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By Faith

Sunday, August 7th 2022

By: Rev. Jackie Hibbard

How many of you have heard the saying, You can't teach an old dog new tricks?

Do you think it’s true?

That saying is implying that once a person has a set of beliefs, notions, traits or habits - they are set for life and nothing can change them. You can’t learn anything new.

I find that some people think that faith in God is like that. You have it, or you don’t and if you do have it, then it never changes or it shouldn’t change - it’s always the same. That doesn’t resonate with me. That’s the equivalent of saying You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Maybe it would be that you can’t see or hear or learn anything new about God and your faith is always the same. I don’t think that is faith. I’m not sure what to call it honestly.

As I reflected on the scripture from the book of Hebrews I am struck by the repeated line By faith …

By faith our ancestors received; By faith we understand; By faith Abraham obeyed; By faith he stayed; By faith he received. Over and over By faith followed by a line about what Abraham and early followers of the way of Jesus did because of their faith in God. It’s a good thing Abraham didn’t know that saying about not being able to learn new tricks way back when or who knows where we would be now.

The writer starts by saying that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Faith is like that. We hope for and trust. We can’t always see it. Sometimes we don’t even understand it. And yet we do things by faith.

What about us? Can you learn new tricks? Are you open to doing things By faith or do you keep on doing things the way you always have? What about our congregation? Do we learn new tricks?

Some of you know that I just started a year long training program in Spiritual Direction. We started with a week-long intensive where each one of us in training and the 2 leaders shared our Spiritual Autobiography. We had 50 uninterrupted minutes to share about our spiritual or faith journey in words, photos, art and music - however we desired. While one of us shared, the others listened … deeply with our whole being. After the person shared we had some time of silence to reflect and then each of us responded about what we received from the story. Where did I see or hear God active? What does the person’s story reveal to me about who God is?

Here is what I learned that week. We each do many things by faith. By faith, each one took bold steps, took chances, survived, thrived, evolved as life has gone on. While life may have thrown curve balls, by faith each one kept on in their relationship with God. Not one person knew what would happen when they made a change, left a terrible situation or relationship, hid in a closet, followed their call, or listened to a little voice inside. There were no guarantees. Every one of us had times of hurt and tragedy when we couldn’t or wouldn’t see God. Some of us wandered in the wilderness for a while. And yet, by faith each has made their way, evolving as we go, learning new things about themselves, the world, God. Is that true for you?

I don’t think there is anything static about faith. That there is a be all and end all thing you have to believe that doesn't change. Surely Abraham’s faith in Yahweh was set. He knew God and yet God kept calling him throughout his whole life to do things that were unexpected, different from what he had previously learned. A read through the book of Genesis or the synopsis in the Hebrews text today gives an account of what Abraham did by faith, sometimes not knowing or even ever seeing the outcome. He did not make it to the promised land, but he had faith when he set out and his ancestors arrived. He and his wife Sarah had offspring well after their normal child bearing years … by faith. He did not live to see those offspring outnumber the stars in the sky, but he had faith that it would happen. By faith he almost sacrificed his son - that one is problematic for me, but that’s another sermon. However, his son was spared and went on to be essential in the story of the Hebrew people. He acted By faith, not certainty in what he thought was “the truth” about Yahweh’s promises.

The second reading today from Anna Blaedel speaks to an ever evolving faith and relationship with God. One that they continue to examine, explore, deepen, change, enhance, let go of, re-make as they learn, listen, hear and know more. There is nothing static about their faith … it is ever evolving. God is still speaking.

As I was working on this sermon, someone shared a great article on Facebook published this week entitled "Thank God that more people are deconstructing their faith" by Brian McLaren published by Premier Christianity.

I’ve come to pay attention and appreciate when gifts arrive and this article was a gift, not an accident or chance. I paid attention. So what I learned is that what I was reflecting about, this evolving faith has a theological name. Faith deconstruction. Here is some about what Brian McLaren wrote for us to consider.

