Philippians 4:4–9; Matthew 5:1–10
The Rev. Peter Faass
This evening we honor George Herbert, priest and poet of the Anglican Church.
Herbert was born in 1593, a cousin of the Earl of Pembroke. His mother was a friend of the poet John Donne. George attended Trinity College, Cambridge, and became the Public Orator of the University, responsible for giving speeches of welcome in Latin to famous visitors, and writing letters of thanks, also in Latin, to acknowledge gifts of books for the University Library. This brought him to the attention of King James I, who granted him an annual allowance, and seemed likely to make him an ambassador. However, in 1625 the king died, and George Herbert, who had originally gone to college with the intention of becoming a priest, but had his head turned by the prospect of a career at Court, determined anew to seek ordination. In 1626 he was ordained, and became vicar and then rector of the parish of Bemerton and neighboring St. Peter’s Fugglestone, not far from Salisbury. By the way, I would love to be the vicar of a parish in a town named Fugglestone, someday! But, I guess I’ll settle for Vicar of Van Aken.
Herbert served faithfully as a parish priest, diligently visiting his parishioners and bringing them the sacraments when they were ill, and food and clothing when they were in want. He read Morning and Evening Prayer daily in the church, encouraging the congregation to join him when possible, and ringing the church bell before each service so that those who could not come might hear it and pause in their work to join their prayers with his. He used to go once a week to Salisbury to hear Evening Prayer sung there in the cathedral. On one occasion he was late because he had met a man whose horse had fallen with a heavy load, and he stopped, took off his coat, and helped the man to unload the cart, get the horse back on its feet, and then reload the cart. His spontaneous generosity and good will won him the affection of his parishioners.
Today, however, Herbert is remembered chiefly for his two major writings: the first being his book of poems titled, The Temple, which were published after Herbert's death. Several of his poems have been turned into hymns, in particular "Teach me, my God and King," number 592 in the hymnal, "Let all the world in every corner sing" hymn number 402, the gorgeous, “Come my way, my truth, my life,” hymn number 487, which set to the tune The Call by Ralph Vaughan Williams is a hauntingly beautiful and sublime with theological truth, and my personal favorite – no surprise here – hymn number 382, “King of Glory, King of Peace”, set to the tune General Seminary by David Charles Walker. But, of course.
The other book Herbert is renowned for is A Priest to the Temple (usually known as The Country Parson), a book that offers practical advice to rural clergy on how to be a good vicar. In it, he advises that "things of ordinary use" such as ploughs, leaven, or dances, could be made to "serve for lights even of Heavenly Truths." This second book is foundational reading for classically trained Episcopal and Anglican priests, and one which we are very familiar with, but not necessarily always fond of . . . or at least the impact The Country Parson has had in setting up expectations of the priesthood which are, well, let’s just say, beyond achievable.
Herbert was thorough in giving details of what a good country parson should do in his post. For instance, in chapter XIII titled “The Parson’s Church” he writes, “the Church [must] be swept, and kept clean of dust or Cobwebs, and at great festivals strawed, and stuck with boughs, and perfumed with incense.” Thank goodness they didn’t have indoor plumbing back then as you know unclogging drains would have been listed, as well! In chapter XXIII titled, “The Parson’s Completeness” he writes, “The Country Parson desires to be all to his Parish, and not only a Pastor, but a Lawyer also, and a Physician.” Again, good thing there was no internet and WiFi back then, as you just know being a computer techie would have been another duty heaped on the parson by Herbert.
In every detail of parish life Herbert created a model for what he thought was the perfect parson. He also set up the model for an over-functioning and exhausted one, as well.
There’s a tongue in cheek meme that appears on social media periodically called, The “Perfect” Pastor, which says:
“The perfect pastor preaches exactly 10 minutes. (I stand before you, an imperfect pastor.)
He condemns sin roundly but never hurts anyone's feelings.
He works from 8 AM until midnight and is also the church janitor.
The perfect pastor makes $40 a week, wears good clothes, drives a new model car, buys good books, and donates $30 a week to the church.
He is 29 years old and has 40 years of experience.
Above all, he, or she, is handsome and beautiful.
The perfect pastor has a burning desire to work with teenagers, and he spends most of his time each week with the senior citizens.
He smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his church.
He makes 15 home visits a day and is always in his office to be available when needed.
The perfect pastor always has time for church council and all of its committees. He never misses the meeting of any church organization and is always busy evangelizing the unchurched.
The perfect pastor is always available to anyone who needs him on demand, but spends much of his time reading and studying, while being out in the community forging relationships!”
Alright it’s funny, but sadly it’s also true and describes a condition called Herbertism: a condition by which the laity have unreasonable and unrealistic expectations of their clergy, and that the clergy all too often fall for and try to live into. Such is the degree to which clergy have tried to live up to the standard of The Country Parson over the centuries that a pastoral care book for clergy was published several years ago titled, If You Meet George Herbert on the Road, Kill Him: Radically Re-thinking Priestly Ministry.
But is Herbert at fault here for creating the paradigm? The author of the book, Justin Lewis-Anthony thinks not. “The memory of Herbert celebrated by the Church is an inaccurate one, and, in its inaccuracy, is unfair on Herbert himself and his successors in the ordained ministry,” he writes.
At least two factors are at play.
Herbert idealized the idea of the priesthood in his small, rural parish. And like all ideals, it was never one any human being could actually live into in its fullness. Like the values of the Reign of God that we heard in Matthew’s Beatitudes, we strive to do our best achieving them, knowing we will not always succeed, and yes, even fail.
Herbert also died young; he was only a priest for less than four years. During his brief tenure he was the bright, starry-eyed young priest who, with his first settled- parish, brings a lot of zeal to his work - which is always refreshing - but, also often naïve and unrealistic.
Herbert died before his ministry could be, as Lewis-Anthony states, compromised . . . [by] mundane bruises and cavils and accommodations that make up everyday life in a community of sinners trying to be saints.” In other words, the realities of life. The reality is his premature death lionized Herbert and his writings. He was a hero, a role model, even an avatar. And because of that, starry – eyed clergy have taken the model of The Country Parson to be literally achievable ever since. And so, have the laity.
The end result is that his writings have been taken so literally as to distort them and, in the process, led to a distorted model of ministry. And it is we, not Herbert, who are to blame.
George Herbert is redeemable, and so is this situation. The passage from the letter to the Philippians helps guide us in so doing, and I think offers a more realistic view of what Herbert’s life and ministry actually were all about.
“Let your gentleness be known to everyone,” Paul writes. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing these things . . . and the God of peace will be with you.”
Gentleness, truth telling, being honorable, working for justice: these are the qualities that seem to encompass Herbert’s life and which he strived for. They are a healthy Herbertism and should encompass all our lives- clergy and laity alike- because they are of Jesus. Doing so will make the way our clergy lead their lives more realistic and less stressful, and as a result the life of the entire congregation healthier. And if that is the result of healthy Herbertism, then the peace of God will truly be with us all.
Genesis 45:3-11; Luke 6:27-38
The Rev. Peter Faass
The passages we have heard from Luke these past two weeks are his version of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Both have Jesus proclaiming the ways of life that are part and parcel of the Realm of God. They are a list of values by which followers of Jesus are called to live.
Luke makes some significant counterpoints to Matthew’s version that indicate a different focus for his message. I’d like to kick back to the opening of last week’s Gospel for a moment, which states, “Jesus came down with the twelve apostles and stood on a level place.” This sermon is not delivered on the lofty mountain, but rather on a level place. It is why Luke’s version is often referred to as the Sermon on the Plain. The geographical distinction of being on a level place and not a mountain is critical for Luke’s message. Some prophets use of the word “level” provide the background for its use here. The word “level” often referred to places of corpses, disgrace, idolatry, suffering, misery, hunger, annihilation, and mourning. In Jeremiah we read, “Human corpses shall fall like dung upon the [level place], like sheaves behind the reaper, and no one shall gather them.” (Jeremiah 9:22) Luke wants to be clear that Jesus is down here now, not up there. And he is down here and not up there so that he can teach the way of the Realm, through the beatitudes, in the midst of the world, which is the level place; in the midst of the nitty, gritty, often harsh reality of life.
