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Faith in Exile

When Moses gets the call from God to free the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt he’s got a pretty comfortable life going: he’s married, probably has kids, has herds, a home, a community. There is nothing in his life that says to me that somehow getting 600,000 families away from the Pharaoh and leading them to a new land was something that he wanted to do. Now, I imagine it is hard to say no to a burning bush, but he does try… “Hey God, I really don’t speak very well, I don’t think I’m the right guy for this.” But God just sends Aaron along to help and that’s the end of that.

Despite the speech issue, Moses does seem to be the right guy for this. He has courage, inner strength, compassion and faith. Moses is a man of deep faith. And that’s what I’d like to talk about today… faith in exile.

What exactly is faith? I think many people, without stopping to think about it, equate faith with belief. And it’s no wonder as Christianity encourages people to believe in the Bible, to believe in God, to believe in the creeds, to believe in certain understandings of who Jesus was and why he was here, to believe the doctrine of the church. And then, I’ve heard this over and over, if people questioned any of these beliefs they were told they just didn’t have enough faith. The Christian life meant believing in things that were hard to believe, things that sometimes didn’t make a whole lot of sense. That was the whole point of faith!

A number of times early on in my ministry I felt like perhaps I wasn’t worthy to be a pastor because I didn’t believe so many things that the institutional church wanted me to believe. Maybe I just didn’t have enough faith to be a pastor.

But I’ve come to a new understanding over the years. Christianity, as Bishop John A.T. Robinson put it, is not about "believing 49 impossible things before breakfast." Faith, in fact, has absolutely nothing to do with belief. Faith is so much more.

Marcus Borg has written that faith as belief is a “modern distortion” of the concept of faith. Instead, Borg suggests, there is a deeper understanding of faith rooted in three much more ancient understandings of the word.

The first comes from the Latin word fiducia – from which we get fiduciary – this is faith as trust. Radical trust in God. The opposite of which is anxiety. Borg suggests that we can “measure the amount of faith as trust in your life by the amount of anxiety you have in your life.” The intent here is not to make us feel like we’re falling short, or to dis people who needs medication to control anxiety, but to suggest that the more we can let go and trust, the less anxious we’ll be. Typically, as we continue to grow and progress in our spiritual journeys our trust in the Divine grows. It’s rarely a perfect thing, but it is possible to let go of our worries more and more, trusting more and more in the benevolent energy of the universe to see us through.

Moses trusted that God was with them through their whole journey in the wilderness. Sure, they had a pillar of cloud and pillar of fire, but even with that, Moses had to have a deep sense of faith as trust in order to have left home in the first place. Not to mention that he needed that deep seated trust in God to consistently convey calm and confidence to the people.

Here’s something to think about… over the course of your lifetime how has your level of trust in the Divine changed? Has it increased? Decreased? Stayed the same? What has caused it to change? Are there times you’ve trusted more deeply? Have you done anything special to help increase that trust?

Since this pandemic what has happened to your level of faith as trust? How is your level of anxiety?

The second comes from the Latin word fidelitos, meaning fidelity – faith as fidelity to a relationship. In this case, a relationship with God.  Later on in our Exodus story, Moses spends a little too much time up the mountainside with God and the Hebrews panic and take all of their gold jewelry and melt it into a golden calf and begin to worship it. In this instance they are not faithful to their relationship with Yahweh, and are clearly lacking in trust so they try to turn to other gods to help them.

We are not alone in this liminal space we’re calling the exile of the pandemic. We’re not alone, even though it may sometimes seem like it, no matter what we’re going through in life, or in death.

Do you have one of those best friends who lives far away who’s known you almost forever. You don’t talk with them all the time, you don’t see them all that much, but you know that if you need them, they will be there in a heartbeat. You always pick up right where you left off. They always seem to understand you when no one else does. They always make you feel better, give you strength, and help you see things more clearly. A relationship with God is like that. Both are certainly better on a more consistent basis. But even if you’ve drifted away from God for a bit, God is right there ready to pick up where you left off.

The third understanding of faith that Borg lays out is that faith is a way of seeing the whole.

Borg says one way we can see reality… “is to see the whole as gracious, as nourishing, as supportive of life, to see reality as that which has given existence, brought us into existence, nourishes us. There is nothing Pollyannish about this. This attitude is still very much aware that the flower fades, the grass withers, that we all die. But to see reality as supportive, gracious and nourishing creates the possibility of responding to life in a posture of trust and gratitude. And we’re back to faith as trust. Faith is thus about setting out on a journey… in a posture of trust and seeking to be faithful to that relationship we’re called into.”

I think this is exactly what Moses did, and exactly what we’re called to do. This kind of faith does not demand believing 49 impossible things before breakfast, it doesn’t tell us we can’t ask question, it simply says, “Trust me even in the midst of your questions, even in the midst of the uncertainties, I am with you, I will bring you strength, I will guide you, I will send you support. Things may not look exactly like you want them to, after all, life happens, but I am here and I promise that in the process of your journey you will be transformed.”

Love & Light!