Proper 17a 2014: Faith is a verb

Exodus 3:1-15 Romans 12:9-21 Matthew 16:21-28
Frederick Buechner writes, Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you are going, but going anyway.
Jesus knows that he must go to Jerusalem: “The Son of Man must go to Jerusalem and die.” It is a small word, must – dei – with an impact that we cannot imagine.
It is not a word that includes choice. Jesus is not listing one of the several paths for the Messiah to take, but that is how Peter hears that little word. Peter tries to give Jesus an alternative. “Don’t go to Jerusalem. God will not let you die. Take another path.” And that little word dei, must, is like a rock. Peter, our rock who has been proclaimed the church’s foundation, does not understand. I’m not sure that we understand, either. How could we? But this is where Jesus is, with this enormous “must” word right in front of him. He cannot go around it. Jesus must take this path. The Son of Man must go to Jerusalem, die, and be raised. This was the divine way, God’s way.

Peter, who just last week understood who Jesus was, falters today, and becomes the only person who Jesus ever calls Satan. What Peter has done is that which we can also be accused. Peter’s “terrible” mistake is that he was thinking like a human being and not like God. Peter thought about his own vision of the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah isn’t killed. The Messiah comes in power! God won’t let me fail this test … let cancer take my life … let natural disasters wreak havoc on the land … let bad things happen …
The messiah, our Savior, came into the world as a baby.

God does not run the world in a way that we can expect or imagine. Put simply, we are not capable of thinking like God.

Now Moses, there’s a much better example of faith. That story has some fine elements, things that we expect from God: there is a flock (oh, shepherds!), a burning bush – great special effect, God, and the voice of an angel. Now that’s how God does things. Big. Magnificent. Hollywood can do this one. This is the God that we expect, right? But there’s more to the story than a burning bush, the voice of an angel, holy ground. Moses stepped off of the path that he was taking in order to see what God was doing in that bush of fire. Moses humbled himself, recognized the land – the detour, maybe? – as a holy place, and took off his shoes. Moses submitted to the will of God, sought God even when he might not have been aware of what he was doing. The story continues: “So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” That court of Pharaoh is the place from which Moses just fled. It has been described “a living hell.” Moses must go back to a place of terror; I suspect that the court of Pharaoh is a rock in the path with which Moses must contend. He doesn’t want to, and he lets God know it. “Who am I that I should go?” God gives Moses the promise that God will be with him.

That part doesn’t sound at all “Hollywood,” does it? It might not be film-worthy to follow a path that you must take, to detour even a little from your own plans in order to follow God’s plan. Hmm.

What if we could walk a path toward thinking like God? I wonder if “faith as a verb” puts us on the path to thinking like God, or at least sends us in the right direction. We might have to deal with a rock, a particular “must do” something that is right in front of us. What is that rock for you?

Moses had to return to a dangerous place. Jesus had to die. The disciples had to walk with him, and even after walking to Jerusalem with him, they deserted him at the end. We saw Jesus alone in the garden. Even Jesus cried out that God had forsaken him.

But there is that promise that God made to Moses. God makes the same promise to us on our path: “I have observed the misery of my people. I will bring them out of Egypt. I will be with you.” Our walk in faith is not in vain. We are not alone, even when we might feel alone, terrified, abandoned. We have God’s promise, not that we will not suffer, but that God will be with us. That is God’s promise.

So we come back to the question: what is the rock that is in front of you, one thing that you must do in order to bring your life in alignment with God’s will for you? I do not have the answer to that question for any of us. Discerning God’s will for our lives is a personal, lifelong journey. Faith is a verb. I have promised, in being pastor, priest, and teacher, to help others see their “rock,” to help you discern God’s will in your life. It is something that I seek, for myself, every day. How do I live faith as a verb?

In our context, with God as our God, God’s promise to be with us, and with St. Peter as the foundation of the church – our church of Christian community, we face the same question. What is it that St. Peter’s the church and community must do to follow the will of God? It is our task to do the intentional thinking, the constant praying, the walk to our life and new life in Christ. Be with one another as we walk. Be with one another in prayer. Be with one another in kindness, in questioning, in discerning what path we take.

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