A recent post by Methodist pastor Chad Holtz got me thinking again about feelings and faith.
As a kid, I was always nervous when it came to my being a Christian. I grew up in evangelical and Black Protestant churches where there was a lot of emphasis placed on emotions. I didn’t understand it then, but I was having to deal with being autistic and understanding my faith. Because so much was placed on how one felt, I was always wondering if I really did believe. I didn’t always feel anything. I knew certain things. I knew Jesus died for me. I knew about heaven and I knew that God loved me. But I was always told that knowing things isn’t enough. One has to experience God, which meant one had to feel God, which was something that was hard for me.
I can’t speak for everyone that is on the spectrum, but I do wonder if other people have a hard time with faith. Since I can’t see God, I have to just trust that something is there. Thank God for imagination, which can help give some flesh to faith and allow someone like me to understand everything. My love of all things supernatural, talk of zombies or vampires is a way of understanding that there are some things that don’t make sense.
I believe it was Martin Luther that once placed a marker of some kind that served as a reminder that he was saved by faith. It was a visual and concrete reminder. Now that is something I can grab on to and make sense. In fact, it is a window on how I’ve learned to come to some peace about faith and feelings or lack thereof. I might not always feel “strangely warmed” but I do know that God loves me. I’ve learned to trust God even when I can’t feel God. I’ve learned to be religious but not spiritual.
Hey, it works.
Here’s a sermon I preached in 2007 on Pentecost Sunday.
“Waiting to Exhale”
May 27, 2007 (Pentecost Sunday)
Lake Harriet Christian Church
When I was about two years old, I was diagnosed with asthma. From about age two until maybe age 9, I dealt with constant asthma attacks where I had hard time breathing. I can remember sitting in the doctor’s office of Dr. Cory Cookingham, who was my allergy and asthma doctor, who would sometimes have to give me a shot of adrenalin to open up my constricted lungs. More than once he worried if this didn’t work, that the hospital would be the next stop.
Growing up as a kid with asthma was not fun in the early 70s. I still had a pretty full childhood, but there were things I was limited in doing. My made sure all the schools I attended were clean and not dusty so as not to trigger an attack. I remember when I was very young, not playing outdoors again for fear of an attack.
As I got older the spectre of asthma grew smaller. I was able to play outdoors and have fun, no longer fearful for another attack. In fact I went without an asthma attack for eight years until the summer I graduated high school. I still have attacks few and far between, but I do carry an inhaler just in case. Read More…
“Keep Calm and Carry On”
Mark 13:1-8 and Hebrews 10:11-18
Twenty Fifth Sunday of Pentecost
November 18, 2012
First Christian Church
I can remember that afternoon very clearly. It was a rainy Sunday and I was taking a nap after church. It was then we heard the sirens go on. We turned on the radio and heard about a funnel cloud being sited not too far from our house. I peeked through the window to see the trees in the neighborhood being whipped back and forth in the high winds. I ran back towards the bedroom telling my partner Daniel that we needed to get downstairs right now. I grabbed my cat Felix and we made our way downstairs. As we made our way down the stairs, we could hear a mighty whooshing sound and soon thereafter, the power went out. We stayed downstairs for a while until the storm outside calmed down. The house was okay, there was no damage, but as we made our way out of the house, we saw the devastation. Large trees were uprooted, roofs were blown off houses. Daniel and I, along with the rest of North Minneapolis had just gone through a tornado.
It’s important to note that later that same day, a more powerful tornado ripped through Joplin, Missiouri killing hundreds and causing damage to large portions of the city. What had started as a normal day for people in Joplin and Minneapolis, ended in chaos.
What’s always fascination to me is how the normal can soon slide over to the catastrophic. I think about the folks in New York and New Jersey who are dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. People were used to hurricanes knicking the area, but never expected a storm that was so power and so devastating.
