Faith: Is it really that hard?
Rev. Michael A. Trask
IN the last 20 years or so, there has been numerous studies done by neurologists and psychologists that seem to demonstrate that just as our brains are wired for the development of a relationship with God. There is still much to study that needs to be done on this but it would seem to make sense, wouldn’t it? That those who were created by Lord to be in fellowship with him would have the attributes that would allow them to have fellowship with him. Research seems to be demonstrating that we are wired for God.
So the next question is obvious, if we are wired for God, how do we connect? We are wired How do we now “get on the grid” How do we get plugged in? Here we have seen a lot of variation. What happens mostly is man looks at himself and what he has at his disposal and asks, “Okay what can I use to connect with God.” And typically, there are three different parts of himself that man has used in his attempts to reach God: Hands, Head, and Heart.
With his hands, man has assumed that he can somehow do something to coax God to come out and bless him. Many many religions of the word focus purely on the deeds of man. Man imagines, with no small amount of prides, that if he does the right things; in the right order; at the right time, he can establish a connection of blessing with God. God will bless him because of the impressive deeds he’s done.
With his head, man believes that he can establish a connection by using the power of his brain. I have met so many people who pridefully tell me that they have used their great intelligence to do extensive research of the religions of the word, and have chosen the religion that makes the most sense. Lately, I’ve been seeing the ala carte approach… where they go through the cafeteria and load their religious trays with the parts of various religions that suit their liking…. in effect, they choose the kind of God they will worship based on their research and tastes.
With his heart, man believes that God is something to do with emotion. Whatever man feels; whatever moves him at his emotional core he believes must be a manifestation of God…and so he follows his emotion. He contrives situations that are meant to stir the emotions he searches for gripping experiences because he is certain that God is found in these things.
You see man thinks he’s got it all figured out. He’ll connect with God somehow, by his hands, his head, and heart! “Would you look at all those good deeds I’ve done! Impressive aren’t they! Certainly that’ll make God come out!” “And how ‘bout those deep deep thoughts from my super smart brain… I can figure out anything I’m so smart, even the infinite God.” “And who can argue with all the gut-wrenching emotional experiences I’ve had! Certainly God is with me now the feelings are so powerful!”
But in all of these attempts with hands, head, and heart, there is always that nagging uncertainty. Mr. Hands always has the sneaking suspicion he hasn’t done enough with hands. Mr. Head, is constantly hearing things that contradict his conclusions and so he starts doing mental gymnastics to avoid the thought that he may be wrong. Mr. Heart, you know what happens to him he gets burn out on his emotions.
People often talk about how difficult and complex and impossible faith is. Well, I wonder why! They’ve been aiming their faith in the wrong places faith in themselves! They’ve put themselves in charge in making the connection with God. Truly. a fools errand.
We are now ready to consider what Jesus said in today’s Gospel lesson, Matthew 11:25-30. He says in a prayer uttered out loud in verse 25, “I thank you, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.” If you were to read what Jesus said here just out of the blue, you would find it to be troubling. It would trouble you because Jesus seems to be happy that people who imagine that they are in charge of connecting to god. are rebuffed. He thanks God for remaining hidden to for Mr. Hands, Mr. Head and Mr. Heart. Why? because they’re going the wrong way. And they’re attempts will not be rewarded. They will be stumped; spiritually unsatisfied. They will still long for the real God.
It’s never ever been about the things we do to connect ourselves to God; it always been about its about God out of grace, connecting up with us. Look at the other scripture lessons for today. Zechariah 9. “Shout aloud O daughter of Jerusalem see your king coming to you righteous and having salvation” Does it say “Shout as loud as you can Oh daughter of Jerusalem, with everything you got and that will, by your strength lay hold of salvation?” Absolutely NOT! It says “Your king is Coming to you” “….bringing salvation to you” And of course we know that Jesus would do just that, first by being born as one of us, next living the way we haven’t lived, and then by going to the cross to offer himself to die for all of our sins.
And then there’s Paul in Romans Seven. What does Paul say, “Oh powerful man am I! I will deliver myself by the force of my hands, my Head, and my heart.” NO! He says “Wretched man that I am…. who will deliver me!” And the answer of course is “Jesus will!” The one who has come. This who has offered himself. This one who made a new and living way into God’s presence through through his body broken and blood shed for us.
When you insist that you yourself will approach God with your hands, your head, your heart you will be rebuffed… and that simply is the way it’s got to be. For you see, pride will always always always refuse grace. And Grace is the only way that we can ever be saved. This is the reality of our situation. So the Father must remain hidden to those who approach him on the basis of their own personal attributes. So if you are finding great struggles in faith…take note of this! The struggles come; the emptiness comes when your faith is directed at the wrong thing.
So who does God reveal himself to? Not to those who think they got it all figured out, not to those who think they are wise to, but “to little children.” Why Children? Children are so simple? Is faith really that simple? Yeah it is. Proud adults make it complex by thinking they are more significant than they actually are.
This isn’t the only time Jesus spoke of children in this way. In the opening of Matthew 18 Jesus disciples asked him who the greatest in heaven would be. The disciples typically were like us and they would want to think that the greatest in heaven is the person who works the hardest, or the own who thinks the deepest thoughts or who has the most zealous emotions. But what did Jesus do? HE called for a little kid to come to him… must have been pretty little because Jesus picked him up and placed him in the midst of the disciples. And he said “Unless you are converted and become like little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
So what is it about little children that the father would reveal himself to them? Is it their innocence? No! Their ignorance then? Do they have faith because they really don’t know all that can go wrong? No! Jesus tells us we need to become as children because they innately know what faith is because live in a world of grace. They live on the gracious by disposition of their parents. Everything they have and need is graciously given them by their parents. They are completely dependent and they understand this and take much comfort in knowing this.
And that is what faith is like, it understands and sees that we are completely dependent on God. Completely. It’s easy of children to understand this because this is the nature of the relationship their parents. But we grow up. Ultimately we become independent of our parents… and begin to lose that insight. Indeed, we do grow up and away from our parents, but we don’t ever grow up and away from God.
Since we have learned so well to take care of ourselves in our relationship to the world, we assume its the same with God. It is no small coincidence that when Jesus taught his adult disciples to pray, he said “when you pray say our father” And when he spoke to people in sermons about God he would say things like “Your father in heaven knows you need this.” We have to become like children again…if faith is ever going to be real. This is the constant battle of adulthood…. keeping faith focused not on ourselves but on God: to always remember we are his children.
To us who have forgotten we are children of God, our brother lord Jesus calls us out: “come to me, you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” How does he give us rest? does he lighten the load? By taking our sins to the cross for us. Particularly the pride that causes us to imagine that we can ever live without God’s goodness. Indeed, the thought that we are completely in charge is most gratifying at first, but then turns on us and weighs us down as we are given plenty of real-time examples that we are not in charge. In order to return to God, we got to give this stuff up. We got to confess this pride and we will find rest for our souls. Not only rest from guilt, but rest from trying to be our own God.
Jesus talks about his easy yoke light burden? That’s the life of faith. When you put your faith in God instead of yourself, life becomes a lot lighter, simpler. Childlike joy can return, laughter becomes possible.
It is true, the core of being is wired for God; we were made by him and for him. We cannot feel right until we are connected to him. We connect to him only through Jesus Christ. AMEN