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The background is a scene from the Inland passage North of Port Hardy BC with the image of Robert Romanyshyn


Genesis 17:1-8
Romans 4:13-21
Mark 8:31-38

March 1, 2015

Year B Lent 2

This morning in the Genesis account, we hear that Abraham receives a call, and God promises that these people would be the ones to inherit the land. By the time Paul wrote his letters, there has been a transfer of this promise. Did you hear that in the readings this morning? The Genesis passage says that Abraham, Sarah and their descendants shall inherit the land, and Paul’s letter to the Roman’s in the first century, says that they shall inherit the world. I point that out only to remind us that oral tradition is present throughout the Bible and oral tradition is meant to be always changing.

The story never stays the same.

I remember preaching on the flood story when I was on Haida Gwaii. I saw Dick Wilson, a Haida storyteller, on the street, and so I asked him about the
Haida flood story and he said, “I will bring you a copy of that story,” and he did that, he brought me two different copies of the Haida flood story and I pondered over them at length.

I saw Dick later that next week and he asked, “How did the flood story go?”

I replied, “Well, I didn’t want to interpret your story wrong, or inappropriately, so I didn’t use it.”

He laughed and he said, “You white people, you just don’t get it, you are supposed to figure the story out for yourselves, there is no wrong answer.”

I just said, “Oh really.” What else would I say at that point?

So, this morning let’s try and be open to these stories, and what they mean to us now.

This morning’s readings seem to point us towards the question of faith. We might ask, what does it mean to have faith?

It seems that Abraham receives the promise both from the law and from his religious faith, which perhaps are one and the same. The promise is two-fold. He understands the promise of a future that includes the receiving of the covenant, the law, which might be considered a process of reasoning, but it is also about faith. Abraham integrates both the law and his faith, and together they offer meaning for his life.

He can on the one hand understand what his religious beliefs entail, he can integrate that into how he makes decisions, and he can sort out where “reason” fits in. Because of his ability to reason and to trust, he can move forward with his life.

One of the most fundamental questions of the Christian faith has to do with the relationship that exists between faith and reason. Some people might suppose that faith and reason are incompatible, believing that they serve two different realms of being.

I believe that reason and faith are closely connected. They have to be so that we have a way to make sense of our lives. Faith and reason inform one another. I believe that in the United Church our faith has always been connected to our reasoning. Faith and reason can, and often do, enrich one another. They can be compatible partners in the pursuit of what is good and what is true. Sometimes though, we have to simply accept the mystery that surrounds our faith experience.

No doubt, you can imagine many ways that people act out their faith every day (committee work, study, and volunteerism). The more we understand our religious, and spiritual faith, the more we are enriched. The more that we can allow ourselves to trust in the world around us and have it make sense for our lives, all the more do we benefit. Though we can never fully comprehend life, we are nevertheless enriched, when we open ourselves up to experience it’s fullness. I believe that all aspects of life, no matter what we call them, whether it be named spiritual, religious, Christian, Buddhist or Hindu, etc. we often are in a place where reason has taken over. We always want to allow ourselves the freedom to be truly human, to be people who sense the mystery of life, and to be able to explore and understand at some level what that mystery entails.

When faced with making a decision most of us go first to reason, where we discern and think through the options that are available to us, but in the end, sometimes we act from our faith perspective. In the end, perhaps, we act on faith most of the time. Because really there are no sure answers. Most of life’s decisions are ultimately, in the end, are perhaps made by some act of faith. Or are they?

A while back as I was driving and listening to CBC, and they were talking about a documentary made by a professor at a university in Canada. I found a place to pull off the road to listen and make notes. They were interviewing the professor and he was talking about optimism vs. hope. He said that optimism is based on facts, and we look at the facts, and we say, “It doesn’t look good; guess we won’t go there. No point in doing that.” Whereas hope is based in faith. We say, yes, it does look very bad, and perhaps nothing will change, but let’s go ahead with this plan anyway.

Those of us who have faith are always willing to take that leap of faith and optimists are not so willing to do that. I think it makes sense. I am not always an optimist, so it is easy for me to go along with the information shared in the documentary. I am more cynical. Each of you will fit somewhere on the spectrum of faith verses optimism.

The following is a story that embodies faith and the willingness to engage in what might be called a spiritual journey. It is a story about the mystery of life, and it is from the book,
The Soul In Grief, by Robert Romanyshyn.

