Today, I’m going to share with you my experience with and understanding of “faith.” I have to admit, it’s hard for me to approach this subject because I’m still trying to figure out what faith looks like, how to do it, and if I’m doing it right. I really wish I could talk to you about this magical, feel good, testimony-building concept, but what I know most about having and exercising faith is that it is hard, sometimes it’s ugly and scary, it requires a lot of work – and it’s always capable of changing you.
I asked myself again and again how to talk about “faith.” Should I define it? Give examples of it? Talk about how to do it? Discover some perfect formula for measuring progress and success?
Defining it is pretty easy. And fascinating. In Alma chapter 32 verse 21, we read:
And now as I said concerning faith – faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.
Elder Richard G. Scott said, “when faith is properly understood and used, it has dramatically far-reaching effects. Such faith can transform an individual’s life from maudlin, common everyday activities to a symphony of joy and happiness.”
The keyword here is “transform.” Faith can transform your life. Faith should transform your life. When faith is properly used, it should change you. It should stretch you, redefine you, refine you, and change you into a person more Christ like and more divine than before using that faith.
The purpose of this talk is to help us understand that while faith is hard and requires a lot of work, it does not require a perfect knowledge. But when we understand and use whatever amount or strength of faith we have, it can transform us. What fascinates and inspires me the most is that no matter where we are on our faith journey or how strong we feel our testimony, through our faith, we belong to each other.
First, I’ll start with the obvious. Faith is hard! Transforming is not easy. It requires incredible amounts of humility and willingness to begin that transformation process. I have to admit that most of my transformation in the exercising of faith has happened with my feet stuck in cement. I was not ready or willing to be moved.
Two years ago, when I was attending another church in a two-fold effort to annoy the missionaries and to work on healing some spiritual wounds, I heard a song that was, for me, a straightforward conversation with our Heavenly Father. I imagine we had reached a point in our relationship where I had to start making decisions about where I wanted my faith to take me. The song, “The Summons,” asks very direct questions:
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?
Will you admit to what I mean in you and you in me?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around, through my sight and touch and sound in you and you and me?
At that time, the consequences of exercising faith was terrifying. I was back and forth asking God to clue me in to His plan for me while also pleading with him to tell me that He’s not real and that the Elders were delusional. God and I had come to a standstill, it seemed. I was asking for empirical evidence before I would be willing to consider offering up any kind of faith.
And then, that Sunday after months of this back and forth conversation, we sang “The Summons.” We were at a celestial crossroad. It was like God was saying, “Your move, Britt.”
I had to decide that day if I was going to take a step forward in my faith, to be willing to be changed, transformed, and that terrified me. God was asking me to do some hard work.
Faith, when used properly, should transform you.
One of my biggest stumbling blocks was equating perfect faith with perfect belief and perfect knowledge. Yes, the definition with which we are most familiar says that faith believes in things unseen, but it says that to have faith we aren’t required to do so with a perfect knowledge.
One day about two years ago, I sat down with Reverend Peter Luckey at Plymouth Congregational Church in Lawrence hoping he could answer some big questions for me. For most of our conversation, I was spinning. I was firing questions a mile a minute and left little room for breathing. He let me scream and cry and get it all out of my system. And the he talked me down off my spiritual cliff and said,
“When we do not focus on the furniture of Heaven, or the temperature of Hell, we can celebrate the amazing power of God’s grace and love.”
Often times, my faith grows most profoundly when I am able to admit that I don’t know the answer to a question. That’s not easy for me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked you, my brothers and sisters, my bishop, my friends and family, questions that require us to do mental and spiritual gymnastics. Maren Hufford is one of my visiting teachers, and we have very similar family histories. My fathers are gay, and over the last year, when I have had questions about my family and how they fit into the plan of salvation, I go to Maren. She’s done this hard work; she’s grappled with these questions, and has landed firmly on two feet in her testimony. I ask her almost weekly what she knows and how she got there. My faith, and testimony, grew profoundly stronger when she told me,
“You know what, I have to accept the fact that I just don’t know how it all works. I know that I love my sister, and that God loves my sister. And I’m in the ready position for whatever the Lord tells me to do. Right now, I don’t have an answer for how it all works, but I have faith that it does work. And I’m okay with that.”
God doesn’t ask us to have faith in his work only after a perfect knowledge. He just requires us to be in the ready position and willing to move… and prepared to get a little dirty.
This second aspect of faith I want to explore today is how it binds us together. The Christian faith journey, the foundation of Christian theology, is belonging to a community of disciples. What’s incredible about this church, and about faith, and about belonging, is that no matter who you are, or where you are on this faith journey, how strong or meek your testimony, when we exist with this faith, we belong, not to ourselves, but to God. Peter Luckey spoke in a sermon about faith and belief, that when, in our faith, we belong to God “we belong to one another. And we belong to a tradition, to a past.” We profess this belonging when we sing and share in the testimony of the Faith of our Fathers. We exercise that belonging when we Visit and Home teach, and when we motivate and encourage our teaching companions to remember to set an appointment (thank you Kelly!!). We build that faith when we acknowledge that, member or not, Christian or not, friend or neighbor or not, we belong to each other, through God.
What I love most about this is that through faith, we are connected to God, and through God, connected to each other. Faith requires us to listen to each other and to learn from each other. Faith requires us to be with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. I can testify that the power of faith, however strongly I exercise it, has transformed my relationships with people when I realized what it means that we belong to each other.
In John Chapter 15 verse 4, Christ tells us how to do this: abide in me, and I in you.
Jesus Christ shows us, very plainly, that when we exercise our faith, and believe in and trust him, when we abide in him as he abides in us, we belong to one another in God.
How beautiful is it that faith, which can often times be dirty, painful, hard work is also capable of transforming us as individuals, but also together as a faith community, into something divine.
I want to leave you with two things I’ve learned about faith:
1) Faith is hard. It does not require a perfect knowledge, but it requires work. Faith, when understood and used properly, will transform us.
2) Whoever you are, and wherever you are on your faith journey, how beautiful or ugly or easy or hard your faith, we belong to each other through God. And that is beautiful.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Luteran pastor, theologian and participant in the German resistance movement against Nazism. On faith and God’s love he said,
“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”
Brothers and sisters, I leave you with my testimony that I know this church is true. I don’t know this with a perfect knowledge, because I don’t yet understand all the dimensions of my faith. But I know that wherever our faith takes us, and whatever work we’re required to do, no matter how beautiful or painful, we as real, far from ideal human beings are the grounds of God’s unfathomable love.
I leave these things with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
With so much love, and Happy Sabbath,