Luke 9:49-50 "…we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us."
I would like to begin this evening by thanking our guest speakers. Perhaps I am overstating a bit, but I feel that in many respects this is an historic event for our community. We have here, in our midst, representative from the three Abrahamic faiths, faiths which together count as adherents more than half the world's population.
When last we met, we explored passages from the holy books of all of these traditions in the hopes that in exploring some of the common themes found within, we could recognize some kinship with our spiritual brothers and sisters, from the traditions of Islam and Judaism.
Referring to people of other faiths as spiritual brothers and sisters may seem a bit of a foreign concept to some of us. So let us explore that statement a bit. As Christians, we avow faith in the same God as do our Jewish brothers and sisters, although we have found a particular expression or understanding in the teachings of Jesus that serve to supplement the understandings that we inherited from our Jewish forbears. Islam affirms faith in the same God, the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac, that we Christians affirm faith in. If one were to compare lists of "holy men" compiled by Jews, Muslims, and Christians; one would find the same names repeated over and over again: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David. The only differences in the lists would be the additions: Christians add Jesus; Muslims add a further name, that of Muhammad to the Christian list. (Peace be upon them all) We Christians claim the same God as father that the Jews do. Muslims claim the same God as father that we Christians and the Jews do. Hence my referring to our guests as our spiritual brothers and sisters.
Sadly, there are those within our faith traditions that would try to deny those spiritual brothers and sisters their rightful place at father God's table, solely because we claim different mother faiths. That is tantamount to a child telling his stepbrother that they are unrelated because they do not share both parents.
So how did we get to the point where we try to deny the heritage of our brothers and sisters because of our differing mother faiths?
Perhaps how we understand and express our faith(s) is the key. In our Christian tradition, from antiquity, there are 5 Greek words that are translated to "faith" in the English language. The first is from the Greek word is assensus. Perhaps it can most readily be translated into "assent" or "agreement". The second is pistis, meaning persuasion. To agree or being persuaded to agree with someone or some concept is purely an intellectual exercise, and as such, really does not require much in the way of personal investment.
The remaining words take on a different meaning, and show faith in a different light. Fiducia means to trust. Fidelitas means fidelity, loyalty. Visio: vision- seeing the world through God's eyes. Those now are some powerful words, some truly profound concepts. Those require not just simple intellectual belief, but belief in. It is, relatively speaking, simple to believe something, or to lead one to believe something.
When my kids were younger, I used to delight in telling them tall tales. I remember when we were living in VA, driving back home from 7-11, when one of them remarked on the bright half-moon in the sky, and asked why that only half the moon was there. I chuckled to myself as I told them that the moon was made of green cheese, and that the astronauts must be on the moon eating all of the green cheese. My young, impressionable children bought that ridiculous explanation hook line and sinker. That was assensus. They were persuaded to believe that story, and agreed with it. That is the first type of faith we discussed.
James 2:20 But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
What followed was works: When we returned home, the kids rushed inside to their mother and asked to use the telephone so that they could call the astronauts to ask that they save some of the green cheese, because they would like for us to have some of it as well. That was belief in. Because they believed what I had told them, they took action based on that belief, they made a personal investment because that belief was joined by trust, a desire to see the world as I had explained it, and a loyalty to preserve the green cheese for us all to enjoy. That was true faith, in all of its forms.
I regret to say, however, that as a result of all those tall tales, my kids no longer believe anything I tell them, much less invest themselves in it. I am truly reaping what I have sown in that respect.
Institutional religion, in many respects today, demands a whole lot of belief; a belief in a literal 7-day creation, a literal flood, a literal parting of the Red sea, a literal virgin birth, a literal crucifixion and resurrection for the atonement of sin to save one from a literal hell. But you know what? THAT'S ALL IN OUR HEADS! That is all intellectual belief and understanding that is seldom allowed to go deeper, to our hearts, to the core of our beings. When our faith is never truly internalized, and we stick to a rigid belief of "facts" it often only produces a desire to force everyone else to agree with us, because we are obviously so intellectually superior to those who do not believe strictly as we do. That is "head faith" which often only produces a swollen head.
When we allow the faith to go deeper; When we truly trust God (sometimes in spite of our understanding, rather than because of our understanding); when we strive to see the world through God's eyes, rather than our own; and we are faithful and loyal to the God we find there, we have truly begun to "believe in" We have truly taken our faith to heart, to our core. That is a faith that requires action. When we take our faith to heart, then our hearts can grow. We can then set aside our bibles, our crosses, our traditions as necesarry and we can embrace our Muslim brother, or Jewish sister, and welcome them to join us at God's table.