His beatitudes are a counterpoint to the values which that world holds: values that say you hate your enemies, that you seek revenge against those who harm you, that you curse those who abuse you, that you physically beat up someone who strikes you, that you offer the bare minimum to those in need . . . if anything at all. While standing in the broken level world, Jesus teaches the ways of the present and coming renewal of the world via the Realm of God. In a nutshell, he is proclaiming the end of the world’s level place values.
And wow, the Realm’s values are bombshells! Each one is a challenge. They are where the rubber hits the road for we who profess to follow Jesus. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” These are virtually an impossible set of values to attain to, at least consistently. I mean, maybe, maybe on a really good day we can achieve one of these, but it isn’t easy. We are too human, too broken, too infected by the values of the level place to do so.
Jesus’ disciples expressed great frustration with these values. When at one point he told them that it would easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the realm of God – who because of his wealth was considered particularly blessed –they were aghast! “Then who can be saved?” they exclaimed. “But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
We live in the level place here in the 21st century no less than the people of Jesus’s time. The values of that world – lust for power and wealth, a propensity for violence - create corpses, disgrace, idolatry, suffering, misery, hunger, annihilation, and mourning in abundance in our world. The values Jesus proclaims are in total conflict with the assumptions of the market place, Wall Street, corporate board rooms, Capitol Hill, the White House, Hollywood, and much of the media that shapes American culture. Our leaders and heroes are more likely to be neither poor, nor non-violent, nor humble, nor loving. And those churches that preach the heresy of the so-called prosperity gospel are equally culpable. No where in the scripture does it say that God desires you to have an expensive German automobile, or a mansion, or diamonds, or a private jet. Those are the values of the level world in sheep’s clothing, barely. God desires you to have wholeness of body, mind and spirit. God desires you to have authentic life, not loot.
Because of the values of the level place these people and institutions hold, materialism reigns in our lustful, gold- plated culture, and unbridled violence grows in our homes, streets and schools. Greed breeds more greed. Violence breeds more violence. Lust for power breeds more lust for power. Hate breeds more hate.
This is why we must hold the values of the Realm of God as the plumb line in the midst of the level place, which is what Jesus was doing. Whenever we encounter the values of the level place we must love in return, because love is of God and with love all things are possible. We must “do to others as we would have them do to us.” We must love one another, as we have been loved by Jesus. As Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry states, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”
The love that Jesus and Curry speak about is agape love; a love that has us feeling benevolent towards another person, regardless of what that person has done to us. Agape love guides us to desire nothing else for another person – even if they hate and revile us – than to be good and kind to them. And that we will deliberately, even if they insult us, treat us badly or injure us, only seek their highest good. Now this is not about letting those who injure us off the hook without their being remorseful and desiring an authentic amendment of life. This is not about cheap grace. But we must initiate the healing and the forgiveness God calls us to when we are maligned, even when the other may not respond in a like manner. We must be the proverbial, “better person.” And we can only achieve this by a force of will that finds its source in grace and love.
Joseph in our Genesis story exhibited agape love toward his brothers. Maligned and sold into slavery by his brothers because they found him to be an insufferable brat and were envious of their father Jacob’s favoritism toward him, Joseph had every reason to hate and despise his brothers and seek revenge on them. And when he became the second most powerful man in Egypt, after the Pharaoh, he wielded enormous power of life and death over people. When a famine in Israel compels Jacob to send his sons to Egypt to buy grain, Joseph and his brothers are reunited, only they do not recognize him. After a series of encounters he finally reveals himself. “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" he says. “But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.” Dismayed is an under-statement. I suspect they were terrified as they realized the one they had treated so abysmally now had the power of life and death over them, and they expected the worst.
Yet Joseph does not succumb to the values of the level place. By force of will he allows the ways of agape love to determine how he will treat his brothers, allowing him to feel benevolence toward them despite what they had done. He only sought their highest good and that of his father Jacob and his people. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
“And [Joseph] kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. Tears of the joy of agape love. Jesus calls us not to go low to the facile ways of spite and vengeance. They are the easy way out. Rather he calls us to go high, engaging in assertive, pro-active action; to muster up the strength of a force of our wills to engage in agape love when we encounter the values of the level place. To counter them with the values of the Realm of God, which will be stronger than hate, hostility, greed and violence.
