Many years ago a priest told me that our Lectionary was themed-based; that every week each of the readings connected in some sort of way. He went on to say that sometimes it takes some pretty strenuous mental gymnastics to make the connections, but they are there.
It took me many years to learn that that priest was wrong. The Lectionary is not set up thematically, the ordering of our readings is organized with other concerns. However, by happenstance, or as we like to say ion the church, by the Holy Spirit, sometimes we do have a collection of passages that are linked by a theme.
This week we have such a happenstance, or work of the Holy Spirit. The theme, though, isn’t one you would ordinarily think you would hear in the church on a Sunday morning. But it is there nonetheless and it is well worth our exploration. The theme is experiencing a crisis of faith.
The prophet Habakkuk asks the age old question, “Why do the evil prosper?” Our psalmist this morning keeps reminding himself not to be worried about such seeming injustices. Three times we hear the phrase, “Do not fret yourself” concerning those who prosper from evil.
In our Epistle reading Paul writes to his young protege tender words of encouragement. It is not entirely clear what is troubling Timothy but something surely has injured his faith. Paul tells Timothy, “rekindle the gift of God that is within you…for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and self-discipline.” It is quite apparent that Timothy was in a dark period of his life.
Even the apostles come to Jesus seeking an increase of their faith. Jesus had just warned them of temptations, repentance and forgiveness of others. I can just see them standing there with their eyes bugging out in astonishment, worrying if they have the strength of spirit to follow Jesus “Increase our faith!” they beg.
Chabakkuk, Timothy, the psalmist, and the apostles are all in the midst of a crisis of faith. This is good news for us. It may not be easy reading but it is hopeful reading.
Consider this: If these spiritual giants struggled in their lives of faith, why wouldn’t we? My favorite insight from Richard Rohr, the great Franciscan writer and retreat leader is that if you are not having a crisis of faith every five years or so, you’re not doing it right.
Faith is a journey. That is why we speak of it as a walk, as the Way, as a path. Life is difficult and the life of faith is, too. Or at least it should be if we are taking our faith seriously.
Our psalm this morning is particularly helpful. We may first read it as if a teacher or a parent is writing a student or a child, perhaps a young adult. But there is another way of reading it. It very well could be a person simply having an internal conversation; a man or woman writing to him or her self. It clearly expresses spiritual struggles but it also offers the antidote, the solution to a spiritual crisis: Commit your way to the Lord and put your trust in him and he will bring it to pass. In other words, the way to weather a crisis of faith is to practice your faith.
A few years ago, to raise money for a new roof for a church, I joined a group of parishioners in running a marathon. Marathons are 26.2 miles, they are not to be undertaken lightly and without training. I trained for three and a half months, slowly adding to my endurance and strength. All told, I ran over 500 miles through the whole process. That was a great deal of time running around and around a local lake. It gave me lot of time to think and pray and meditate. My biggest lesson of faith during that process came from the insight that, "you know how you finish a marathon?" By putting one foot in front of the other.
That is exactly how we get through our crises of faith, by taking one step of faith at a time and moving forward, even if it seems we are going nowhere, we are on the path, the way, the journey. The road may be long. It may be difficult. It may be poorly marked and strewn with holes and obstructions. But as the Roman Catholic saint, Padre Pio said, “The most beautiful profession of faith is the one we pronounce in our hour of darkness.”
©2019, Tom Thoeni