Come in Faith
We don't come so much in a faith already formed, the kind of faith that is often more fantasy than faith, the assurance that we can do anything with God. We come in faith that we will enter into a place where we can grow in faith, grow by the love and witnesses of faith in those around us.
Two psychologists hung a series of five door hangers with energy-saving messages on several hundred homes in a San Diego suburb in 2004. Three of the five door hangers displayed appeals to save energy that are commonly offered: Protect the environment, benefit society and save money. The fourth door hanger stated that summer is here and it's a time to save energy. The fifth message simply said that the majority of your neighbors are saving energy. The researchers measured the effectiveness of the messages by obtaining meter readings before and after the door hangers were distributed. They found that the first four had minimal effect. But the fifth, which mentioned the neighbors, produced a significant, 10 percent drop in home energy usage.
We think we make our decisions based on the rational data before us, but this experiment and the psychologists studying this data argue that we often make decisions based on the data processed through our emotional nerve center in our brain before we start to look at the data and pros and cons around us. This experiment has noted the significance of the neighbor effect, or the tribal effect. We decide things, we grow and learn and often become the people we are, because of the decisions, opinions, behavior and so forth of the people around us.
Think about what this data means for us as a community of faith, examining the first part of our mission statement today. We come in faith, we say. We enter into this church, as part of the worshipping body here - or in Bible studies, circle meetings, committees, boards, visitation, and so forth - with other people. Other people who are at all different stages of their spiritual journeys. Who come with all different levels and understanding of what faith might mean, but with a desire to find God, serve God, love their neighbor and grow in their spiritual life. If the psychological studies of the neighbor effect is true, then when we come into a place where we have first hand experiences of the faith of others, we also have a greater opportunity to grow in our faith. In other words, we grow in faith better in community, better with the faith-seeker in the pew next to you, then we could alone.
As we began our last board of Elders meetings, we discussed the meaning of the mission statement for us. Come in Faith, Go with Peace, Live God's love. And one Elder said that she finds the faith of others inspiring and has grown in her own faith because of the others' witnesses of faith.
So we might hear the first part of our mission statement, Come in Faith, in a different way. We don't come so much in a faith already formed, the kind of faith that is often more fantasy than faith, the assurance that we can do anything with God. We come in faith that we will enter into a place where we can grow in faith, grow by the love and witnesses of faith in those around us.
And I think faith can be kind of contagious. Persistent. When we hear Jesus's words from Matthew's gospel today, we heard him reprimand his disciples to have faith the size of a mustard seed. We might hear these words and think about the parable of the mustard seed, the smallness of the seed and from such a small seed the giant bush of a mustard bush that can grow. But I was recently learning about the other characteristics of a mustard bush. Why people don't often choose to plant mustard plants in their gardens - because they are considered an invasive species. They will keep on growing, everywhere. What does it mean for our faith to be compared to a mustard seed, a mustard bush? Perhaps to be persistent in faith, keep on keeping on, and that when it is planted - as we invite you to come in faith - it might grow even in the difficult circumstances of life.
One of the most common places we read of faith in the Bible is from the letters of Paul. In many places Paul describes what faith is for him and for his faith ancestors of the past. What it is not is a power to change anything for the better, but rather a belief in the power of God, in the power of hoping and continuing on. In Paul's letter to the Romans he calls faith "hoping against hope" and reminds us that we serve and follow a God for whom even death could not defeat the power of life. For a long list of our faith ancestors, look to Hebrews chapter 11, describing from Abraham to Moses and onward the faith of our cloud of witnesses in the past, to hope against hope. And so we come in faith. Not in fantasy that our problems will go away when we leave this place. But in faith, as the words of our liturgy writes, we come in faith, that our problems will not defeat us, faith that our hearts and spirits can be renewed, faith that we are not alone; for you are with us. And come in faith into a church family that can teach us through words and actions and silent witnesses about their own testimonies of faith and strength and love. And we come in faith declaring that we will follow that first faith-witness, our first faith teacher, Jesus Christ. Sharing together in a community meal of remembrance of him, his body and blood, his life given that we might have new life, we proclaim this as our statement of faith. Our Lamb has conquered - sin, illness, even death itself our faith teaches us, let us follow him. So let us come in faith and leave with joy, for our God is with us. Amen.