Keep the Faith: Fan it into Flame-Homily 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time 10/6/13

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{ This is  Rev. Melvin G. Williams and his wife Deaconess Virginia Maniti Williams with a Bethany Methodist Church Youth Group Member in 1957. They are my spiritual parents in the faith who,along with my grandmother Ella  and mother Anne,  encouraged me to fan my faith and gifts into flame. The picture is from a book of poetry I wrote entitled The Flame Keeper and Other Poems (PublishAmerica.com, 2007.}

This is Keep the Faith Sunday. The readings are rich and meaningful to those who experience disillusion, need, injustice and pain and to those who stand in solidarity with them. In the world I came of age in and in the church I now pastor people understand when I say “keep the faith” when parting.  Poor folks and people of color know that keeping the faith has more to do with the way life is lived, and living for justice than mouthing words of belief, though they do that as well.

In the first reading from the book of Habakkuk we see the unusual prophet, one who not only decried oppression and exploitation of the poor and of God’s people, but one who told God exactly what he thought about God for “ making or letting this happen” (his viewpoint). Habakkuk lived during the beginning of the Seventh Century (BCE) when the treacherous King Nebuchadnezzar ruled and the terrorizing Babylonian (Chaldean) oppression of the Hebrew people was just beginning.  Habakkuk could not believe what was happening.

According to Eugene Peterson (The Message) Habakkuk spoke God’s word to us AND our word to God. Now this is a prophet I can understand. I can understand complaining to God and trying to talk with God about how bad things are and how they “shouldn’t be that way”, especially for God’s people. My heart breaks for the 800,000 Government workers who are furloughed in this immoral Government Shutdown forced by a minority of Tea Party Representatives in the House who cannot accept the law of the land regarding health care, disparagingly called Obamacare by them.  What kind of a world is this when the tail is wagging the dog? Many of those furloughed people will not be able to pay their bills and feed their families. Yet those Representatives still get paid. And when churches are bombed in Syria and Egypt killing those worshiping because they are Christian, I hurt. When U.S. Drones attempting to “take out” enemies also kill children and families even as Dictators who use nerve gas wipe out whole innocent communities, I want to say “God, when will this stop? When people go berserk and assassinate people in movie theaters, workplaces and public spaces because the mental health system is so bad that most fall through the gaping cracks in it, I want to scream.

I understand Habakkuk who said to God: “”So why don’t you do something about this? Why are you silent now….You stand around and watch! “(Hab 1:13 MSG). And, “God, how long do I have to cry out for help before you listen? …Why do you force me to look at evil, stare trouble in the face day after day: Anarchy and violence break out…Law and order fall to pieces.  Justice is a joke. The wicked have the righteous hamstrung and stand justice on its head”. (1:1-4 MSG).

Now, my guess is that you understand Habakkuk too.  And you understand the prophet’s meanings not only on the wider scene, but in your own lives. “How can that saint suffer so? How can this young father of two have incurable cancer?” “How come I struggle with such pain in my back or head or how can I deal with the insecurities of cancer or heart trouble?” “Why did I lose my job when I have mouths to feed and rent to pay?” “Why don’t I have somewhere to live?” “Do something, God.” We long to have Divine intervention to make things right and we don’t want “pie in the sky bye and bye”. We don’t want to wait for heaven for it to be right. Well, neither does God. And that is why God asks for us to be steadfast in practicing, in exercising, our faith.  “Faith is the assurance concerning things that we hope for (expect), as it was the substance of things now in existence.  And it is the appearance (revelation) of things not seen”. (Heb. 11:1 P’Shitta Text- Aramaic text.) Faith IS the substance we can hold on to, especially in troubled times.   The Aramaic word for faith is haymanootha.   Its meanings include confidence, firmness, faithfulness and being trustworthy.  The Semitic root of that word is amen which means “to make firm” “true” “lasting” and “enduring”.  According to Aramaic scholar Rocco Errico in And There Was Light (1998:230) “it is a quality or attitude of perseverance”.  We are to persevere in practicing and living our faith. We are to be trustworthy and faithful in our covenant with God.  We are the answer to prayers for justice and peace and we are the answers to someone else’s prayer. God is not silent unless our mouths are silent. And, maybe it is we who are standing around and watching.