We are close to Lent. Instead of giving up something, I encourage you to take on the discipline of forcing your will to engage in agape love when you encounter the values of the level place. Let benevolence be your guide instead of hate, as you love those who have harmed you, seeking their higher good. In doing so you will be hanging the plumb line of the Realm of God in your life and the lives of those you encounter. And that Realm will draw ever closer to its full fruition when you do so. And trust me, as it does, Christ will be resurrected in you this Easter in ways you never imagined!
The Rev. Peter Faass
So, this is an odd scenario. Simon Peter and the fishermen have been out on the water all night fishing. And they have come up empty. Jesus then tells Simon Peter, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." And so, they do and the next thing you know there is such an abundant haul that the nets begin to break from the weight of the fish, and the boat begins to sink.
Of course, Jesus always knows where we only see despair and hopelessness, he sees possibility. Yet instead of seeing the hope of a financial boon in the abundant fish, Peter is struck with fear. He falls to his knees – an interesting maneuver as he had to kneel on some slippery fish covering the bottom of the boat – and declares himself to be a, “sinful man.”
And here is what makes this scenario so odd: Jesus replies, “"Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." Does Jesus think that Peter is fearful of having to catch fish versus people? Is he implying that people are easier to catch – read evangelism – than a net full of fish? If so, and it certainly reads like that, this is to be the only time in Christian history that anyone has made a statement implying that catching people will be easier than catching fish! That evangelism of humans is easier than fishing, or anything else for that matter. Good heavens, I know people who would rather walk across hot coals barefoot than ask anyone to come to church. Episcopalian’s approach to church growth is a bit more laid, back, reticent, if you will.
I saw a cartoon recently by Episcopal cartoonist, Jay Sidebotham that captures perfectly our reticent approach. There’s an aquarium set up by the ocean’s edge. An Episcopal Church Welcomes You sign is planted next to it in the sand. The caption states, “Any fish from the ocean are invited to jump into the aquarium if they happen to be passing by and feel like it.”
Yep, that’s us. Our church is the aquarium in the sand. Warrensville Center Rd. is the ocean. Any fish passing – or more likely, driving - by are invited to jump on in . . . if they feel like it.
Now if they do. . . well, we do quite well with those fish. Newcomers repeatedly tell me that one of the things that attracted them to Christ Church is the authentic and warm hospitality they experienced when they came here . . . once they jumped into our aquarium. I have seldom heard anyone say they experienced a warm invitation to come to Christ Church when they were out doing breast-strokes in the big wide ocean. In other words, we like our humans caught, and in the net, before we engage them in our faith community. Caught fish may have caused Peter to be afraid, but they give us our highest confidence.
Yet, we have so much to offer. So much good news to share. I am not going to list all of those reasons now. You already pretty much know them. And if you are unsure, I invite you to reflect on what attracts you here. What about Christ Church enriches your life, drawing you into closer relationship with God in Jesus?
Peter was compelled to reflect on that very question, repeatedly. What about God in Jesus attracted him to a closer relationship with Jesus? To want to be a part of that community of disciples that followed him, to the point of dropping everything to do so? But being a bit of a cheese head, it took a while for the epiphanies Jesus and God presented him, for the reasons to do so to sink in.
You see that net and its myriad of abundant fish made a critical statement about God and the reign of God Jesus came to proclaim. It was an epiphany. There were all kinds of fish in the net that morning. The three most prevalent fish in the Sea of Gennesaret are a flat white fish, commonly known as St. Peter’s fish, carp, and catfish. Interestingly the first two are fine for Jews to eat as they have scales and fins. Catfish on the other hand do not and therefore are not kosher. In Leviticus we read, “Everything in the waters that has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the streams—such you may eat. But anything in the seas or the streams that does not have fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and among all the other living creatures that are in the waters—they are detestable to you and detestable they shall remain.” (Lev. 11:9b-11a)
Yet all these different types of fish are in the net. By the way, the fish do not represent fish. To paraphrase W.C. Fields, sometimes a fish is not just a fish. For the purposes of this story the myriad of fish represents people from all iterations of humanity: Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female. The inclusion of all types of fish in that net informs us that the salvation Jesus brings is for all, not just for a few, This message gets powerfully bookended for Peter in the book of Acts (which Luke is also the author of) in the story of Peter’s revelatory vision. Another epiphany. This vision occurs during a great controversy in the early church about who can be a Christian and who can’t; who’s in and who’s out. Peter adhered to the official church policy that in order to become a Christian one needed to convert to Judaism first, as the early church believed it was a sect of Judaism. The two central issues debated were the necessity of male circumcision and following dietary laws; or keeping kosher.
