Monday, March 16, 2009

Bad Faith vs Good Faith

This is the opening from my March 15 sermon using Brian McLaren's book, "Finding Faith." I really think he makes a great point between good and bad faith.

Do you have questions and doubts about God? I do. My favorite prayer is from the famous Catholic monk, Thomas Merton, who wrote this opening line: O Lord, my God, I have no idea where I am going.” Sometimes a wave of doubt just washes over us, the kind that filters down to the deep places of our souls. And we wonder at times if God is real. We sing a hymn in church or hear the scriptures read or listen to a sermon and we ask ourselves, “Do I really believe this?”
I have often thought that we should be known as St. John United Methodist Church, where it’s okay to ask questions. Not all fleeting thoughts and doubts should be given our energy and attention. But the nagging ones should be asked and explored and talked about in a safe and trusted environment of Christian community. I have witnessed peoples’ questions take them away from God and the church. I still believe that the church can be a safe place where questions are honored and faith is explored.
Do you know what prominent Christian leader said these words? “In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me — of God not being God — of God not existing.” Would it surprise you to learn that these words were spoken by Mother Teresa? Mother Teresa knew, of course, how much people the world over admired her for what she was doing, picking up the sick and dying from the streets of Calcutta and caring for them in their last days. She knew she had plenty of admirers who, as soon as she herself died, would propose her for sainthood. “If I ever become a saint,” she wrote, in her later years, “I will surely be one of ‘darkness.’”[1]
When Jesus was in Jerusalem celebrating the Passover with thousands of other Jews he knew that people were believing in him simply because of the signs and miracles he was doing. He knew that faith that rested merely on signs and not on God to whom the signs point is shallow and unstable. Where is your faith centered? Some people believe that sincerity matters. If I am sincere about what I believe then it must be true.
Brian McLaren, author of “Finding Faith,” uses the analogy of thin ice to drive home this point. “If you’re walking on a lake that’s covered with one inch of ice, no matter how sincere you are in believing you can do it, you’re in for a cold soaking at best, drowning at worst. If you’re walking on a lake that’s covered with twelve inches of solid ice, even if you are plagued by doubts at every step, you’ll still be upheld. So the issue is less the sincerity or intensity of your faith than it is the trustworthiness of the object of your faith.”[2]
[1] —Cited by David Van Biema, “Mother Teresa’s crisis of faith,” TIME, Thursday, August 23, 2007; and, James Martin, “A Saint’s Dark Night,” The New York Times, August 29, 2007.
[2] Finding Faith, Brian McLaren, p. 30.