In the beginning of the second chapter of Habakkuk, God, who is in dialogue with the prophet, says that the time will come when “those who steadfastly uphold justice will live” (Hab 2: 4(b) TIB (The Inclusive Bible).  The Message says (same verse) “The person in right standing before God…is fully alive, really alive”. God is telling Habakkuk –keep the faith-keep doing what God wants you to do, enact justice, preach justice, live justice-live the faith, keep our covenant (to love God and love your neighbors as yourself) and you and the people will live, even in the midst of ALL that is wrong.  By the end of Habakkuk’s vision his song, his tune, changes. And it changes because he is in dialogue with God and he is listening. God did not chastise Habakkuk for taking God on, God entered into dialogue with Habakkuk.  If we are speaking with God, God is speaking to us as well. By the end of his song the prophet says,(paraphrased) we are still living in devastation, we are still in big trouble, and I wait for disaster on our attackers but I believe that it is going to be okay as God saved Israel in Moses time, God will do it again.  “I’m singing joyful praise to God…counting on God’s rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength…” (Hab 3:18-19a MSG).  Habakkuk kept the faith and gave the people hope.  Let us take heart and gain strength in the midst of our troubles.

In Paul’s letter to Timothy, after remembering Timothy’s sincere faith which was passed on to him from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (1: 5),  Paul, Timothy’s spiritual parent, encourages Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (1:6). He does not want Timothy to be shy with God’s gifts in leading his community of faith but bold (powerful) loving and self- disciplined.  It is because of Timothy’s strong faith that Paul can encourage his gifts. Indeed that faith can be Timothy’s best gift.  It is interesting to note that Paul begins his encouragement of Timothy’s gifts by reminding him of the faith of his grandmother and mother and saying “that is why I want to remind you to fan into flame the gift of God…” Yet, whoever chooses the Sunday readings in the Roman Missal chose to leave out the reference to Timothy’s mothers in faith. The reading omits verse 5 and begins with verse 6 even though the phrase “that is why…” has no referent.  It is critically important for us to remember our mothers and fathers in faith and to build on and pass on that legacy.  To keep the faith Paul is saying that Timothy needs to pass it on-boldly. I remember well the faith of my grandmother Ella and my mother Anne. I would not be writing this now if they had not passed that faith on to me. And they did it in the midst of much trouble and turmoil. We were poor economically and my mother was our sole wage earner though she was sometimes too ill to work. We knew hard times and yet I learned to live by faith. That faith was reinforced by my strong faith community and its Pastors.  We were rich in faith and the flame was lighted within my heart and nothing could extinguish it. Fan the flame of faith and God’s gifts to you into a blaze!  Turn the fading embers into a flame of passion for God and God’s work for you.

In the Gospel, (Luke 17:5-10) the apostles, upon hearing Jesus tell them to forgive those who sin against you endlessly with endless forgiveness, plea “increase our faith!” They thought that MORE was better.  Jesus told them: “There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake’ and it would do it” (17:6 MSG).  Jesus is saying if you have faith you have power-all kinds of power-use it.  For Jesus, faith is also a relational concept. When people expressed faith in him they were healed, made whole, transformed. He was often moved by the plight of the other person who had faith in him. Having faith is a two way street. As the Aramaic definition tells us, it involves trust and trustworthiness, confidence in one another, and perseverance. Let us be the trustworthy, steadfast followers that Christ can have confidence in even as we have confidence in the love of Christ for us and for all. Let us fan the often dying embers of our faith that is both weakened and strengthened by troubles and doubt, into a flame, a blaze that burns bright, clears the underbrush and makes the way for new life.

Amen.

Rev. Dr. Judith Lee, ARCWP

Co-Pastor The Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community

4 responses to “Keep the Faith: Fan it into Flame-Homily 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time 10/6/13”

  1. Marty Meyer-Gad says :

    Your homily echoes the words of Immaculee Ilibagiza in LEFT TO TELL: Discovering God Amid the Rwandan Holocaust which I read this morning.

    Thank you for voicing the pain cause by our unnecessary government shutdown. How can we rid ourselves of two political parties and send representatives of the people to negotiate as intellegent adults for the interest of all the people? The divide between the rich and poor is tearing our country apart.

    • judyabl says :

      Thanks, Marty,
      that is a great idea. I really do feel like Habakkuk and the Message translation is perfect for this current mess.
      Love and prayers, Judy

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