, but our entire relationship with him. It’s a promise that we know is true most vividly in Jesus—the one who makes the very relationship we have with God possible, the one who is the bedrock of our faith. Without Jesus, our faith is nothing. We are nothing. Without Jesus, what is faith?
But because of Jesus, the eyes of the blind are opened. We see things differently. We understand things differently. Because of Jesus, the ears of the deaf unstopped. Where fear would have us ask ourselves, “What will become of us?” we who call ourselves Christians say, “Why shouldn’t we try?” Because of Jesus, the lame shall leap like a deer—like an impala, maybe? We take chances, guided by the wisdom God imparts to us daily in the Holy Spirit. We don’t allow fear to govern our actions. We aren’t held captive by suspicion. We don’t rely on our own understanding. We aren’t entrapped by skepticism. We take that leap of faith. And because of Jesus, the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. We don’t wring our hands and mutter, wallowing in negativity. We find the good in all things, lift up the forgotten, and exaggerate the unremarkable. We jump for joy…because of Jesus.
On this Gaudete Sunday, God challenges us to be people who live in the joy that can come only in him—in the hopeful, expectant anticipation that rests in knowing that God keeps his Word. On this Gaudete Sunday, God challenges us to remember all the surprising ways that though we might not’ve known exactly how things would turn out, God remained faithful. God has remained faithful to the very name that we bear—Emanuel, God with us.
The life as disciples of Jesus isn’t one where we have all the answers at the beginning. The life of as disciples of Jesus isn’t one where we rely on our own understanding, but instead rely on God’s promise, on God’s Word—rely on Jesus, the one so-called sensible people ridiculed, scorned, and mocked as weak, foolish, and excessively unconcerned for what was “right.” Life as disciples of Jesus means going about our lives in such a way trusting, going about our lives having faith that though this world be against us, that though popular wisdom tell us we need a rock-solid plan for success lest we fail miserably—life as disciples of Jesus means that our solid rock is Christ alone, foolishness to unbelievers and a scandal to all the experts. For God’s foolishness is wiser than any human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than any human strength. We stand not by ourselves, not by our own wisdom or by our own strength, but we stand wholly on account of God’s foolishness and God’s weakness. Where else, as Christians, can we stand?
In this parish, we’ve seen again and again that God is with us. We’ve seen again and again that we make plans, and things go differently. But through it all, God is faithful, and it’s in God’s faithfulness that we cannot lose sight of what we’re really about. We are about living full, abundant lives of faith, and sharing that trust, belief, conviction, reliance, and dependence with the world, going forward without fear, trusting that though we don’t know what the future holds, we know the one who holds the future also holds us.
This same one, our Lord and our God, opened wide his arms on the cross, for us and for our salvations, so that even as we make a leap of faith, even as we jump for joy, should we fall, we fall into the open embrace of one who loves us to death and back. We have no reason to fear making that leap of faith, but instead should jump for joy knowing that when we jump, when we leap, we do so because we love God, and all things work together for good for those who love God. This we know. We’ve lived it. So, take that leap of faith. Jump for joy.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.