June 21, 2020
Union University Church
Reverend Laurie DeMott
We’ve celebrated our children and youth who participated in the 2019-2020 program year, and now I want briefly to share with you a story from one of my first youth groups way back in the 1980s. This was a group that included Judy Bowden, Marcia Stevens, Tom Meacham, and Kristen Meissner, among others. Anyway, in those days I was more ambitious in my programming and one weekend, I took the youth group to my parent’s house in Geneseo for a retreat. The youth were studying the Beatitudes at the time, so I developed a game in which the kids had to run around the house earning cards that they could use to solve puzzles in order to collect the pieces of the Beatitudes which they then had to assemble in the proper order to win the game. It was a pretty complicated game but we had a lot of time to fill that weekend! During the game, the group earned a card with the word “faith” written on it. Knowing they might need it to solve a later puzzle, they designated Kevin Kelley to carry the card for the group. Unfortunately, soon after, Kevin was “arrested” by a Roman Centurion (one of the adult leaders) and was imprisoned in my parent’s bathroom which had been temporarily converted into a Roman jail. The rest of the group continued to play the game and came to a point which said, “One of the missing Beatitudes is out on the water but to reach it you must walk on the water which requires faith.”
The kids yelled out, “Wait! We can do this! We have the faith card! Where is it?” and suddenly to their dismay, they realized Kevin had the faith card but Kevin was in jail. The group ran to the bathroom and demanded entry but the Roman Centurion on duty wouldn’t allow Kevin any visitors. With a flash of inspiration, one of the kids cried out, “Kevin, slip your faith under the door!” The cry was quickly taken up by all: “Kevin, slip your faith under the door! Slip your faith under the door!” Soon, the faith card appeared on the floor as Kevin slid it out to them. The group grabbed the card, rushed triumphantly back, handed in their faith, and received their Beatitude.
As this scene played out, I couldn’t help but hear their words through ministerial ears. “How nice,” I thought to myself, “if faith were so transferable.” In a time of crisis in your life when you were feeling pretty shaky or uncertain, you could say to your friend, “Could you slip your faith under my door, just until I get through this? I’ll bring it back to you when I am done.” Churches could boost their membership rolls by printing out faith cards and handing them out on the streets, and those receiving the faith card would suddenly be filled with a desire to worship. You could stick faith cards in the Christmas stockings to ensure your kids’ would have religious convictions. And you could squirrel away extra faith cards under your mattress to pull out in times of extreme difficulty or doubt. I think a lot of us would have appreciated a stockpile of faith cards to get us through the past few months.
As silly as all of that sounds, the problem is that that is how many Christians have thought of faith. We think of faith as a set of beliefs that can be passed on to others; as doctrines that our kids can memorize to ensure that they will “have faith.” We too often treat faith as a commodity that you have or don’t have; and in times of trial or doubt, when you feel faith running low, all you need to do is figure out a way to replenish your faith reserves by saying the right prayers, or saying the right creeds.
Real faith, however, is not something that can be printed on a card or slid under a door because it is not a commodity. The word in Greek that we translate as faith can also be and is probably better translated as ‘trust.’ Faith is not what you believe but it is who you trust and, as Christians, to be faithful means that we have decided to trust Christ. To have faith in Christ is to trust that if we place our lives in Christ’s hands, we can be confident that he will be the person he promised to be: he will be present with us in times of trouble; he will lead us on roads that will bring us and others to a place of peace and wholeness; he will teach us to make our lives worthy and good. To trust Christ is to say to him, “I don’t even know if I believe every creed the church has written about you over 2000 years, but I trust that hitching myself to you is what keeps me whole when everything else is falling apart. With you I am more than I could ever be alone.”
Each of us is who we are today because of the people in our lives whom we have trusted and have proven worthy of our trust. For some of us it may have been our parents, for others a spouse, for others exceptional friends; but for all of us as Christians, we are people formed by our trust in Christ who has shown us over and over again that he is worthy of that trust: in good times and in hard, when we were full of certainty and when we were overwhelmed by doubts, when we prayed with fervent confidence, and when we had no words because our tears struck us silent, when the world was full of joy and goodness, and when the world raged at injustice and was turned upside down by Covid-19, Christ stayed with us and gave us a way forward.
And on this Children’s Day when we give thanks for the children and youth of our church, may we remember that faith cannot be slipped under a door or handed over to our kids in a curriculum. It can only be demonstrated by the way that we ourselves prove worthy of the trust of others, remaining present with others in times of difficulty, standing with them against injustice, practicing forgiveness and humility, and living lives of love. Our children will have faith not because we taught them to believe the right thing but because we showed them a way of living that could be trusted; because we showed them a person who could be trusted. In the words of Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Let us pray:
God, we thank you for the guidance and the strength we have known through the presence of your son who has proved himself worthy of our faith in him. May we prove worthy of his love and the trust of others as we build lives of goodness and peace grounded in Christ Jesus in whose name we pray. Amen.