“For many of us, faith deconstruction has been a quest to honestly examine our faith, to understand how it has changed over time, to face the harm done by and within our faith, and to acknowledge that its contemporary forms are neither its original form nor its ultimate form, which means that our faith is not static, but is, in fact, improvable.

Here's how Professor Jack Caputo described deconstruction in a New York Times interview: “Deconstruction is a way to read something meticulously, feeling about for its tensions, releasing what it itself may not want to disclose, remembering something it may not want to recall …[D]econstruction is a life-giving force, forcing [people] to reinvent what has been inherited and to give it a future... Deconstruction is faith and hope…not destruction.”

Deconstruction has helped us grapple with the enmeshment of Christian faith with anti-semitism, white supremacy, environmental apathy, cruelty toward LGBTQ persons and love of guns. Deconstruction has become a way to reinvent the faith we inherited and give it a future.

When more traditional Christians picked up on the term deconstruction in recent years, many reduced it to a rough synonym for doubt. For them, to 'deconstruct one’s faith’ is to doubt it, which is a big leap down a slippery slope toward rejecting it. …

My contacts with people engaging in deconstruction are frequent and intense. In my experience, many who stopped attending church in person or online before and during Covid have not abandoned their spiritual quest; rather, they have refocused it elsewhere. What sermons, rituals, and fellowship in a church building once provided, many are now finding through podcasts, websites, online courses, small groups, books, and festivals and events (like Evolving Faith and Wild Goose in the US and Greenbelt in the UK). Why might this be the case?

Those engaged in deconstruction know that many church settings are often inhospitable for the kind of free and honest inquiry they need.”

If you’d like to read the whole article, and I recommend it, you’ll find the link in my sermon text once Alissa posts it on our website and it will be linked to in the Wednesday e-news.

So as I read this article and reflect about the phrase By Faith, I come to this.

By faith, we listen, learn, grow, explore throughout our whole life.

By faith, we reflect, dissect, let go of and re-form ideas and beliefs constantly.

By faith, we invite inquiry not fear it.

By faith, we invite change, not hold it at bay.

By faith, we take chances, push the boundaries of today for the hope for tomorrow.

By faith, we trust that God is always leading even when we can’t see or know it.

By faith, we plant seeds not knowing if they will grow or flourish.

How do I see that here at CUCC?

By faith, we ask questions about our faith, wrestle with it, dialogue with each other. Let’s do more of that!

By faith, we joined together with 2 other congregations in Boulder to sponsor and support a family fleeing violence in Afghanistan even though the obstacles were high

By faith, we made our way with technology to continue operating through a pandemic, learning new skills and inviting gifts to be shared from people we might not have otherwise. Look at Truitt who joined us and helped us figure out livestreaming. And Alex and Raymond operating our OBS system today among others. By faith, People who thought they wouldn’t be able to participate in worship ever again, learned with some help how to use zoom and access our livestream.

By faith, and through our grief, we came together to prove that we can do something about gun violence and started a movement among other churches and denominations to turn unwanted guns to garden tools, saving lives.

By faith, we are having a summer festival in a couple of weeks for us and our community to have fun together.

By faith, a Bible study, aka Ancient Christian Wisdom was taken from a thought and idea to actuality and people are coming together to dive deeper into our Sacred text.

By faith, we continue to investigate and interrogate our own white supremacy to dismantle systems of racism in ourselves and beyond.

By faith, we crafted an updated Open and Affirming statement that is bold and visionary and continue to work together to live into that welcome and radical hospitality in new ways.

By faith much more is possible if we but embrace that God is still speaking, asking us to let go of fears or thoughts about how things are supposed to be, and dream and live into the vision of God’s beloved community that is our calling and inheritance.

By faith, we must learn new tricks, whatever our age, whatever our abilities, whatever our perceived limitations. By faith, we must allow and explore new questions, new dreams, new possibilities, new callings.

This is the bread of life. The cup of blessing. This is our calling as people called to follow the teachings of Jesus. This is how CUCC and the church will remain relevant and essential in the world for generations to come. Let’s learn some new tricks together.

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