I have been thinking about faith lately . . .
In M. Scott Peck’s book The Road Less Traveled he makes a profound statement in the very first paragraph: “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” And, you know what, I don’t hear too people arguing against that statement. That statement is true . . . no one is arguing. In fact, to paraphrase Peck, once a person can accept this truth, life gets easier. The book is a good book and one any person on a spiritual journey should read.
In the same manner I propose a similar statement: “Faith is messy.” That’s it . . . faith is messy. Any person who has taken the role of faith seriously in his or her life knows this statement is true . . . faith is messy. If they don’t, well then . . . they are in denial. They are in denial because . . . plain and simple . . . faith is messy.
I think that the “church” has lived a perpetuate lie for many, many generations by attempting to sell faith as something that is pretty easy . . . believe and life will be good. Yeah, there are several theologies floating around out there that hard sell that idea . . . prosperity theology jumps out in my mind. But, the “church” really can’t be blamed . . . the problem goes all the way back to the beginning. Jesus ran into it all of the time . . . this idea that faith is easy. He fought this idea all of the time . . . why are some people blessed, some cursed, and everyone else is milling around in the middle avoiding one and hoping for the other. As simple and easy as faith appears on the outside . . . it is not. It is messy. Jesus never said that being faithful would be easy . . . or clean. Faith is a constant mess that the faithful struggle with on a daily basis.
In preparation for the Sunday before Easter I was asked to pick which emphasis I was going to use for worship. Well, traditionally the Sunday before Easter is Palm Sunday . . . so one of the choices was the story of Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem . . . the waving of palms, throwing of coats, and Hosannas everywhere. It is a kind of “feel good” story that then gets shattered against the deteriorating backdrop of Holy Week with its bleak news of crucifixion. But, because faith is easy . . . we overlook the rest of the story. The other choice is the long passage that focuses on what the “church” likes to call the “Passion” . . . this year it is John 26:14-27:66 . . . probably longer than the sermon. This reading focuses on . . . well, how difficult faith is. It speaks of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot . . . about Peter proclaiming he would never deny Jesus and then doing it (not once, mind you, but three times) . . . how the disciples promise Jesus that they will stay awake while he prays in the garden and then fall asleep . . . and, how even Jesus struggles with what he knows he should do for God. It also speaks of the Roman governor struggles with putting an innocent man to death, but does what he is charged to do while still questioning it all. This is the one I chose for the Sunday before Easter.
The seven days between Palm Sunday and Easter stand as a witness and testimony of how messy faith is . . . most of us want to throw in our cheers for the entering Jesus, but we want to forget about the mess in the middle, while we welcome the conquering Jesus of Easter. Why? Because it is too messy . . . no one likes a mess. Faith is messy. In my choice I think that more of us can identify with the “mess” between Palm Sunday and Easter more than offering up cheap adulation by waving a few palms and shouting, “Hosanna!” I think that deep down we know that faith is messy and instead of denying it, we need to acknowledge it, accept it, and grow because of it.
Judas wanted to believe . . . and, he did; but this Jesus was way too slow . . . way too peaceful . . . way to loving . . . and, wasn’t willing to raise up the people to destroy those who were oppressing them. Peter wanted to believe . . . Peter who was always wanting to be at the head of the class, always wanting to be the first to rise up to the challenge . . . always wanting to be Jesus’ best buddy; but when tit came for tat, Peter flunked the faith test. So did the disciples who promised Jesus they would stay awake with him while he prayed in the garden . . . they couldn’t do it despite their best intentions. And, then, Jesus himself, did he not struggle . . . were his prayers not for relief from the struggle to live up to what he knew God wanted him to do . . . didn’t he ask God for another way; but, in the end, gave into faith telling God, “Thy will be done”? The faith involved in this biblical passage sure does not look simple . . . does not look easy. It looks messy.
Faith is messy . . . plain and simple.
If faith was easy, wouldn’t everyone be doing it? Wouldn’t everyone be jumping on board and buying the heavenly insurance policy? But they are not. The people are exiting through the back door of the church faster than they are entering the front door. So, why does the “church” insist on selling this idea that faith is easy?
If faith is easy . . . simple, then explain to me why we struggle when “faith” is brought into the discussion of politics . . . when “faith” is brought into nationality. Whose side is God on? Democrats? Republicans? Which country has God blessed . . . the United States formed as a nation under God?
If faith is easy . . . simple, then why is there war? Why is there hate? Why is there prejudice? Racism? Genderism? Why do we hate our brothers and sisters . . . created in God’s image . . . and, do so in the name of God?
If faith is easy . . . simple, then why do we—the “church”—deny people access to the table of Christ? Ask people to agree to creeds, dogma, and other silly babble to belong to the family of God? Isn’t it a shame to look around the table and see that more are not at the table than those who are?
The fact of the matter is . . . faith is not easy. Faith is a mess. We are constantly being confronted in our spiritual journey with situations that put our faith to the test. Unfortunately, faith, like life, is not black and white. I challenge any person who claims to be a person of faith to honestly tell me that where they are right now in their faith is the same as it was on the day that he or she proclaimed it for the first time. The truth of the matter is that it isn’t. Faith is a struggle in which growth comes . . . growth closer to God and to others.
Growth towards greater intimacy with the one who created us . . . who loves us . . . and, who accepts us for who we were created to be . . . the children of God. That is grace. Growth towards greater intimacy with siblings in this holy family of God’s . . . to love one another . . . to care for one another . . . and, that is love. This is the foundation of faith . . . the challenge Jesus set before all of us . . . to love the Lord completely and to love one another. If we attempt to live our lives to this challenge, we quickly discover how messy faith really is.
If you find “faith” to be easy . . . well, then I think I would question whether or not you have truly found “faith”. It is not a matter of being “good” or “bad”, but a matter of living up to God’s will. To love God . . . to love one another . . . what more is there? Faith is messy. The sooner that we can accept that fact, the more time we have to deal with it . . . faith is not in the word, but in the actions of living. Jesus never promised that it would be easy, and neither can I. Avoid those who promise the “easy way”! To live is to have faith . . . life is difficult . . . so is faith.