II Peter 1:16-2
The book of Psalms begins with the wonderful affirmation, “Happy are those who delight in the law of the Lord, for they shall proper like trees planted by streams of water.” How wonderful it must be to have all this God stuff figured out. I can’t imagine a day going by without doubts and questions concerning not only what I believe but what other folks assume I believe. I doubt I am alone.
People of faith often seem burdened, perhaps even confused, by the very nature of God. We who faithfully strive to follow the precepts of God wonder why The Almighty isn’t publicly a bit more active. Sometimes we even might wonder if God actually exists. It is becoming harder and harder to be faithful in a world where increasing numbers believe God is no more than a human creation. I for one believe a Godly demonstration might be helpful.
This is not a new problem. In Peter’s second letter, the disciple was surrounded by skeptics. Peter was a witness to the resurrection yet those to whom he preached wanted proof that Peter wasn’t delusional. They had not seen Christ. They had every reason to doubt. The story Peter told created serious concerns among those who could not imagine God walking among us. They lived in a Greek culture that placed a premium on the present moment. But Peter spoke of a life beyond death, a concept that left them baffled and amused.
It sort of reminds me of today. Many older Christians have invested highly in the heaven question. We are pretty evenly divided on how we get there. What would be considered traditional theology, beginning with Augustine and certainly running through the Protestant Reformation, claims salvation by grace alone. In simple language, we are saved by the love of God who conquered death through the resurrection of Christ. But if you ask the average guy on the street, I guarantee you he believes heaven is only opened to those who believe in Jesus and live a good, upright life.
So what do younger folks believe? My guess is, unless millennials were raised by Young Life or currently attend a very evangelical church, heaven is the last thing on their mind. The majority of older Christians expect to die and be with their dearly departed loved ones. Young folks find that kind of talk delusional. They claim Christians talk about heaven so we can avoid being held responsible for today’s world. The elderly hold up heaven as the goal to which we should strive while the young shake their head in disbelief and question our reason for faith.
So what is truth? Or is the whole thing a myth? I can’t answer for you. But I am curious. If our faith is so important, why do we hesitate to talk about it? We can’t stop talking about our children and grandchildren. We go crazy about the sporting teams we follow. But we insist faith talk is private. No wonder so many young people aren’t part of the conversation. To be honest there never was much of a conversation because when we do engage with others it often becomes an adversarial battle rather than a sharing of how faith has sustained us through life time of experiences.
Let me suggest part of the problem is we want to prove God exists and I promise you, we are not going to win that battle. Peter, in the last years of his life, probably loved to tell the story of the Transfiguration. He would gather folks and tell the story they had heard a hundred times.
There we were up on the mountain. We were up so high up even the birds were trying to catch their breath. One moment the clouds were so thick I couldn’t even see John and then there was a burst of light that exposed the very essence of heaven. I fell to my knees knowing this was the last moment of my life. The clouds were no match for the brilliance of God. I kept my eyes to the ground, afraid to encounter the majesty of the Almighty but then I heard Jesus say, “Peter, what do you see?” I shielded my eyes against the piercing light and saw not only Jesus but two strangers standing beside him. Only they were not strangers. I knew these men. I had never met them but I knew them just as any other boy raised in the synagogue would have known them. It was Moses, the giver of the law. It was Elijah, the greatest of the prophets. They were standing beside Jesus. No it was more than that. They were looking up at Jesus as if to say, “This is the son of God.” I looked away, both amazed and confused. I raised my head a second time, and they were gone. But I know they were there. It was Moses. It was Elijah. What more proof could I ever want? Truly Jesus was the son of God.
Peter knew he had witnessed the mystery of God. But I wonder if one or two of the faithful questioned if they were hearing an eyewitness account or the vivid imagination of an old man with one foot already in the grave? Was Peter speaking the truth or was Peter caught in a myth he had told so many times it had become believable? What really happened up on that foggy mountain?
A few years ago I found myself co-teaching a confirmation class. We had eight fifteen year olds mostly because their parents had told them they had to show up. In this particular community when you turned fifteen was pretty much expected you became a member of the church. My co-teacher stood before the class and sternly admonished them with these words, “Over the next eight weeks Dr. Andrews and I are going to tell you what you will have to believe to be a member of this church.” Eight heads nodded in agreement. I sat in disbelief. This was not some merit badge to be earned. It was the beginning of a journey that hopefully would last a life time. But even more importantly, their faith could not be based solely on what I believed. My truth could not magically be transmitted into their soul. My story, Peter’s story, is unique and so is the faith journey of each person. Maybe that is why we spiritually keep ending up in different places.
So what do you believe? Part of the beauty of Lent is it offers an opportunity for a careful examine of our faith. Many live vicariously through the faith of others but what good is that? Retreating to the faith of others can easily turn our adopted truth into myth. Samuel Jackson asks, “What’s in your wallet.” I want to know what is in your heart.
I have five questions I want you to consider as we dare to move into this cloudy season of Lent. Take your bulletin and write them down. Come back to these questions as often as possible during the next six weeks. You might be surprised when an answer or two changes. You might even lose some certainly only to discover a new revelation.
Question Number One – Why do you believe in God? Obviously if you don’t believe in some notion of a higher being you can put your bulletin down, stare out the window, and enjoy the beautiful day no one brought you.
Question Number Two – When do you believe in God? Does your belief come and go? Is God only invited to particular conversations?
Question Number Three – Where do you believe in God? Is God found in both the beauty and ugliness of life?
Question Number Four – How do you believe in God? How is your life inspired or motivated by your faith?
Question Number Five - Who is God? Is God truth? Is God myth? Does your faith rely on a combination of both?
Walter Brueggemann recently wrote, “The core truth of our faith is this; the God of the gospel brings life out of death. We can line out our move from death to life physically, historically, literally, metaphorically, symbolically …. any way you want. But the foundation of our faith is a rock bottom acknowledgment that God can probe into our deepest negations and create new space for life, new energy for obedience, and new waves of joy.”
That’s what God does. But sometimes we cannot see this until we are willing to accept the demand of Lent which implores us into a journey of relinquishing old visions of a reality that has failed, and being surprised by a new life given in glad and inconvenient obedience. Why, When, Where, How do you believe in God? Are you caught between death and life, between truth and myth, wondering and knowing? It really doesn’t matter as long as you are participating in the journey. I am sure Jesus said, but Matthew forgot to record, “Blessed are those than wonder and wander, for they shall stumble into the kingdom of God.”
To God be the Glory. Amen.