Sermons from St Faith's

‘The Journey of Faith’

Fred Nye: August 2007

In telling the story of Our Lord’s final journey to Jerusalem, St. Luke uses it as a backdrop for many of his teachings and parables. As always, to understand what is going on, we need to look for clues elsewhere in the gospels.
We know that in their travels Jesus and his disciples met with a very mixed reception. ‘Some said “He is a good man”, others “No, he is leading people astray”. Jesus faced some very frightening opposition even in his home town of Nazara, or Nazareth. After preaching in the synagogue there he was confronted by an angry mob and only escaped being lynched by a miracle. St. John tells us of a similar incident in Jerusalem where there was a plot to kill him. On this occasion Jesus narrowly avoided arrest by the Jewish authorities only because, as St. John puts it, ‘his time had not yet come’. So the journey to Jerusalem must have been full of anxieties and uncertainties. While Jesus would have been made welcome in some towns and villages, in others he may well have been in fear for his life. In these circumstances he and his disciples would have needed a ‘safe house’. We know this is true because later on St. Luke tells us that Jesus had to keep secret the venue for the Last Supper. He even had to set up a pre-arranged signal – a man carrying a pitcher of water – so that the disciples would know they had found the right place. And incidentally in first century Palestine a man doing a woman’s work would have been difficult to overlook!

So when Jesus stopped for the night on the way to Jerusalem he would have had to walk quietly along the sidestreets, looking for the hidden narrow back door which hopefully would lead to a friendly welcome. Perhaps the arrangements sometimes went wrong – the house was empty and the disciples knocked in vain. Or a previous sympathiser would suddenly become scared of getting caught, would refuse to let him in and shout at him to go away.
It is with this background that St. Luke introduces for us the parable of the Narrow Door. It may be fanciful - but it seems to me that the story of the narrow door, and indeed the entire journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, can be seen as a parable of our journey of faith. Our own Christian pilgrimage is rarely straightforward or free of anxiety. There are of course the good times when the door is open and we know that we are freely admitted to the welcoming arms, to the love of God. But there are other times when the door of faith is locked and bolted, or we cannot even find it among the maze of sidestreets which constitute our busy and distracted lives. When faith fails us we feel lost, rejected, cut off from the love of God, or even uncertain if he was ever there for us in the first place.

 I am absolutely certain that when faith does fail it is rarely our fault, and never because God has really rejected or abandoned us. It is nearly always because it is just within our mortal nature for faith to fail us. Faith is something over which we have little control – it is a given, a gift. It is given to us through no fault of our own, and taken away from us through no fault of our own. Human betrayal, loss, bereavement can quickly destroy the precious gift, as if a power cut had suddenly wiped to a blank the disk of our soul.

I believe that Jesus himself would have struggled with faith. Rejection by his followers must have lead him to some self-doubt, to wonder whether he really was the Chosen One. Might it have been that the closed door in the sidestreet was a sign of abandonment to him? – ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Right up to the moment of his death there could have been no absolute certainty for Our Lord, no absolute guarantee of vindication. Perhaps those of us who follow him should be more prepared to admit that for us uncertainty and doubt are just as much a part of faith as conviction and confidence.

I have to admit that I cannot even rely on the Eucharist as a constant source of faith. Sometimes it fills me with a sense of the presence of God, but at other times I am left feeling dry and empty. I find myself saying wistfully, along with the people in the parable ‘We once ate and drank in your company’ – yes but that was last month or last year, not today. Faith is a gift, and the more I try to hold on to it, the more it slips through my fingers. If I am honest with myself, what keeps faith alive is the example of my fellow travellers. Unfair though it may seem there are some for whom the chemistry is right, for whom the relationship of faith does work, and they walk with Our Lord and bear witness to him. In their company I can feel secure.

And if I’m honest, there’s another thing that keeps me going. It is simply the desire to keep on travelling, to follow the ‘pale Galilean’ on his journey, to listen to his teaching, and to try and live as he did. We are called simply to follow Our Lord in his journey of uncertainty, follow him to Jerusalem, to the upper room and to the Cross and what may lie beyond.

During his journey, some Pharisees came up to Jesus to deliver a death threat from Herod ‘the fox’. It was clearly very dangerous to continue on to Jerusalem. But Jesus sent the Pharisees back to Herod. ‘You may give the fox this message’ he said. ’Learn that for today and tomorrow and the next day I must go on’. For Christians all that we can expect of faith is that it should allow us to go on. Wherever we are on our journey of faith we can be sure of one thing – that by the time we die we will not have arrived. All we can hope for is to be travelling in the right direction and in the right company.

High on a mountain in the Alps there is a simple cairn marking the grave of an alpine guide. It bears the inscription ‘He died climbing’. What an epitaph for a Christian! All that we can hope for in the life of faith is to die climbing, and with a simple prayer on our lips:

                               ‘Lord. I believe, help Thou mine unbelief’.

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