When Father Poppe contacted me and asked me to do this I didn’t have to think about it. My answer was an immediate YES! My questions to him were, “Do I have to use the readings and can I add some music?” His advice was to try to incorporate the readings if possible and check with John on music. Well, this might be a stretch for the readings but John was very accommodating in helping with a song we will do later. I feel so blessed to be able to come and share some of my thoughts on a topic that has shaped me as a Christian.
My journey on this has been long and it wasn’t until I started attending St. George’s that some of it started to fall in place.
My family has strong roots in the Methodist Church and yet my mother raised me in a Southern Baptist church. She made sure that I was well rounded in what other faiths and denominations believed. I went to Friday night guitar mass with Marla – my Catholic friend; I spent Hanukkah and Passover with my first Jewish friend, Cindy Levy; I attended services at Presbyterian and Pentecostal churches. And of course at the family Methodist church that my Great-Grandfather started. As I went through college I stayed very active in church; I taught Sunday school, sang in the college and adult choirs, went to every service. It was also during this time that I started to question what it was exactly that I believed in – what was my faith? I had read the Bible, the philosophy of Buddhism and The Book of Tao. I have to say that I was really confused. There are so many teachings and I believed in so many of them from different practices. Where did my faith lie? I wasn’t always sure so let’s go back 15 years.
I was pregnant and I was still trying to master the New Jersey jughandle. I also knew that I wanted my child to be raised in a community of like-minded people – so to me that meant finding a church. I knew I wasn’t Southern Baptist – even as a teenager I questioned too much and saw adults squirm. I knew I wasn’t Methodist, Presbyterian, or Pentecostal. And I certainly wasn’t Catholic! I don’t live in Maplewood and not even this county. So how did I end up here? We have dear friends that live here and we were used to coming to Maplewood for dinner. They attend Morrow Methodist and when we expressed an interest in finding a church they immediately said “St. George’s. It will fit you.” I wasn’t sure what that meant at the time but I soon found out. A welcoming feeling and welcoming people; families that weren’t all traditional – our family is not traditional; ideas and actions that are outside the box and maybe even radical. Yes – I thought – I fit.
You’re probably asking yourself, “What does that have to do with her faith?” I promise I’ll get to that.
Coming to an Episcopal church had never entered my mind. The first few times were confusing – all the up and down, the repeated prayers, taking the Eucharist every week. But after a while I found that I liked the order – it became comfortable.
Saying the Nicene Creed every week – our affirmation of faith – became comfortable. Then maybe about a year after being a regular we stood to say the Creed after the sermon and it hit me:
WE BELIEVE IN ONE GOD, THE FATHER, THE ALMIGHTY, MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH, OF ALL THAT IS,
I bet most of you finished that sentence in your head. SEEN AND UNSEEN. What hit me was the comma after the word “is”. I realized that we had become comfortable with saying the Creed and we run over the comma. I didn’t grow up in a church that said the Nicene Creed and already I had become comfortable. I was running over the comma. I am by no means a grammar perfectionist. You can read this sermon on the St. George’s website and see that. What I do know is that commas mean a slight pause. That one comma, that pause, made me start thinking about my faith.
What is faith? In the most basic terms it’s a noun.
- confidence or trust in a person or thing.
- belief that is not based on proof.
- belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion.
- belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.
- a system of religious belief.
But what is faith? What is my faith?
I teach in a Catholic school – I think that may be irony – I’m not sure. To be fair, I teach basic skills and resource so I am not teaching religion. I have substituted though and on those days I do have to teach religion. In the lower grades we teach faith with examples like: We can’t see the oxygen we breathe but we have faith that it is there and we keep on breathing. We can’t see the wind (not seen) but we see the clouds and trees move (seen) so we know the wind is blowing. We haven’t physically seen God but we have faith that he is there. We can see the effects of God. Even young students understand that. But as we grow our definition of faith grows.
Hebrews 11:1-3 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by our faith our ancestors received approval, By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.”
Hebrews 11 goes on to tell of acts of faith throughout the Old Testament. In Hebrews 12:2 we are told, “Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” Later in the chapter it tells us that faith is a discipline. Sometimes it is painful but “later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (vs 11)
This is starting to clear some of the confusion for me.
Faith can be painful, definitely confusing, but peaceful. I hope that at this time of my life I might be moving towards peaceful.
This past Thursday night I was watching Stephen Colbert on the Late Show and VP Joe Biden was his guest. Mr. Biden was speaking of the death of his son a few months ago. He was asked how he was coping on national TV and he spoke of his faith. The “comfort” of his faith and how it brings him peace. It was like a shot of adrenaline that I didn’t need at midnight. My thoughts for today started to gel, even though I have been thinking of this topic for a very long time and have written several versions of this sermon.
What I got out of Mr. Biden’s words were that it’s okay to be comfortable. It’s okay to have ritual. It’s good to be at peace and even through painful times, faith is our companion.
I have to challenge myself to think beyond the Nicene Creed. Yes – I do believe all that we say after the first sentence. I also believe in Karma; that angels watch over us; we shouldn’t harm others; we need to help those less fortunate than ourselves; and that most people believe in a higher being. In my limited life searching I do know that most denominations, faiths, and religions believe in similar values. I have to start thinking that my Mother knew what she was doing while I was growing up. She made sure that I knew that there are many ways to look at the big picture of what we believe. That as I grew up, moved away, had a family, I would need to find my own faith, and my own answers. Sometimes it’s painful but mostly it is peaceful.
People ask me why I drive so far to come to church – well – it is comfortable, it’s peaceful, it’s a place of solace in the painful times. Most of all, it feeds my soul and therefore my faith. Our faith grows and changes just as we do. I know I’ve grown and I have certainly changed since attending Saint George’s so I know my faith has grown too.
I’ll end my ramblings with a challenge to you. As we say the Nicene Creed (or sing it today) I challenge you to observe the comma and think of what you believe beyond the creed. Where do all of the components of your faith come from? I’ve read and talked with people who were agnostic, atheist, Jewish, Sihk, Buddhist, Muslim, and probably most denominations found in my wanderings. I truly believe that each of those encounters influence my faith. So I’ll say it again, all of you here at Saint George’s Episcopal Church have influenced my faith and I am grateful, and at peace, with that.
Lastly, I would like to share a quote about faith from one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis.
"Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”
— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity