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Faith & Doubt During Uncertain Times

Updated: Apr 4

Sermon by Fr. Chris Golding on March 15, 2020. (Audio available here.)


How many of us are now ready to say to God, “I’m thankful for the suffering of uncertainty caused by the Coronavirus?”


To soon?


I suspect that many of us would hold to an ancient fallacy, that “a lack of suffering or an escape from suffering” is evidence of God’s favor for us. I suspect then that many of us are not ready (particularly as we and the world deal with COVID-19) to be where Paul is at in his Letter to the Romans, “We boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”


We might not be there yet. And that’s okay.


However, can we say this, perhaps?


“How we respond as Christians to the current climate of fear and anxiety — how we decide to act for the world and for our communities — now, in these times,

is a direct reflection of what we truly believe about God and the power that Christ has over death.”


In short, what we do now says much about what we believe now.


I promised that this week, like last week when I was preaching, we’d spend a little time together with St. Paul and his Letter to the Romans.


So let’s do just that, reflecting on the relationship we have between faith and action, and God’s relationship with us in grace and in salvation.


Last week we took a look at the way Paul uses the example of our ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, to encourage us and inspire us in our faith journeys. Paul reminded us that Abraham was made right with God and humanity not through the following of a rigid set of rules and ordinances, but through God’s grace-filled gift in Jesus Christ.


Put another way, Abraham and his spouse, Sarah, they found new life in a new land not through narrow rule-following, not through belief in an authoritative autocrat-God, but through a gift which was given to them freely and without condition.


Paul’s argument put to us today in Romans chapter 5 is this.


We are already made right with God because we already believe.

And because we already believe we already have peace.

And because we already have peace, we now hold the key to grace.

And because we hold the key to grace, we rejoice in hope.


Why? Because now and into God’s coming future, we share in “the glory of God.”


Friends, I believe that if we know this. Or perhaps, if we can accept this, this will change and shape the way in which we respond to any challenge that we face or any difficulties the world experiences.


Friends, if we can invite this teaching of Paul (which is really the grace-love-gift of God!), if we can allow this gift to blossom in our hearts, this will mean that we’ll be ready, or closer to being ready, to be where Paul finds himself when he writes to the people of Rome:


“We boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”


Paul understands the readiness that he feels to be God’s love which has been poured into his heart “through the Holy Spirit.”


[If we can draw a correlation between the today’s other readings from Exodus and the Gospel of John for a moment, this Holy Spirit is poured into Paul’s heart, he believes, like the refreshing water which comes out of the rock in the desert. For Paul, this Holy Spirit of God is like that “living water” which is given by Jesus, the water that is drunk and which never again causes us to thirst.”]


So through this Holy Spirit poured into his heart, Paul believes that hope dwells in us; God’s love dwells in us; God’s grace dwells in us.


Last week I equated the faithfulness of Abraham and Sarah with a foolishness of faith. A faith that put aside the need for — human achievement, human striving — a faith that often took us away from the “rational choice” the “sensible decision” — a faith, rather that takes us toward an unselfish and uncontrolled reliance on God’s power found in the resurrection of Jesus.


Just in saying that, just those words together, assumes a belief, assumes a faith in the Christ as the Son of God, assumes a trust that God got it right in Jesus of Nazareth, assumes a willingness to look silly if all of what we put our confidence in is not exactly what it looks like in the end.


Because if we don’t believe in the power found in Jesus’ resurrection then everything else that we are talking about right now is a house of cards. If we aren’t able to give ourselves over to a trust in that which is not seen and yet believed (as the Letter to the Hebrews says), if we are not willing to let go of the need to understand everything, then everything that we say about grace and the Holy Spirit and of Christian hope is null, and the promise void” to use St. Paul’s words.


Yet, having said all of that, there is a paradox here, for I am convinced that we don’t have to sign up for everything in order for God’s favor to be with us.


There’s a strange mystery at work in all of this as in much of our faith journey.


For if we did go down that road, that road of “signing on the dotted line for all the fine print of Christianity” that’s really a road to the belief system of the Pharisees and their rule-following religion. That’s really a journey (sadly well-traveled) to a God as an authoritarian teacher ready to catch us out and slap us down at any moment.


Yes, there’s no way that I possibly advocate for us to trust in a God who is only interested in saving people who are all in, fully convinced and sure and certain without a shadow of a doubt that everything that Paul argues is true. (Certainly, sisters and brothers, one could question whether any person like that exists inside or outside Christianity at all in any case!)


Professor John Orens may have said it best when he said that,

“Christianity is not a closed system which must be swallowed whole or rejected altogether.” Rather Christianity is “a matrix” (a structure) within which doubt and uncertainty can be expressed and even sanctified.


Orens thus argues that “to question God can be a holy vocation.”


So I return to the question which I posed when I began:


How many of us are now ready to say to God, “I’m thankful for the suffering of uncertainty caused by the Coronavirus?”


Yes, it might be too soon for that. But we might be ready today to ask God

“Where are you?”

“Why am I anxious?

“What is going to happen next?


A God of love and grace and power and Spirit is surely, surely! a God who will be ready to be attentive and respond to our questions and our doubts. A God of grace and glory is surely a God who shows us the Way, by being simply being there

Ready to listen.

Ready to love.

Ready to die.

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