God's Faith Lives in You
Hebrews 11:29-12:2 | Luke 12:54-56
A reading from the Buddhist tradition: Freed by full realization and at peace, the mind of such a one is at peace, and speech and action are peaceful. There is no need for faith for the one who knows the uncreated, who has cut off rebirth, who has destroyed any opportunity for good or evil, and cast away all desire. Such a one is indeed the ultimate human. Here ends the reading.
Let us pray: Holy One, we lift up our souls to you in praise for the women and men that have inspired us with their lives of faith. Bless the words that are spoken and heard. May you be in midst of this conversation of faith. Amen.
How does faith get built up in a person? Let me suggest two ways: 1) living with a person of faith and 2) reading and sharing bible stories about faithful women and men.
Faith can be built by living or spending time with someone who is able to speak about, and more importantly, to demonstrate their faith. Such a person shows us that they draw comfort and strength from something beyond and greater than themselves. They express gratitude for the blessings they have received; they name them, and rejoice in them as blessings from God. Have you known such a person? If so, you have been blessed.
We can also build our faith through reading about the lives of people who lived out lives of faith – in the bible but in other sacred stories as well. This is why a knowledge of bible stories from all parts of the bible is important. Knowing our bible can build up a shared sense of history and community. We learn how faith played a part not only in the lives of the people in the bible, but ours today too. We also learn from bible stories that God uses ordinary people to do incredible things: Moses had a speech impediment; AND he led the Hebrews out of slavery from the Egyptians. Rehab was a sex worker AND she believed in God so she protected spies that Joshua sent to scope out the defenses of Jericho. David committed adultery and plotted to kill the woman’s husband. AND David also became the first king of the United Kingdom of Israel. When people placed their lives in God’s hands, they prevailed – against great adversity, sometimes of their own making. God consistently chooses imperfect vessels to perform life-saving and life-blessing works. Some of you have shared your own stories of faith within our community – how God has enabled you to overcome great challenges and is continuing to empower you in your life.
My own stories of faith include calling out to God during and after physical and emotional violence as a child. I remember experiencing the purity of God’s love in the sanctuary of the Mill Valley Community Church. I encountered God as I climbed trails on Mt. Tamalpais and surfed at Stinson Beach as a teenager. In my middle years, I responded in faith to the call to ordained ministry after resisting it for 20 years. Later, God led me to Zen meditation to the Shalem Institute and into the art of spiritual direction. You, too, are part of my faith story. And I know that God is not done with me yet. How do I know my faith is real? Why can’t I set it aside? To repeat words from Philip’s sermon last Sunday from the film Contact: “Because I can't. <pause> I had not just one but many experiences. I can't prove it. I can't even explain it. But everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am, tells me that it was real. I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever.” This has happened, again and again. How about you? Do you have your own stories of faith?
Faith is best experienced as a verb, a way of life. We develop eyes of faith to find the actions of God in the world and other people. But not only can we have the eyes of faith, all of our senses: taste, touch, hearing, smell can all contribute to our sense of faith, as can our sexuality, our emotions and our intellects. All the ways we experience life are doorways that can open to God; doorways that open both ways. All of our senses and the many ways in which we have senses of identity,
are gifts from God. So what is my definition of faith? What is the bedrock that lies beneath this mass of imperfections that is me? Here’s my definition; yours may be different.
The certainty that God loves each of us, just the way we are. There is nothing that you or I can do or fail to do that will prevent God from loving us. I know this in my bones.
God shows up in myriad forms and manifestations, not only in the Judeo-Christian tradition but in the many names for God in Islam and in the countless manifestations of God in the Hindu tradition.
The Holy One constantly strives for the good, for beauty, and to give lives of meaning and hope. Why? Because love, in all its expressions, is the fundamental nature of God.
I believe that someone named Jesus lived and taught what it meant to be intimately connected to God. I have witnessed the Holy Spirit change lives.
So what are we to do with the words of the Buddha that ___ read?: “There is no need for faith for the one who knows the uncreated, who has cut off rebirth, who has destroyed any opportunity for good or evil, and cast away all desire.” In the Theravada (Te-Rah-Waah-Dah”) Buddhist tradition, one who is enlightened has fully integrated all things; there are no dualities. Things are as they are. The self is fully integrated with, and inseparable from the rest of creation. You and I experience life through what are referred to as the five skandhas or collections, which are: form, meaning the physical body, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness. All of these are transitory, subject to change and decay. When we are at peace with this reality, we can be free from suffering. In its own way, this is a statement of faith. Yet, against this stands the Zen perspective that there is nothing to achieve, nothing to be overcome, and nothing to be accomplished. Two weeks ago I read these words from the gospel of Matthew: “Ask and it shall be given you, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asks receives, and he that seeks finds, and to the one that knocks, it shall be opened.”
These inspiring words contain a duality. The reality is that the one asking and the one giving are one, the seeker simply accepts that which is in plain view and there is no need for us to knock but merely to enter through the doorway that has always been open. This is the way of divine love. In the essential nature of all things, there is no interpreting. There is only knowing and being.
Integrating my Christian and Buddhist understandings, faith is the lived experience of integrating everything. Even phrases like “Most High” are dualistic, for if God is Most High than we are not. We and the Beloved are one. If we suffer, God is in the midst of our suffering and is fully present with us. If we experience joy, it is but a small reflection of God’s joy of connecting with us. Our destination is union with God, sometimes through others, sometimes through something as simple as a rose, a warm breeze, or the glance of a stranger.
My friends, here’s a word of challenge. Look not to your own faith, as weak or strong as it may be, but to the faith that the Holy One, the Beloved has in you. Did you hear that? Look to the faith that God has always had, has now, and will always have in you. God knows you completely and is recklessly in love with you. All you need to do is say “yes” to God’s love. It is a disarmingly simple thing to do, yet some of us struggle against it our entire lives.
Surrender to love, again and again. I invite you to repeat these words after me: “Yes, Beloved, here I am. Embrace me as I embrace you.”
Beloved: may your faith be as deep and wide as the seas; may it continue to blossom and nuture souls. May you find in Jesus the perfection of your life of loving and giving. May the Holy Spirit cause your heart to soar and bless all that you are and do. Amen.