There’s a video that’s shown as part of the training for hospice volunteers – those who seek to be a companion to a dying person and their family. In this video, a young woman, age 40 or so, is dying of cancer. She is a woman of faith, and is described as such by her family and by her Pastor, who comes over to visit her frequently, and urges her to strengthen her faith and to pray for God’s help. Eventually, the inevitable happens. The woman dies, and her family are in tears and in great pain. Looking for consolation, they turn to the Pastor and ask that equally inevitable question; why did God allow this to happen? The Pastor answers the family by saying, “Well, I guess her faith wasn’t strong enough to save her.”
This past week, we experienced a series of strong storms coming up the east coast, causing great destruction and taking lives along its path.
Surviving neighbors commented to reporters that they were grateful that God decided to spare them. Apparently, God must have had it in for their neighbors who were killed, or maybe their faith, too, wasn’t strong enough.
In my previous assignment as a Deacon, I became friends with a gay man, a man of great religious faith and a wonderful sense of humor. We would discuss our life journeys, favorite gospel passages, and share a joke or two. Then he started becoming distant, not showing up at our usual meeting places, and was given to brief surface conversation when he did.
After assuring him of my friendship, he finally revealed he wanted to undergo a sex-change operation, and he was concerned that God was angry with him for not being satisfied with this body – which did not fit his mind or his being. He knew he would lose some friends, but he didn’t want to lose God.
Three different stories of different people all caught up in the struggle of trying to understand faith. Faith in general, and their own faith in particular. Struggling to get a handle on how faith works, on how their relationship with God works. All of us have our moments of doubt, moments of confusion. Am I doing this Christianity thing the right way? How are we to reconcile an unfair and violent world with a loving God?
We humans are physical beings, located in a particular time and place, and we are well aware of our mortality. We experience a certain frustrating comfort when we think within our own physical boundaries, and an equal uneasiness when we contemplate things outside them. And it has always been this way with us, an example from antiquity being the story of Job. We cannot hope to understand the ways of God, but we can find hope in the love of God.
Jesus was well aware of our human limitations, as is described in today’s Gospel. He is questioned about those people horribly murdered by the authorities, and those killed by a falling structure. Were those people deserving of their fate by something they, or their ancestors, did? Did God look upon them less favorably than others? Jesus gives a simple answer an emphatic NO! But he also gives us a warning about complacency, and a parable to help us understand.
It is easy for us, like it was for the owner of the vineyard, to perceive things and people as not worth the trouble of our consideration. Sometimes our faith becomes clouded by valuing each other from the standpoint of utility. What are you worth? What are you providing? What good are you? Why even try if you’re not good enough? We really beat ourselves up with that last one! We are also prone to become accepting of seemingly intractable problems. Sometimes to the point of accepting injustice and violence as normal.
But, rather than seeing things as they are and cursing them for not being perfect, we can reach out to each other, share the wonderful gifts God has given us, and work together to bring about a more just, more perfect world.
Yes, it’s about faith. Faith in God, faith in ourselves and faith in each other. To begin to change the world, we need to change ourselves. To change ourselves, we depend on God to be with us as we change how we understand each other. We rely on God’s overwhelming love for us to give us the confidence to love others, to be with them on their journey not necessarily to control their direction, but to listen to them and walk with them.
So, rather than criticizing or blaming someone for a perceived lack of faith, we can share our own struggles, hear their stories, offer forgiveness and respite, and give them the understanding that they are not dying alone.
With faith in God, we can stand with victims of violence, natural or man-made, listen to their stories of loss and grief. In faith, we can accompany them as they begin the work of rebuilding their lives. By sharing our faith with them, they will find the courage to keep going.
With an abiding faith in God, we can be a peaceful presence to a person whose life is in transition. We can offer comfort, safety, and assurance to a person who is enduring isolation and condemnation simply for believing that God loves them for deciding to live in this new life God has meant for them to live.
By believing in God’s love for us, by believing in God’s faith in us, we can change our understanding of each other, and how we understand the world. We can change how we perceive ourselves. When we do that, we begin to change the world.
Robert Kennedy said, “Some people see the world as it is and ask, ‘Why”. I dream things that never were and ask, Why not”.
Keep dreaming. Keep asking.