Thursday, February 19, 2009

Crisis of Faith

Exodus 32:1-14[1]

Anne Lamott is one of my favorite authors. The story of her journey to faith is a dramatic one. She grew up in Northern California with parents who were atheists and who raised her to think Christians were idiots.[2] As a teenager she fell into a self-destructive lifestyle. After struggling with addiction for years, she found herself at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, a church with a largely African-American congregation, in Marin City near San Francisco. About her conversion she says, “I found I was really drawn to the Jesus part. And I didn’t want to be.” Despite her hesitation, she was converted from a life that was out of control to a life of peace and joy and fulfillment in her faith in God, in her relationship with her son, and in her work as a writer and activist. In an interview with Tavis Smiley, she explained what I think might be the core of her faith: “I believe that there is a force of goodness or sweetness or sanity, and it does meet us where we are, and it doesn’t leave us where it finds us.”[3]

There are many in our day who have spoken of a “crisis of faith” in our society. Of course, in our context that relates primarily to belief in God and/or active participation in a religious institution. While “belief in God” is doing as well as ever in our society, participation in church or synagogue is not (mosques and temples seem to being doing better). Nevertheless, I don’t really think that means that we are living in a more “secular” age—“secular” in that it is devoid of faith. I think most people have some kind of faith, whether it’s faith in the family or faith in a market economy or faith in the constitution of the USA. I think the question most of us would rather not have to face is whether what you place your faith in can live up to your expectations!

In our Scripture Story for today, the people of Israel had a crisis of faith.[4] They had witnessed the plagues on Egypt and the crossing of the sea, they had been liberated from their oppression and were on their way to a “land of milk and honey.” But after all that, Moses was long in coming down from the mountain, and they were in the middle of the desert. They began to get anxious and panicked themselves into deciding that maybe Moses didn’t know what he was talking about after all. And so they made an image of the God who had brought out of Egypt in the form of a golden calf—and they even named it Yahweh!

It’s amazing what we will turn to when we have a crisis of faith. I use that phrase in a special sense—not a “catastrophe,” like “the current financial crisis,” but a challenge. When everything you’ve staked your life on begins to come unraveled, when your expectations are dashed and your faith is disappointed, you’re in a “crisis of faith.” I call this a “challenge,” because I think a crisis of faith can actually be a blessing in disguise. It gives you an opportunity to “clean house” with reference to your faith—to get rid of some expectations that may not be worth believing in and hoping for.

I know whereof I speak on this matter. When my marriage ended, my family was torn apart, and I had to choose between my kids or my career—pretty much in one fell swoop!—I went through a “crisis of faith.” God didn’t live up to my expectations—in my marriage, in my family, and in my career. What I discovered was that some of my most cherished hopes were in reality naïve and presumptuous expectations! I went through a painful time of “conversion” that led me to a more firm and confident faith—that God will never leave us nor forsake us, that God is in the process of making all things new, that God is faithful, and will not stop until the work of new creation is finished.

Thomas Moore reminds us that we all need a focus, a foundation for our lives.[5] We need some organizing principle that enables us to make sense out of life to view it as something meaningful. For most of us, our faith fulfills that role. But we also need to find a faith that is worth staking our lives on, because there are many “golden calves” out there that will inevitably disappoint us.

For me, the bedrock of faith that I found when I was at the bottom is the Good news—

· Jesus died on the cross to break the power of that which keeps humankind from the life God intends for us to have[6]

· The resurrection of Jesus points us to the new life that came into being on that Easter morning and will one day transform everything and everyone—and it is already in the process of doing just that. [7]

· Nothing limits the saving grace of God! Everybody “makes it in” because God wills it. The whole creation is to be drawn into the peace and love and life of God’s kingdom.[8]

· Because God loves us all unconditionally and irrevocably, we are all moving toward the day when we will all share in God’s own rich, joyful, loving, and free eternal life[9]

The nature of faith is such that we cannot entirely “borrow” it from someone else. What that means is that we all have to find our own bedrock. But part of what makes our faith so fulfilling is that it is not so much about the destination as it is about the journey. It is a journey in which we learn to trust our loving creator. It is one in which we learn to live like our courageous savior. And it is a journey in which we find joy and fulfillment because we are on it together.

[1] © 2008 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 11/9/08 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

[2] Cf. Bob Abernethy and Kim Lawton, “Profile: Anne Lamott,” Feb. 17, 2006, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly; accessed at religionandethics/week925/profile.html .

[3] Cf. Tavis Smiley, “Interview with Anne Lamott,” March 28, 2007; accessed at .

[4] Cf. Mark Hillmer, “Faith in the Old Testament: Pentateuch and Prophets for Pentecost,” Word & World 18, no. 3 (Summer 1998): 318-324.

[5] Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul, 204.

[6] Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 94. Cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 242-43, 246, 277; Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 181-83.

[7] Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 85, 88, 197; Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God, 250-55; cf. further, Jürgen Moltmann, “The God of Hope,” in The Gospel of Liberation, 31; Jürgen Moltmann, In the End—The Beginning: The Life of Hope, 87; cf. also Moltmann, Church in the Power, 77, 80, 83, 86, 93, 98-100, 135, 152-53; 190-91; Moltmann, Way of Jesus, 26-27, 28, 30, 32-33, 97-98, 182, 220, 254, 256; Jürgen Moltmann, Experiences of God, 20, 28.

[8]Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation, 54-6, 76, 85, 288-90; Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 56-57, 94-95, 112, 212-13; Paul Tillich, “Salvation,” in The Eternal Now, 114; Hans Küng, The Christian Challenge, 120.Moltmann, Theology of Hope , 204, 216; Moltmann, Crucified God, 129, 176, 178, 242-44, 276-77; Moltmann, Church in the Power, 77, 83, 100, 134-35, 190-192, 216; Moltmann, Way of Jesus Christ, 104, 109, 133, 178, 190, 223, 225, 255, 263-64, 276, 278-79, 282-86, 303-7, 325; cf. also

[9] Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, 38-40, 57, 151; Moltmann, Church in the Power, 83, 87, 95-96; Moltmann, In the End—The Beginning, 139-151; cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, The Passion for Life: A Messianic Lifestyle, 72, 73, 74

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