He tells this story when he is in the midst of grieving the death of his life partner. The story is called,
“The Gesture of Connection.” He tells the story like this:
It was a dark winter day when I made the visit to the Central Park Zoo in New York City. Winter days, particularly in mid-week, have always been the best moments for zoo visits, as they afford solitude and private time with the animals. On this occasion I was going to see the gorillas. Standing in front of the cage of a large silver black male, I keenly felt the presence of the bars between us. The gorilla was sitting in the front corner of his cage, and I could see him only in profile. On occasion, however, as gorillas will do with zoo visitors, he would turn his head for a quick glance in my direction. And then he would look quickly away and the moment was gone. The cage was so small, especially for so large an animal, and I wondered how he could bear it. His lethargy was obvious, and I thought of the many hours of boredom he must daily endure, wondering too, if I was reading my own sense of melancholy through him. Caught up in my memories, I had abesentmindly withdrawn an orange from my pocket and was tossing it in the air. The gorilla turned and began to watch me. Without thinking I tossed the orange through the bars to him, momentarily oblivious to the prohibition against feeding the animals. The toss of an orange through the bars covered a distance of only a few feet in real space and perhaps only a second in real time. But the gesture, and what unexpectedly followed, bridged an ocean of time and space. One would have expected the gorilla to take the orange and retreat to the far corner of the cage to eat it. But this gorilla did not. Instead, he tossed it back through the bars to me, I caught it, and in my astonishment, I tossed it back to him again. We continued like this for perhaps three or four more exchanges, until this ribbon between, this embrace of a game was broken by the sound of a voice from the far end of the corridor. “Don’t feed the animals!” When I turned toward the voice, the gorilla turned away. He moved to the far end of the cage. He kept the orange. I left the zoo, and walked out into the city. The cold, dark, winter afternoon did little to cheer the sadness I felt at having left the gorilla inside. I was different, I was changed by that encounter; he had bridged an enormous gap between our worlds. In his gesture of tossing the orange back to me, he had reached out his hand across emptiness so vast as to be beyond measure. Together we had built a tremulous bridge of gestures, and for a brief time we had stood on opposite sides of that bridge, connected in a way that seemed to acknowledge in each other a lost kinship. Even to this day, I know I will never forget the eyes of my winter companion on that day of long ago. He had greeted me, and as strange as it might sound, I felt so grateful for that recognition. But I also felt how far I had come, and I knew with a deep feeling of sadness that we would remain forever more on opposite sides of this bridge, and that at the best moments of my life, I would be able only to stop and linger and turn around to see, once again, what was left behind. I knew that, and I knew too, that what I saw in his eyes was his sadness for me.
p.80ff The Soul In Grief, Robert Romanyshyn
It’s a sad story. Romanyshyn’s book is a sad book. But living by faith is probably more often than not, a sad life. That doesn’t mean that we are not happy, but I think there are more challenges that come when we live by faith. Maybe better to be an optimist, it requires less risk.

Paul in his letter to the Romans is trying to get across to us this sense of living our lives with faith intact. He is asking:

  • What is faith?
  • Why should we believe that living by faith is the only way?

My sense is that if we don’t live by faith, what else is there? I feel that faith and hope are the same theological themes or ideas.

In the past, I have watched some of the funerals on TV for the young men and women that were killed in war. These funerals are held, of course, in the hometowns where they grew up. One in particular, was in a United Church. At this particular funeral the choir wore blue choir gowns and when they stood to sing they held their
Voices United books high, and they sang Psalm 91, On Eagles Wings.

As I watched I had a glimpse of faith and hope in action.That particular funeral was about the faith that is needed to believe that good can sometimes come out of war – this young man died attempting to create peace where that might not be a very distinct possibility. Putting my beliefs about war and peace aside, I saw faith in the eyes of those choir members singing, “We will bear you up on eagles wings and hold you in the palm of my hand.”

Romanyshyn shows us the importance of being open to a faith/spiritual journey when he shares his story. Without some awareness a spiritual connection, or a search for faith, the incident with the gorilla might not have happened in the same way. It is this spiritual journey that offers us the moment, these moments offer us opportunity to connect with our inner/outer selves. It is a journey where sometimes we recognise that it’s all about faith and hope.

I invite you to reflect on your faith journey. In this Lenten time what is it that offers meaning to your life?
Sharon Ferguson-Hood