8 August 2010

ne of the great ongoing works of theological reflection from the last century  appeared in newspapers around the world every week –  and in many places there was an ongoing instalment of deep theology every day

It was written by a man called Charles M Schultz and was printed under the heading “Peanuts”

Across 4 small panels of drawing and a few words each day,  Charles M Schultz encouraged people to reflect on deeply significant issues.

They were matters such as

Justice and the way the world operates

It looked at compassion and responses in word or action

It even looked at overtly “religious“ topics 

 In the Sunday papers, the reflections got longer, as the comic sections were bigger.

Here we were invited into longer periods of reflection over a morning coffee or the Sunday lunch One regular reflection started in 1952  and was repeated and adapted almost every year for close to 50 years.

It happened just near the beginning of the US football season and involved the determination of Charlie Brown to kick a football held in place by Lucy.

It was never a success.

Each year Charlie Brown would remember how Lucy pulled the ball away the previous year and left Charlie flying through the air and landing on his back Each year, Lucy would reassure him that she was reliable and wouldn’t pull it away  Each year, Charlie would trust Lucy and go to kick the ball And each year he would end up flat on his back again. Despite the ongoing disappointment, Charlie Brown never loses his faith in Lucy or at least never gives up in his determination to finally kick the football.

In another strip – which I couldn’t find in print unfortunately –  the Peanuts characters are playing a baseball game – Lucy fielding in the outfield.

The batter hits the ball high in her direction and she looks up ready to catch it As always happens with Lucy in the outfield, the ball drops on the ground behind her.

She walks the ball slowly back to Charlie Brown who is the pitcher and says “Sorry I missed that one.  I was hoping I’d catch it.  Hope got in my eyes.”

 Running themes of hope and faith – they are what underline the message in Hebrews.One translation of Hebrews 11 reads “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.”

A modern paraphrase of it says,  “Faith is the capacity to put all your eggs in the one basket, when even the existence of the basket must be taken on trust and hope.” What I find really insightful about this paraphrase of Hebrews 11  is that it makes it really clear that faith is not about knowledge; faith is about action.

 We live our lives – every moment of every day –  performing actions based on things we don’t really know. We put our glass under the tap and turn it on – in faith that the water will come out We set our alarm for the morning ready to get up – in faith that the sun will raise tomorrow We get into the elevator – in faith that the cables will hold

 From the small, seemingly insignificant to matters literally of life and death we base our actions on that which we cannot see and which we may believe in, but cannot truly know. And in the letter to Hebrews, the writer reminds us that there is indeed a greater reality than everything we can know for certain.

 A few weeks back I was at a conference in Melbourne that was looking at the heart of the Uniting Church. There is a phrase that we use of ourselves that draws on this Hebrews reading and on some Old Testament imagery as well. We often describe ourselves as a “pilgrim people – on the way to the promised end”. One of the speakers there reminded us that more literal translations of scripture  would probably have us describing ourselves as an “alien” people, or “refugee” people. Wouldn’t that be an interesting understanding of the church these days!!

 And yet with all of the uncertainty and nervousness that comes with those images the letter reminds us that we are not in this on our own. We have the evidence that walking a life of faith can indeed reach to the goal.

We are surrounded a  “great cloud of witnesses”  and we have example after example of gutsy men and women who didn’t take the easy option of trying to live only by what they knew for certain but lived because of their faith in One who often lived below the apparent surface of life.

But I’d also like you to think of this “great cloud of witnesses” not just extending through time backwards but also forwards.

We are surrounded by those who will follow us and who rely on us to live by faith so that they may have the chance to live life to the full as well.

To live with the assurance of things we hope for means we must care and nourish for the future and we must carefully guard the baton that is passed on to those to come.

What motivates you to live life boldly?   How is it that you “step out in faith”  Do you wait until you can be certain of success?  Until you know everything first? A writer called Frederick Buechner once said,

“Faith is disorderly, intermittent and full of surprises.   It is homesickness Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith isn’t so much a position on, but a movement towards.

Let’s end with a prayer by another of the great cloud of witnesses: Thomas Merton. “God, I have no idea where I am going.   I do not see the road ahead of me, I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. and I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death I will not fear, for you are ever with me,  and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

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