A Great Surprise!
Friday of Epiphany 6
22 February 2019
Faith is a difficult thing to define. It has a kind of unconsciousness about it. I don't mean by that that the believer is unaware of faith. No, a believer is always ready to confess the hope that is in him. Faith is not unconscious in that way. What I mean is that it is never self-regarding. There is nothing narcissistic about it. When I say that faith is unconscious, faith doesn't seem to have a content or shape of its own. It seems to be a powerful "nothing." We have a hard time pointing here and saying, "Ah, here is faith," or pointing there and exclaiming, "Oh look, there is believing!" We cannot look inward and point to our own hearts and point out faith either to ourselves or to others. When we try to point out faith, we are like the small boy who takes apart an old-fashioned spring-wound clock to see how it works and then realizes after he has taken it apart it no longer keeps time. By trying to figure out how it works, it no longer works.
If we try to define faith by its characteristics, we will inevitably point to what faith does in order to find out what it is. Coming upon a crime scene is not the same as solving the crime. Worse yet, by sorting out all the clues pointing to the crime we might well obliterate the evidence of the crime itself. A definition of faith that gets riveted upon its signs in us will become subjective nonsense or pure work righteousness. This is why we must never point people to the apparent and subjective signs of faith that they feel and experience in their hearts.
It is a spiritual suicide to dissect the body of faith to find it. The scalpel of discovery severs the artery of life and we will bleed out those whom we dissect. It might satisfy our curiosity, but only in the way that Jack Kevorkian satisfied his curiosity by assisting the suicidal to death. If we are living in faith, we must let faith live. We cannot focus on faith to live in it and to live by it, any more than we can consciously think about oxygen every second of every day and still be living a truly authentic life. Like oxygen, faith is a gift; presumed, but never presumed upon. Thinking about oxygen neither makes more nor makes anyone more alive. Our noetic efforts are laudable and perhaps necessary for schools and seminaries, but seeking faith of the heart in the heart never gets to the heart of the matter.
Faith is shaped and teased out by that which faith is not and also becomes. Faith is not Christ, but is created by Christ, is shaped by Christ, teased out by Christ, and is finally Christ. Paul certainly puts it that way: "For me to live is Christ, to die is gain" (Phil 1:21). You become and don't become. Your becoming is not likes God's; a becoming of essence, but it is a becoming nonetheless. It's content is always Christ and all that He is and does. And in that becoming Christ's will and work also come to be; ever an odyssey of discovery, a life ever full of surprising incarnations. We must live like the faithful on the day of surprise: "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?" (Mt 25:37-39). We will be surprised to hear "You did it to me!" What a powerful thing this nothing is! Yet it is a living and active thing: so alive that it does everything and lives in everything. It is living because Christ is its life. His deeds do all and give faith its shape and being. In Christ the nothing becomes everything. What a great surprise!

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

  Martin Luther
"Faith is not the human idea and dream that some people call faith. When they see that no improvement of life and no good works follow, although they can hear and say much about faith, they fall into the error of saying, 'Faith is not enough; one must do works in order to be righteous and be saved.' This is due to the fact that when they hear the gospel, they get busy and by their own powers create an idea in their heart which says, 'I believe'; they take this then to be a true faith. But, as it is a human figment and idea that never reaches the depths of the heart, nothing comes of it either, and no improvement follows.
"Faith, however, is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us be born again of God (Jn 1:12-13). It kills the old Adam and makes us entirely different people, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works continually. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.
"Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God's grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. This is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without force, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown him this grace. Therefore, it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as it is to separate heat and light from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers who imagine themselves wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools. Pray God that He may work faith in you. Otherwise you will surely remain forever without faith, regardless of what you may think or do."

Martin Luther, 
Preface to the Epistle of 
St. Paul to the Romans
Matthew 11:12-19

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, "'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.' For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds." (ESV)
O Lord God, heavenly Father, pour out Your Holy Spirit on Your faithful people, keep them steadfast in your grace and truth, protect and comfort them in all temptation, defend them against all enemies of Your Word, and bestow on Christ's church militant Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For the people and leaders of the Mekane Yesus Lutheran Church in Ethiopia, that they might continue to confess Christ and the divine truth
For all those preparing to promise unfailing love in the rite of holy marriage, that they would place all their confidence upon Christ who will join them
For all pastors who are struggling to proclaim Christ and His righteousness to the world, that they would be upheld in their faith and confession
Art: DAVID, Jacques-Louis Christ on the Cross (1782)

Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2019
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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