In the Acts story, Peter is invited to the home of a Roman centurion named Cornelius, who is a Gentile. And he goes. Now this is pretty brave as Jews were considered ritually impure if they stayed in the home of Gentile. While there he has a vision of, as the text says, something like a sheet coming down from heaven. “He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.” (Acts 10:11-16)
Okay, think about it. “Something like a sheet” and a net are pretty similar. And both are filled with kosher and non-kosher critters. Like the fish in the net, the critters in the sheet represent humanity in all of its iterations.
Peter’s vision is not primarily about eating non-kosher food, although it does help persuade the early church to give up its insistence that Gentile converts keep the dietary laws.
The message of the sheet – like the message of the breaking fishing nets – is that God’s reign will include all types of people, from every family, language, people, and nation, as one of our BCP prayers states.
That’s an evangelical message that people are ready to hear, although they may be surprised to hear it. For too long they have been, like Peter, believers who thought that a whole lot of prerequisites were required to be a part of the faith community. And that a whole lot of people would never make the cut. And many of those prerequisites were onerous and difficult and ended up driving people away instead of accepting them, embracing them all, just like Jesus did.
Maybe we too have put a bunch of prerequisites up, some of them of our own creation, preventing us from telling people the good news about the Gospel. Maybe we do this because, like Peter, we feel we are sinful people, or like Isaiah when he is called by God to be a prophet, that we are unworthy, “a [person] of unclean lips,” as Isaiah says as he tries to avoid doing what God called him to do. But God abjured from accepting that excuse and instead he cleanses Isaiah of his perceived unworthiness. Then God asks him again: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And [Isaiah] said, "Here am I; send me!"
Peter too eventually got the message . . . better late than never. He stopped seeing himself as a sinful man and heeded God’s call. He learned to embrace all people and worked to include them fully in the life of the church. Will we?
There’s a lot of fish in the ocean. They swim by us all the time. We have a really nice aquarium at Christ Church. Will we go out into the ocean and tell all those wonder fish about us and invite them in? Or will be we content to wait to see if they jump in . . . if they feel like it. Like Isaiah, let our response be, "Here am I; send me!"
The Rev. Rachel G. Hackenberg
God be in our listening,
Christ forgive my speaking,
Spirit move through our living
so that together we might discern your redemption. Amen.
In the days of political turmoil, during a time when allegiances were easily swayed, in an ancient but-oh-so-familiar season when faith was greatly informed by fear, the word of the Holy One came to young Jeremiah, saying,
“From the time outside of time, I have always known you, Jeremiah,
and from the beginning, I have consecrated to be part of my work.”
And Jeremiah replied, saying,
“Oh wow, God, I don’t know. There’s really nothing about me to suggest that I’m the one you want, and the political landscape right now is kind of rocky for prophet work. [eee---whooooo-tsk-mmm] I don’t know.”
If he had had Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth at his disposal, Jeremiah might have said to God,
“I’m only a child. I speak like a child. I know only in part, so I’ll only be able to prophesy in part. Whatever I know, it’s only in a mirror dimly. I can’t possibly know fully.”
As it turns out, saying “I don’t know” was precisely the response God was seeking.
“I will give you words,” God said.
“I will give you visions,” God said.
“You don’t need to know fully. The work to unfold is mine: I will pluck up and pull down, I will destroy and plant, I will overthrow and rebuild. You don’t need to know.”
In contrast, the Gospel of Luke offers a scene in which the people of Nazareth know everything they need to know about Jesus: he is Joseph’s son. These are the people who watched Jesus grow up after his family came back from Egypt. These are the same people who saw him fine-tune his carpentry skills alongside Joseph. These are his friends and childhood playmates who celebrated their faith together, who learned to read from the scrolls in synagogue when they were kids. They know Jesus…
…and they certainly know the political tensions in which they reside, living in a Jewish village within a Roman-occupied territory. What they know is that anyone suspected of revolt is still arrested. What they know is that poverty still shapes their lives. What they know is that a new king has not yet arrived to heal the sick, to bring sight to the blind, to make the lame walk again, to relieve them from systems of oppressions. The man they know without a doubt to be the son of Joseph has declared what they know to not be true: the ancient prophesies have not yet been filled, no matter what Jesus declared in the synagogue.
