All of our readings today discuss faith (or lack of it!), and the results of having faith. My plan today is to look at each of these readings a bit and see what we can find out about faith.
Our 1st Kings reading comes after we heard two weeks ago about the wonderful triumph of the faith of Elijah in his God Yahweh. We heard about the total shaming of the God Baal--with the offerings, the altars, and the coming of God with fire to consume an extremely watered down altar. This versus Baal not able to even show a flame to his altar. Elijah acted as one who had great faith in God, and showed the people of Baal who his God was and why they should follow him.
The very next story in this Kings book (what we read today!) has Elijah totally demoralized from just a threat from Queen Jezebel against him—after all the magnificence and support he has seen from God. [Note that this is the Queen of Ahab, the king of Israel, and its promised people of Abraham. This king and his people were an abomination to God, and yet Ahab and Jezebel were somehow “winning” against Elijah.] Did Elijah not think God would protect and lead him? I guess not! Or maybe he just was so tired and worn out being a prophet for God, and his faith was overly tested at a time of weakness. Anyway, his actions spoke about his struggle with faith then, as he fled to a faraway cave in the other Israelite kingdom of Judah to escape the threat against his life.
Tell me, have any of you ever felt like Elijah. Trying times and lives, yet seemingly no help. Elijah looked for a powerful voice of God in the winds of a great tornado, and in a massive earthquake, and even in a great fire—sorry, no voice of hope. Then, in silence, he came to the mouth of the cave and God was there, asking him what was the problem—there is still work to do and your God is with you. So, he headed to Damascus to proclaim God and anoint a king in Aram.
I do not see our ministry as anointing kings, and I do not think we have to endure tornadoes, earthquakes, or fires to find that quiet time to hear God speak to us and remind us he is there with us, and that we have his work to do.
Psalm 42 talks about the comparison of the deer and his thirst for flowing streams, to the faithful and their hope in God. (Remember this song we sing occasionally!—“As the deer pants for the water…”) There is a whole series of verses talking about the praise of God, and yet lamenting why God has forsaken the faithful. Twice, though, we have this faithful response: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”
Our Gospel from Luke gives us a contrast between the faith of the man inhabited by a legion of demons and the Gerasene people, who were irked by Jesus even being in their town performing miracles such as this. As far down in his pitiful life as this tormented man was, his only hope was to believe that Jesus could heal him, while the Gerasenes could only ask Jesus to leave because they had so little faith they did not understand what this miracle from Jesus could mean and it scared them. Is it likely that sometimes we all end up in either of these positions—needing faith in the worst way, or just not having it and wanting to not deal with the question of faith.
Our final reading to look at is from Galatians. I saved it for last because it gets to the heart of what faith is all about. There is a long lead up to our specific reading today talking about the subject of faith versus works and the law. In verse 2, the writer says: “The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard.” And, in verse 11: ”Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for “The one who is righteous will live by faith.””
Again, from our reading today, “Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
I cannot emphasize enough how much this writing is so important to the Church, in the largest sense. Because of some bad teaching, the Galatians thought, “We are made right before God based on what Jesus did for us, plus what we do for Him under the Law of Moses.” In correcting this, Paul first wrote about his own experience – when he came to Jesus by faith alone, not faith plus being under the law. And today, there are many Christians (maybe even each of us at some time) who want to try to distinguish themselves by their works, or by their careless reading and applying of scriptures they try to justify their actions to separate themselves as better than those they feel fall short of being worthy of God. This reading tells us that faith is the only key to being one of Christ’s people. The Law was given by God because those who had been made heirs with Abraham fell short in so many ways, and they needed a “rule book” to help them understand how to live. But over time (and even today) the Law is still in the forefront for many followers of Christ, and they over apply it, turning it into a weapon to use to declare themselves better and above all others.
Our challenge here at St. Mark’s is to not get caught up in this kind of justification of ourselves as Christ’s followers, by using the Law as a separation vehicle from others. We have received the greatest gift – the Holy Spirit of God – by faith. Under law, we are blessed and grow spiritually by earning and deserving. By our faith, and the grace of God, we are blessed and grow spiritually by believing and receiving. We know that our faith in Christ is our way to salvation, and we have that message to share with others around us. Let us always keep that in mind as we live our lives in the spirit and grace of God.