Thursday, February 19, 2009

Leap of Faith

Esther 4:1-17[1]

In our study of Thomas Moore’s book Care of the Soul, we’ve been looking at various aspects of his view that the way to find true happiness in life is to embrace life as it is: good and bad, joy and sadness, pleasure and pain, fulfillment and disappointment.[2] Some of you may be convinced, but there may be others who are still skeptical. What makes anybody think that we can embrace life as it is?

Moore answers this in several ways:

• We can embrace life when we recognize the beauty all around us. The biblical view of creation is that God has filled all that is with life and beauty. That means if we look properly, we should be able to see beauty in everything and everyone.[3]

• We can embrace life when we accept our own value as individuals. If you can realize that there is something necessary to your existence in this world, that there is something that you and only you can contribute to life, then you can look at yourself in the mirror see a person whose life is important.[4]

• We can embrace life when we see what we do as sacred. When we grasp that all our work is God’s work—that we are contributing toward the well-being of all life, and thus participating in God’s ongoing creation, then we can “be good at what we’re good at” with passion and enthusiasm. [5]

•We can embrace life when we simply accept our families as they are—even if we keep our distance! In a very real sense, you can only be “comfortable in your own skin” when you come to terms with the fact that, for good or for ill, your family is the only one you’ve got!

• We can embrace life when we acknowledge our own name, with everything that goes with it. It is only when we embrace ourselves that we can embrace others in the joy of friendship and love.[6] This is especially the case when it comes to loving a significant other. We learn to love in the give and take of everyday life.

Today, we are looking at the fact that embracing life takes a “leap of faith.”[7] I think the story of Esther is a perfect way of learning about this aspect of embracing life. You probably know Esther’s story better than I—she was a young and beautiful Jewish woman living in the Persian empire with her uncle Mordecai. When the King was “in the market” for a new queen, Esther was one of the beautiful young women from all over the empire to “try out” for the position of queen. And, of course, the king was vastly more delighted with Esther than any other young woman, and she became the new Queen. But one of the King’s advisers, named Haman, hated Mordecai and all the Jewish people. So he convinced the king to sign a decree allowing Haman to execute all the Jewish people—because the King didn’t know Esther was Jewish!

When Mordecai found out, he sent a message to Esther asking her to do something about it. Now, what you have to understand is that Esther, queen or not, was subject to the whims of the king. To approach the king without being summoned meant risking death. But Esther was a courageous woman of faith—like her ancestors before her, she was willing to risk what most people would never dream of risking! And so she asked Mordecai to call a fast for three days, and after that she said “I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).

That’s the way of faith according to the Scriptures. Setting out on a journey without even knowing where you’re going, like Abraham and Sarah. Facing death in a furnace rather than compromising one’s commitment to God, like the three young men. Exposing oneself to ridicule and humiliation to obey God’s command, like Mary did when she agreed to bear God’s son. That’s what faith is about. It’s not about knowing exactly how everything is going to turn out. It’s about “hoping like mad in something” that may seem too good to be true—that “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15)! And because it seems so far-fetched the only way to take the leap of faith is to “know that we do not know”—and in fact we cannot know—how it will wind up for us.[8]

Biblical faith is not about rational arguments and scriptural “proofs” that are supposed to make us feel safe in a world that is more and more confusing. It is not about clear-cut moral codes and fixed dogmas that are supposed to protect us from the tension of not knowing, of not being sure, of not having all the answers. The faith of the Scriptures is full of questions, uncertainty, and mystery![9] It opens us up, making us vulnerable to the unpredictability of our world. It challenges us take part in an amazing journey, a pilgrimage of faith that has always been about taking the kind of risk Esther took. And because this journey takes place right in the middle of the uncertainties and anxieties of our day and time, it is a journey that takes all that we can muster in terms of faith and courage.

[1] © 2008 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 11/23/08 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

[2] Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul, xii, xvi-xvii, 4, 14.

[3]Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life, 48-50. Cf. Moore, Care of the Soul, 277-280.

[4] Moore, Care of the Soul, 114-15.

[5] Cf. Moore, Care of the Soul, 181-82, 199.

[6] Moore, Care of the Soul, 57.

[7] William Willimon calls it “Unspectacular Faithfulness” but recognizes that it takes a leap of faith nevertheless! See William Willimon, “Unspectacular Faithfulness,” A Sermon preached on 9/28/1997 at the Duke University Chapel; accessed at .

[8] John Caputo, On Religion, 2, 19.

[9] Moore, Care of the Soul, 244-47.

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