A Strange Kind of Faith

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Christianity is a weird religion; it demands a strange kind of faith.

People are made for faith. I don’t mean that we’re made just to believe things. I don’t mean that we’re made just to assent to the truth of propositions. I mean that we’re made to trust in—to swear loyalty and fealty to—something bigger than ourselves.

But our faith is also distorted. We are made for faith. We are made to trust in—to swear loyalty and fealty to—the God who is love. But we really want to put our faith in things that we can see and touch. And so we sculpt idols to worship. And we make sacrifices.

Previously… in worship…

God loved the world this way. God created  a world and planted a garden and gave it as a gift, saying, “Eat from any tree in the garden, just not that one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” And in the cool of the evening, God walked with the creatures of that creation. And, probably almost immediately, we went to that one tree that we weren’t supposed to eat from. We took, we plucked, and we ate. And the world changed.

God loved the world this way. God visited Abraham and said, “I will make of you a great nation. Through you, all of the people of the earth will be blessed.  I will be your God, and you and your descendants will be my people.”

And Abraham’s descendants were messed up, but God was with them. And when Abraham’s descendants went to Egypt, and were taken into slavery, God raised up a hero named Moses, and led them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, and toward a land of milk and honey.

And now we’re here. The descendants of Abraham—through whom all the people of the earth will be blessed—had come out of Egypt, and they were at the foot of a mountain. And God said to Moses, “Come up the mountain. I have written a law for the people to follow. Through this law, I will be your God, and you will be my people.”

So Moses went up the mountain. And he was up there for… a long time. He was up there long enough that the people started saying, “Do you remember that Moses guy? The one who led us out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage, and toward a land of milk and honey? Yeah? Whatever happened to that guy? Whatever happed to the god who he said had sent him?”

So the people did what people do. We are made for faith. We’re made to trust in—to swear loyalty and fealty to—something bigger than ourselves. And they went to Moses’s brother, Aaron, and said, “We haven’t seen your brother in, like, a month. We haven’t heard from the Lord our God in, like, a month. Make a god for us; make us something that we can see and touch. It will be the Lord to us. And then we can worship.”

So Aaron did just that. He made a golden calf. And the people said, “Here is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

Aaron made an idol.

I need to be careful here. An idol isn’t just an image. An idol isn’t just something that reminds us of a story or points our minds and our hearts towards God. An idol is something that we mistake for God. An idol is something that we worship as though it was, itself, God.

Aaron did not make a sculpture to remind the people of the God who led them out of Egypt. Aaron did not make something to remind the people of what God has done for them. And the people did not say, “May this sculpture remind us of all that God has done for us, how God led us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. May this sculpture inspire us to worship the God who calls the worlds into being, who rescues and redeems us, who leads us from slavery to freedom.”

No. Aaron made a statue of a golden calf. And the people said, “Here is our god, who brought us out of the land of Egypt!” And Aaron built an altar before it. And Aaron declared a festival for it. And the people made sacrifices to it. They worshipped it.

We are made for faith, but our faith is also distorted. We really want to put our faith in things that we can see and touch. And so we sculpt idols to worship.  Sometimes, they’re made of gold. Sometimes, they’re made of clay. Sometimes, they’re made of ideas and habits.

And we love them. We love them so much that we don’t even know that we have them. And we worship them. And we make sacrifices to them.

To our jobs. To wealth and status. To political parties and ideologies. To racism and homophobia and toxic masculinities. To power and privilege and prestige. To the simple conveniences that come along with those things. I don’t need to give you more specific examples. I trust you to imagine them; I trust you to remember the names and the faces, the images on tv and in the papers, on Facebook and Twitter… and in our own lives.

There are fields of blood. And if we have not raised the knife with our own hands… we have looked on… and lived with it.

So Moses was on the mountain. And the descendants of Abraham—through whom all the people of the earth will be blessed—were at the foot of the mountain, worshipping a golden calf and saying, “This is our god who led us out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage, and toward a land of milk and honey.”

And God saw that.

And God said to Moses, “Look at your people, who you led out of Egypt, and what they’re doing! Leave me alone! I will destroy them and make a great nation out of you. Instead of the descendants of Abraham, there will be the descendants of Moses. And all of the people of the earth will be blessed through you.”

And Moses said to God, “No. You  look at your people, who you led out of Egypt, and remember your promises.”

And God looked at God’s people, who God had led out of Egypt, and remembered, and had mercy.

Christianity is a weird religion; it demands a strange kind of faith.

You see, God loved the world this way. When we were in slavery to sin, God came into the world as one of us. Not a golden calf or a pillar of flame, but as a man. And he told us…

He told us that he loves the world this way: by being present in every pleading face and outstretched hand. 

He told us that if we want to see the God who is love, all we have to do is look at our neighbor in need.

That is a weird religion. That is a religion that demands strange kind of faith. Because we know how to have faith in wealth and status… in political parties and ideologies… in racism and homophobia and toxic masculinities… in power and privilege and prestige… in the simple conveniences that come with those things.

And here is God, among a dispossessed people in an occupied land, asking us to have faith in vulnerability… in mercy… in love. Here is God, sacrificing glory for grace, and asking us to do the same.

We are made for faith. I don’t mean that we’re made just to believe things. I mean that we’re made to trust in—to swear loyalty and fealty to—something bigger than ourselves.… to someone bigger than ourselves.

To the God who creates worlds and plants gardens and gives them as gifts. To the God who makes humble shepherds into great nations. To the God who remembers their promise and trades wrath for mercy. To the God who loves the world… again and again… from everlasting to everlasting… in so many ways. To the God who is love.

Christianity is a weird religion; it demands a strange kind of faith: a faith that is wild and dangerous and full of grace, a faith that does justice and loves kindness and walks humbly with God, a faith that could—if we let it—change the whole world.

Hallelujah. Amen.

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