And enraged by all that they know, the friends of Jesus, the friends of his parents, the community that is most familiar with him, becomes violent toward him. Because of what they know.
Because they know where he’s from and who his family is. Because they know the same faith stories that he knows. Because they know that those stories are still unfulfilled. Because they know that Elijah saved a hungry widow at Zarephath and they are still waiting for Elijah to come to them too. Because they know that Elisha healed Naaman, a Syrian and a leper, and they are still waiting for healing to reach them too.
They are mad because they know…and they simply cannot make room for anything else to be possible, so they resort to violence.
Tell me: how do you react when someone disputes what you know to be true?
It could be as simple as your certainty that the cheapest gas station is in Bedford Heights, and you won’t hear a word from anyone who tries to tell you that there’s a cheaper and closer gas station in Highland Hills. It might be your perspective on government that someone challenges—perhaps you have always held that any injury or injustice within the government will right itself by the very nature of democracy, but someone challenges your certainty with an argument that change cannot occur without protest. Maybe you’ve always absolutely known that a friend, a community member, a family member, is an upstanding guy…but someone tells you that he has caused significant harm.
How do you react when someone contests what you know about Jesus, or challenges what you believe about how God works in the world? How do you respond when someone tells you that they know you, when their entire definition of you contradicts what you know about yourself?
Certainty can be a kind of violence when it disallows for possibility. Knowing can be a brutality when it obstructs the space someone needs to consider wonder or to ask questions. Conviction can look like rage when it is overwhelmed with the worry that something might be imaginable that we don’t know or understand.
The people of Nazareth knew that their hope for a new messiah had not yet been fulfilled because poverty still haunted them, because sickness and disease still threatened them, because the oppression of the Roman Empire still shaped their daily lives, because Jesus—bless his heart—hadn’t done anything in Nazareth to bring about the year of the Lord’s favor except maybe carve a few rocking horses for the kids. So when Jesus said something else was possible, and not only possible eventually but happening now, that the fulfillment of prophesies was taking hold now, the townspeople’s certainty welled up in rage and they drove him to the edge of a cliff.
Still the poor are cold at night, still the sick cannot access healing without great expense, still the diseases of racism and of gender violence eat away at our spirits, still governments overthrow other governments, still empires stockpile weapons, and Jesus—bless his heart—whispers to us from the text and shows up to us through others, saying, “the year of the Lord’s favor is fulfilled.”
And the invitation of faith is not to become certain. The invitation of faith is to join Jeremiah in confessing, “I don’t know, God. The world is full of evidence to the contrary…but I’m willing to admit that everything I know about the world and about myself and about you isn’t everything. I’m willing to wonder what else might be.” The invitation of faith is not to live with absolute certainty, but to live in—to participate in—the possibility.
In faith, not knowing is the start of personal imagination, community participation, and holy inspiration. When we confess “I don’t know,” what we begin to see more fully is what else might be—what else God might be about—through love.
What we know will come to an end: the certainty of poverty, the constancy of violence, the frenzy of politics. The ways of living that we established and ritualized for the sake of certainty in this all-too-predictable world will also come to an end. And when it all ends, the dim mirror of our certainty will end and everything we’ve never known and everything we’ve only dreamed will be revealed face-to-face.
Until then, we continue to practice the possibilities of love.
What we do not know
“Love never ends.
There is always faith to plant,
there is always hope to share,
there is always love to dwell within and between you.”
And for centuries we have
1 Cor 13 suggest that confessing our “dim mirrors” makes way for knowing more fully the endurance of love, the pervasive spirit of hope, the stubbornness of faith. (sidebar: same descript of hope and faith)
The Reverend Peter Faass
The Reverend Peter Faass was born in Delft, Netherlands. He is a graduate of the General Theological Seminary in New York City and has been at Christ Church since 2006.