Food for thought
Where is your faith?
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)
Well, where is faith located? Or better: Where is your faith? In the head? In the heart? In your hands? The feet? On your lips? In the nose?
In the New Testament, at the beginning of his letter, a man named John (probably not THE gospel John) writes about faith especially in the sensory organs.
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)
Faith as a very sensual experience: Hearing, seeing with one’s own eyes, touching it with one’s hands. And then again the seeing and the hearing…
And what is it, according to John, that can be grasped with hands and experienced with all our senses? It is life! John mentions the "word of life", the "revealed life", then "eternal life"… a life "that was with the Father and was revealed to us". No doubt: the author speaks about Jesus Christ.
Where is your faith? Is it in your five senses? In the heart? Or just in the head? Or nowhere? Many yearn for an experience-able God, and a faith that can be experienced.
And when we think of our worship services, we don’t just hear it like a lecture, or watch it like a show. Rather, a service is an “embodied” expression and experience of faith: we hear God’s good news. There is music, are hymns and songs. We ‘taste and see’ God’s goodness. There is shaking of hands, and hugs. There might be the laying on of hands, and anointing. There are coloured paraments and linens, sculptures, and robes. All of these parts can help us to experience faith.
However, does this experience make our faith… make God more tangible?
The thing is that God is otherworldly. God is too much for us, too incomprehensible. God is outside of every idea, every compartment, every image that we might have of God.
And even the flesh-and-blood-Jesus was not necessarily convincing: How often did he order those he healed not to tell anyone. He refused to perform signs and miracles on demand. And when the scoffers sneered under his cross: "Come down so we see (!) and believe!", Jesus stayed hanging, and died badly. And then he walked out a tomb! A weird God-experience, isn’t it?
Nevertheless, our letter writer has heard, and seen, and touched… has somehow experienced Christ in his life with his all senses… has experienced a fulfilled and abundant life.
So, what if faith is something that comes before any experiences? Has been given to us as gift? After all, what we see, feel, touch, and taste depends on what we already bring with us in our heart and mind. Try it: Take a walk with someone in silence. And at the end exchange what you have heard, seen, smelled, and felt, and what you haven’t. The difference in experiences might be surprising!
And what John is saying is that faith guides our senses. Faith shapes our experiences. At least, that’s what he has experienced. And this faith centers him, roots him, and opens him to an abundant life.
And you? What if you haven’t experienced all of this? Or maybe never had any of it? Seen nothing, heard nothing, felt nothing?
Well, John did not just write this letter because …there were also recipients. And for them he describes faith with words. What he has experienced and learned from his own life he now writes down for others. He shares his faith with them. And those who hear him have him in their ears and in front of their eyes. And faith becomes shared-with faith, im-parted faith.
We all know people who say, "I believe that there is something 'up there', like God. And I pray. But for that I don’t need the church, or other people. My faith is my own, personal business.”
And at times, we all have felt isolated and alone with our faith, our questions, our doubts, and our no-longer-believing. Maybe we have thought about God, but have stopped talking to and with God. We might have retreated to a place of knowing everything, and don’t want to listen to others anymore. And we hardly experience faith and God anymore.
I think, this kind of faith is the exact opposite of what John talks about. According to him faith lives, and happens, and thrives in community, “…so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1Jn 1:3)
John points out that faith happens in community with one another and it comes out of God’s community of Father, Son, and Spirit. So, sure, faith is in the senses, on the lips, in the ears. And it is experienced in community… not just in a single person. Faith that is shared builds community… A faith community that grows from God, in God, around God, and with God. A community that includes those faith bearers before us, and those beside us…
We are entering the season of Advent… the time of lighting candles to make the darkness around us vanish, and the time of sharing wondrous stories of waiting, watching, and anticipating… Faith stories of old that have been shared and passed on for 2 millennia… from generation to generation. And through the blue of Advent, the greens, the community, and the stories God gathers us together through faith. And together in community we see the Light breaking into our dark world. We hear the Word of God speaking words of hope and peace to us. We experience the love of God dwelling among us. And we witness the birth of God becoming flesh among us "so that our joy may be complete." (1 Jn 1:4)
May you see God’s Peace, feel God’s Hope, touch God’s Joy, and taste God’s Love this Advent.