Living with the Ebb and Flow of Faith
This week we recall St Simon and St Jude. We really know nothing about them, apart from their listing among the people chosen by Jesus to be his disciples, as in Luke 6:12-16. The tradition suggests they preached together in Persia (Modern day Iran), and died for their faith together on the same day.
Simon is also named in the Gospel as Simon the Zealot. But this did not mean Simon was a member of the revolutionary group seeking to overthrow the Romans with violence. Rather, being named as Simon the Zealot most likely meant Simon was fervent or passionate for God and God’s people.
Jude, or Judas in Greek, is known in tradition as ‘the saint of lost causes!’ This is possibly because, if you want a saint to pray for you, you don’t choose one similarly named as the one who was the traitor! But as a last resort, you are willing to pray to Jude (Judas)! But we probably get a better sense of Jude from his nickname ‘Thaddaeus,’ from the Aramaic, suggesting that he was someone who was ‘magnanimous’ or generous.
As we hear about the lives of the Saints, as we will this coming weekend on All Saints Day, it is good to remember that they were all human beings who came to faith in Jesus and who had many struggles along the way toward faith. And that is the point about faith, faith can only be lived into as a way of life, lived into overtime, in and through relationships, in and through the vicissitudes of our lives. There is no other way to know God and grow into Christ other than through the lives we live, in relation to the people we know, live with, encounter. Faith takes time to develop. The saints all say this.
This means that there will often be times when we will feel our faith is strong and other times when we wonder what is going on. But if we think about how we grow as people, as human beings who develop our character and personalities in particular ways, then we will know that we do not, in deed cannot, live on adrenalin highs all the time. So we need goals, perhaps beginning with small incremental steps, we work toward these goals, and usually – perhaps always - with the help of others. Was it Albert Einstein who said he only did what he did because he stood on the shoulders of all who went before him? Faith is like this. And it is on the shoulders of the Saints that we stand.
Faith, then, does not just exist on the highs. As Laurence Freeman writes, ‘Faith in Christ doesn’t just make us feel better through the release of endorphins it realises our oneness with all other things regardless of social or even gender differences.’ This implies that that the faith journey opens us to that bigger world of other people, other relationships, but also difference and diversity that is at the heart of God.
Ignatius of Antioch, writing just before he was martyred, wrote of our relationship with Jesus Christ, that if ‘the beginning is faith’ then ‘the end is love.’ Like all human growth, this growth toward love is not usually a straight line. Its back and forth, back and forth, faith toward love, faith toward love.
We often come to a stage in our faith when we think we are losing our faith. This is common among religious people. But this is often the place of real growth. I have seen this a lot amongst theological students as they begin reading more widely and reflecting more deeply about the things of God, and as the pressure of life and family remain. It’s like Moses lost in the thick cloud; others around him think he is lost, perhaps Moses also, but in that cloud he meets God.
One helpful metaphor for this journey of faith is suggested by Freeman. As we know sometimes our computers get stuck. Then we need to click on the ‘refresh page’ button, stop living in the past and get updated! Like any relationship, we become familiar with each other, we learn to talk around the difficult bits, and we do not move forward. So also, is the life of faith! This is what St Paul says:
Adapt your souls no longer to the pattern of this present world but let your mind be re-made and your whole nature us transformed. (Rom 12.2)
The final passage from the Letter of Jude in the NT is therefore very apt:
Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen. (Jude 24,25)