Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 10th: Genesis 13:1-7, 14-18; Psalm 27; and Philippians 3:2-12. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Do we tend to think of faith as a noun or as a verb? As a noun, faith means the content of what we believe. As a verb, faith means the act of believing, how we practice and live what we believe. The two work together. Faith as both a noun and a verb means that it’s personal. We’ve invested ourselves in what we believe by acting on what we believe.
Take the example of Abram in today’s reading. His relationship with God is so deeply personal that it needs to be expressed in terms of a conversation. Abram and Yahweh are presented as speaking with one another in ordinary fashion. Abram settles by Hebron and God promises Abram all the surrounding lands. How does Abram memorialize this sacred conversation? He builds an altar there to God. Abram honours the encounter with Yahweh in this way, but the altar then makes the place sacred too, not only the initial encounter.
The altar memorializes the relationship. This happens throughout history, and across religious divides. Often times, a place that is sacred in one religion, if overtaken, will become a sacred place in a subsequent religion. Archaeologists can dig down into the earth and reach further and further back into history, and there they find that one religion’s sacred building is built above the remains of a previous religion’s sacred structure. The place takes on a religious significance of its own, but we should not forget that it all begins with an exceptionally personal spiritual connection.
Hopefully, the transition to a sacred site enhances the ability of subsequent believers to find their own personal, spiritual encounters there. As I have mentioned in the past, I would love to visit Nazareth’s old synagogue because Jesus must have once worshiped there. The holiness of the place isn’t only because Jesus was there in the past, but because the place can inspire a special closeness to Jesus in the present. Hopefully, remembering the story of a religious place like Hebron does not end with Abram’s encounter of the divine. Hopefully, it is not only faith as a noun, as in the faith of Abram, but also faith as a verb, as sharing in a faithful encounter with God like Abram once did. Faith needs to be personal, not only remembering and honouring someone else’s personal faith.
This need for a personal connection with the divine is expressed so beautifully and authentically in the Pauline selection today. Paul revels in the closeness of Christ, and reveals that it is this personal relationship that inspires and empowers his own faith. Paul’s Epistles have helped church and Christians to define the content of faith as a noun, but his lived faith is what believers should hope to emulate. Listen again to his confession: “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord … I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection … because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” We still teach Paul’s faith as noun, but the power of faith is to live it with a passion like Paul shares today.
I hope and pray that our Lenten journeys will help us to deepen our personal connections with Jesus, with the Jesus who loves us each enough to go to the cross for us. Knowing faith is one thing. Lent calls upon us to make that faith personal with a passion like that of Paul.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
Faith, love and chitchat.
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