Friday, March 13, 2015

The Crisis of Christian Faith

RCL Lent 4B
15 March 2015

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Focus text:  John 3.14-21
         Do you remember where you were and what you were doing in the autumn of 1962?  I was nine years old and living in Wiesbaden, Germany, where my father had been assigned to the headquarters of the U.S. Air Force in Europe.  Miss Carroll, my Grade 4 teacher, had just discovered that I did not know how to spell and so she was giving me a crash course in English phonics.

         On the island of Cuba the Russians were installing nuclear missiles which could easily strike most major cities in North, Central and South America.  In October President Kennedy learned about these missiles and had to decide how to respond.  The senior military commanders were unanimous in recommending that the United States invade Cuba.  Kennedy was concerned that the Soviets would take over Berlin or worse.  So he chose a naval blockade and, as we know today, a full-scale nuclear conflict was avoided.

         We call this event, ‘The Cuban Missile Crisis’.  Since then there have been numerous crises that have threatened the well-being and lives of millions, if not billions, of our sisters and brothers all over the globe.  Even now political and military crises have sent people fleeing from their homes and have cost many of them their livelihoods and some their lives.

         Because we have forgotten the origins of the word ‘crisis’, we have become unaware of what a crisis is.  When the word ‘crisis’ is used by the media or by government leaders, we tend to hear ‘catastrophe’ or ‘tragedy’ or some other word that may lead us to feel powerless, vulnerable and threatened.

         The word ‘crisis’ comes from a Greek word, krinw, which means ‘to decide’ or ‘to discern’ or ‘to distinguish’ or ‘to judge’ or ‘to evaluate’.  A crisis is a moment to discern which path of many we shall take.  A crisis is an opportunity to evaluate all the options we can identify and then judge which one will lead us towards are goals.  Scary?  Possibly.  Uncomfortable?  Definitely.  Uncertain?  Yes.  Powerless?  No.

         We who worship here today are the beneficiaries of a crisis, a moment of decision, that began two thousand years ago.  The writer of the Gospel according to John describes the crisis in these words:

         16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
         17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. . . . 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  [John 3.16, 17, 19]

This crisis, this opportunity to choose a life lived committed to justice, to compassion and to stewardship of God’s good earth, is an on-going crisis.  We cannot escape seeing the signs of our fellow human beings choosing what the evangelist John calls ‘darkness’.

         But there is a choice.  We are not destined for ‘darkness’; God has destined us for ‘light’.  This light is both a future promise and a present quality of human life.  It is what the evangelist John means by ‘eternal life’.

         For far too many of our neighbours our faith in the light made known to us in Jesus of Nazareth has been confused with a narrow understanding of the good news and with threats of damnation.  This perception is not helped by the actions of religious zealots of various stripes.  It’s a ‘be saved or else’ message rather than a ‘come and see’ message of hope and community. 

         “But in this place, new light is streaming.  Now has the darkness vanished away.”  [Marty Haugen, ‘Here in This Place New Light Is Streaming’, Common Praise #465].  In our intercessions, thanksgivings and petitions, we hold our world up to God, in expectation of God’s whisper in our ears, ‘I’m glad you’ve noticed.  Here’s how you can help me with this.’  As we share in the bread broken and the wine poured, we become who we really are --- the body of Christ summoned and empowered to bring light wherever we go.

         Our vocation is not to avoid crises but to engage them with courage, hope and faith.  We invite our neighbours, our families and our friends to choose, to decide, to judge whether they will follow the way of justice, compassion and respect for the earth God makes known to all people in many and various ways or will they follow a different path, one which is life-denying.  It’s not an easy choice; it’s not a choice without cost.  But it is a choice that brings hope and joy even in the face of tragedy.  It is a choice that we make each day so that ‘we and all God’s children shall be free.”  [The Book of Alternative Services, 215]

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