Just from the title, I suspect that some of you are already laying out the metrics for determining the quantity or quality of faith. Most of us have even been taught how to make the 'math' of faith work in a sermon or bible study and so we are usually ready to list the usual characteristics of faith such as: church or bible study attendance, tithe/offerings given, or the various missions and ministries you are engaged in. It is also possible that you are working from a list that has been 'developed' over time by your church or faith group.
If you already begun to make a list, lay down your pens or pencils and back slowly away from the paper.
Why back away? Why not list what defines a LARGE or small faith? Well, to begin with, any measurement of faith must begin with the ideal faith - a Jesus faith - that really, when you think about it makes anything we can list either pale by comparison or rightly confuse us.
The Pharisees had a list of what it took to be faithful. And Jesus didn't make the grade!
If Jesus is the gold standard for faith, then the usual lists won't work. News flash: None of us have served more, better, as faithfully or frequently than the Son of God. Are you reaching for the eraser yet? Jesus worked on the Sabbath, interpreted scripture differently than the Scribes and Priests, and believed that God could do more (and sometimes less) than the religious establishment taught! For this, he was branded a heretic and was crucified. Throughout human history similar lists brought to us an Inquisition, Witch Trials (and burnings), the Moral Majority (which while espousing one definition of moral, was not a majority), and a whole host of litmus tests for membership in church and society.
Without lists of do's and don'ts how do we know when we are being 'faithful?'
As I read the scriptures, I do see a good many lists of virtues and vices, of commandments and prohibitions. And while these can, and sometimes do serve good purposes, to use them as the yardstick by which to measure ourselves is a fool's errand. For instance, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all of your heart and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:5) We hear this quoted again in the New Testament, yet if we use this as an absolute measurement of faith, how many of us would pass muster? There has to be a better way!
There is only one test that determines faith!
Jump! That's right, jump! The only test that can determine your faith comes when you respond to God's open-armed invitation to jump! If you think about it, Jesus doesn't really talk about bigger or smaller faith. We see those words as measurements of quantity or quality when in truth, they refer to either having some faith - any faith - versus no faith at all. Metaphorically, it is something like a father or mother waist-deep in a pool inviting their young daughter to spring from the edge into their arms. The child doesn't know how to swim, dive, or even float and yet with the assurance (and coaxing) of their parent, they launch themselves skyward and land in the deep water supported by the loving arms of the one who invited them in! Miss the mark and jump too long or short and get in over your head? those same arms lift you up and hold you safe and secure!
As an example of how we misconstrue the bible and misunderstand the meaning of faith, we need only look at Matthew 14 and the story of Jesus walking on water. You know the bit . . . or at least what is usually taught as the lesson. The disciples were in the boat in the middle of a storm and Jesus strolls up - walking on the water, and it ends with poor old Peter sinking beneath the waves. And preachers can get stuck on Jesus' words "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" It is so easy to get caught up in a narrative which focuses on something which is less than full-on success. Ask most folks about this story and you get something along the line of 'Peter sank like a rock." And yet, that is the farthest thing from the moral of the story.
"Why did you doubt?"
Peter asked Jesus to call him out into the water and Jesus said, "Come." And, Peter got out and proceeded to make his way. He fully exercised his faith in Christ by jumping headlong into Jesus' waiting arms like a child at a pool. And in his leap, he didn't quite get it right and fell a bit short. Noticing the wind and being distracted from the supportive arms of his savior, Peter began to sink. Notice that word . . . began. Because of Christ's faithfulness, Peter's leap of faith couldn't fail and Jesus made the necessary adjustment to keep Peter from going under once he decided to begin.
So, what is holding you back? Afraid that your faith may be ridiculed because you didn't land exactly where you thought you might? Frozen by the fear that you might look foolish or faithless in front of the rest of God's kids who took a similar leap long ago? Regardless of the reason, or the shame in missing out or falling short in previous attempts, God is ready and prepared to support you when Jesus calls. Exercise a little faith and achieve great things in and through Christ. And remember, its okay to wear water wings or have a noodle nearby. We all need to practice how to swim in the wide expanse of God's grace once we jump in with both feet. In all of this, remember your baptism and the faith that you have in God's ability to care for you when you are finished in this world and prepare to move into the next!
Finally, I invite everyone to comment on this blog so we can foster a broader conversation around what God's word really has to say to us in our modern world and consider how some of what we have been taught may not necessarily be the whole story of love in action.
See y'all soon!