And so it begins, friends, the 40-day pilgrimage to Corner Brook, where the church will gather in worship and prayer and work at General Council 42, open to the Spirit, seeking to discern the ways that God is calling us into the future.
As pilgrims we travel in faith, motivated by a yearning for a deeper relationship with God, hoping for holy encounters along the way. We travel in prayer… for ourselves, and for our church.
We don’t talk a lot about our faith in the United Church, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps we see ourselves as “do-ers,” showing our faith in action, with no need to talk about it? Or maybe we’re self-conscious, even embarrassed, believing that faith is a private matter? Perhaps we’re not sure how or when to share our faith stories – is there permission, opportunity? Will people think we’re strange? Whatever the reason, I think we in the United Church do need to start talking more about our faith – why it’s important for us, how it has made a difference in our lives, helped us go deeper, and supported us in tough times.
Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out just what we mean by “faith.” Recently I was at a church gathering, and in the midst of a “faith conversation” some interesting phrases and thoughts emerged:
- Faith is more about heart knowledge; intellectual understanding comes after.
- Faith is a deep knowing that we are part of something bigger.
- Faith is less about content and belief, and more about relationship with God.
- Faith is counter-cultural – we’re not in control.
- Faith is taking the risk, the first step, the jump… and following Jesus.
- Faith is all about trust – even when the “evidence” seems to contradict the hope.
- “Faith is the bird that feels the light, and sings when the dawn is still dark.” (from the Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore).
So let me ask – how would you finish the phrase, “Faith is…”? Or if someone were to ask you, “Tell me about your faith.” How would you respond?
Or let me put it another way. One of my favourite poems, “The Way It Is” by William Stafford – suggests that faith is the thread we follow, and as long as we hold on to it, we will not get lost. Oh, tough times, suffering and tragedies will touch every one of us… and the church; nothing stops time’s unfolding. But, the poet says you never let go of the thread. So, what is the thread that you hold onto – what guides your journey and connects you to the Energy of life, to God?
Too much poetry? Well – let me put it in yet a different way. One of the things that happens on pilgrimages is that people share faith stories… sometimes about what occurs on the journey itself; sometimes about what sparked the pilgrimage, the hunger, the questions, the hopes; and sometimes about how it all began, way back, telling stories about their encounters with God in the past. It’s what the Bible seems to be full of… stories about meeting God in the strangest and most amazing places and people and moments. What if this pilgrimage were an opportunity for us to share our faith stories, in this virtual community; maybe with friends “back home”; perhaps in our congregational gatherings?
I’m convinced that as we share such “God stories;” or talk about the “thread” that gives us strength and meaning; or try to articulate what faith is for us, we’ll end up discovering a lot about the “why” of church. And that will make us so much more ready to deal with the “how”!
Perhaps you noticed in yesterday’s gospel reading (Mark 5:21-43), how faith – a deep trust and openness to the love and energy of God embodied in Jesus – brought healing for a hemorrhaging woman, and new life for the daughter of Jairus. That happens a lot in the gospels, where Jesus declares over and over, “Your faith has made you well.” How might our faith open us up to the Spirit of Christ, individually and as a church, and bring a new wholeness?
I appreciated Ralph Schmidt’s comment on my previous blog posting – “I am frightened having been elected a Commissioner from Bruce Presbytery because of the immensity of changes we are looking at and the incredible need to keep praying. Maybe we are like the synagogue leader’s daughter, and just sleeping, waiting for Jesus.” I was reminded of a song by Fred Kaan and Ron Klusmeier, “The Daughter of Jairus,” which makes a similar point. The final verse compares the church to a daughter oversleeping in death, and asks the Spirit to touch her and bring her back to life.
Maybe that’s what we’re hoping for when we gather at Corner Brook.
Midrash suggests that the Red Sea did not part until Moses took a first step. The gospels tell us about people who chose to follow Jesus. We’ve just finished celebrating our church’s 90th anniversary, when faith overcame distrust and fear, and three denominations became one.
And now we face new challenges. But faith enables us to live into the biblical command – “Be not afraid!” So, despite real worries and concerns, we are invited to take a deep breath, trusting that “God is with us – we are not alone”… and so we move forward into our pilgrimage, into General Council 42, and into a new future, where God “makes all things new.”
Photo: Hartwig HKD, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)