Maybe that’s why we are so fascinated by apocalyptic fiction. Over the decades books, movies and television shows have been made talking about some massive event that irrevocably changes human society. In the 1980s, I remember the fear was about nuclear war, and so we had stories about life after the mushroom cloud. Remember “The Day After?” In the 1990s, the rise of HIV/AIDS and Ebola had us turning to stories of killer viruses that wipeout large chunks of humanity. Movies like “Twelve Monkeys” and television dramas like “The Stand” expressed our fears on screen.
And today? Have you noticed how many movies, books and television shows are about zombies? I don’t know how many of my friends like watching the popular science fiction series, the “Walking Dead.” The zombie fear is taking the virus fear of the 90s and kicking it up a notch. Viruses killed people, but zombies talks about a society that has gone mad. It seems it is only interested in consuming. The zombie doesn’t think or reflect, it just consumes mindlessly. Sort of reminds you of Black Friday, doesn’t it?
We are always facing some kind of apocalypse, either real or imagined. We are always facing the end of our world in some way. These stories of the end of the world remind us of the fear that lies underneath all of us. The fear that our normal lives could one day be upended by something out of our control.
In Mark, we have Jesus and the disciples entering Jerusalem. Whenever I’m in a big city, I tend to look up at the tall buildings. I can imagine the disciples marveling at the wonderous buildings in the “big city.” They shared their amazement with Jesus, who answered them by saying all the buildings would be torn down.
Jesus knew how to be a buzzkill.
After a little while, the disciples ask him about his prior outburst. They were a tad bit concerned with what he said and wanted to know when all of this was going to happen. Jesus tells them that there will be “wars and rumors of wars” but they were not to worry. “Don’t worry,” Jesus says, “This is all supposed to happen.”
The writer of Hebrews tells the church to be a community where everyone spurs each other to do good deeds, loving each other and to not forget to come together even as the end is coming.
Neither of these are happy passages. What is God saying through these passages?
As what is always the case when I’m planning a sermon, I give Deb or Dan a sermon title with some ideas of where I think I will head with the sermon. I gave Dan the sermon title you see here, but in reality, I went with in a totally different direction and came up with a new title. I learned what God was telling this community of faith and I owe it all to a propaganda posted made 70 years ago.
It was during the dark early days of World War II when bombs were raining down on London, that the British government printed a series of posters in order to bolster the public morale. One of them was fairly simple: it had white letters on a red background with the Tudor crown at the top. The words weren’t that memorble back then, but they seem to be everywhere these days: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
Keep Calm and Carry On. The British Ministry of Information wanted to make sure the British people were able to push forward or as Winston Churchill has been rumored to say “When you are marching through hell, you keep walking.”
Is Jesus and the writer of Hebrews calling us to Keep Calm and Carry On? Jesus is reminding us that the storms will blow, the buildings will fall down, you will get a cancer diagnosis, you might lose your job, but are we are not to live as if we have no hope. Jesus reminded the disciples and reminds us that God is with us through these times. God knows these events will happen but as the writer of Hebrews says, God’s laws, God’s ways which is written in our hearts, will prevail.
We can keep calm and carry on because we put our trust in the God of Israel, who defeated the powers of Egypt and the Pharaoh. We can offer a hand when someone loses a loved one, or loses their home to a violent storm. We can do this because God has promised to be with us through the tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes and other trageies that invade our normal life and transform us forever. We can do this because whatever tragedies befall us, it doesn’t have the last word.
I want to end with one more story. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, I found out that a Catholic congregation in Grand Forks, North Dakota, raised almost $16,000 to help a Catholic church in Long Branch, New Jersey which is trying to get its footing after the storm. In 1997, the New Jersey congregation raised money to help the North Dakota church after their building was damaged in the great flood of 1997 in Grand Forks.
Why do I tell this story? Because I think we as a church are one way we can be God’s hands and feet when those around us face “the end of the world.” In Christ, we are able to be calm and carry on because we know who holds the future.
The end of the world will happen. But in many ways it has already happened and will happen again and again. Let us be willing to do good deeds and love people for the sake of God’s kingdom.
Keep calm and carry on. Thanks be to God. Amen.