Faith? Belief?

Matt 8:5-10 and James 2:14vv

Much of the great tension felt in the world today centers on whether humanity will retreat into a new form of tribalism or continue on this path of globalization.

Tribalism is a focus on your duty to the immediate social network to which we belong. My church community, my football team family, my political party, my nation, my people. We have many of these groupings to which we belong. A “Group/Tribe” suggests that you are either “in” or you are “out”[1]

With globalism you have a dual sense of duty. You have a duty to your group and you also have a duty to the larger group as a whole.[2]

Let’s begin by acknowledging that we all belong to certain groups. These groups determine our identity. Family, nationality, spiritual tradition are all aspects of our identity. There is nothing wrong with belonging to a tribe or a group. In fact, it is an essential part of our well being.

However, how we understand the place of our group in the context of the global group becomes more and more important by the day.

Why? Because of technology. The telephone, the internet, modern means of travelling have all shrunken the world into one large group that will have to find ways to work together to preserve life as we know it. This situation cannot be undone.

Our manufacturing processes could pollute the atmosphere on the other side of the globe thanks to our technology. The oceans are beginning to show stress from plastic and acidity thanks to pollution caused mainly by production of consumables in first world countries. The Amazon is on fire in hundreds of places and the Brazilian president says it has nothing to do with the rest of the world, but that is not true. The Amazon’s plant world produces a huge percentage of what we all need to breathe, and it is thus a global issue, like it or not.

What does this have to do with our practice of our faith?

Our faith informs us on how to view and treat the world, including the world outside of our group.

To be a Christian, the way we treat others is paramount.

Nothing is more important than how we treat one another. That includes members of our own group as well as those outsiders who do not belong to our group.

Which brings us to “Faith and Belief”.

The practice of following Christ—the way we live it, is often determined by whether we approach our Christian journey as a journey of faith or a journey of belief. Mostly it is not as clear-cut as that but understanding these two distinctly different realities is crucial.

In short;

Faith is that which I have integrated into my life which determines how I act. Faith is transformative. Faith is correct living.

Belief is the theory about who God is and how God is present to us. Belief determines what I believe. Belief is about correct believing. (Always subjective)

If it is our desire to live our lives in accordance to the Path of Jesus Christ, our faith trumps our beliefs.

Growing up and being trained in the seminary I was trained in gave me a great belief. I knew the creeds and catechisms of my denomination. I knew what the belief was regarding the miracle conception of Jesus, the miracles he performed, the “correct” understanding of the status of the Bible.

But I lived in a place where Apartheid was being practiced and where I heard not a single word of caution or condemnation from the church I belonged to. The few that did raise their voices where exiled from the church, or in the case of the dean of our seminary, assassinated for mentioning the possibility that our actions did not support our theology when it came to Apartheid.

In the Matthew 5 reading this morning we see how Jesus is approached by a Roman Centurion and how he heals the centurion’s servant saying; “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”

This Centurion did not belong to Jesus’ group, namely the people of Israel. He most certainly did not believe as the Jews did, in the Torah, nor would he have considered following it. So, his belief disqualified him from getting anything from Jesus.

The only other time Jesus mentions the faith of a specific person is the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21–28).  Another outsider who was not part of his “faith-group” or faith-tribe.

To confirm the prominence of faith, in the letter attributed to James, the brother of Jesus, we read these words; “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.[3]

And this becomes the great imperative to all of us who claim to be Jesus-followers.

We are called to work diligently among people, all people, including those from our groups but also those who are outsiders to us.

Jesus set the example of breaking down the walls of separation that kept people in separate groups, whether they were from the Roman tribe or the Samarathan tribe or the tax-collector tribe. What we see too often in Christian churches are people working hard at building those walls back that Jesus had broken down. It happens intentionally and unintentionally.

 

The theologian, Harvey Cox, regards the year 326 as the dividing line between the Age of Faith of the first century Christians and the Age of Belief, when the Christian movement became the faith of the Roman Empire.

Empires always protects their boundaries. What followed soon after that were the Nicene Creed and other dogma’s that have divided us into these little groups of which some are “in” and some are “out”, depending on those who control the system.[4]

How and what we believe is important. But nothing is more important than we treat others. May we spend time considering our life-choices.

In a divided and bitter world a pathological form of tribalism is rising that views the outsiders as the enemy. Love, compassion and caring is not limited to our own group, according to Jesus. Imagine what we might be able to accomplish when we ensure that these barriers are broken down.

When beliefs turn into faith miracles happen. Just ask the Roman centurion and the Canaanite woman.

Amen.

 

[1] Tribalism, Groupism, Globalism. Are human brains hardwired to recognize some groups of people as friends and others as enemies? By E.O. Wilson, January 7, 2013: https://www.theglobalist.com/tribalism-groupism-globalism/

[2] What It Means to Be a Patriot, a Nationalist and a Globalist

Stephan Richter in conversation with Amanda Vanstone, the host of Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Counterpoint program.

By Stephan Richter, November 17, 2018: https://www.theglobalist.com/united-states-trump-patriotism-nationalism-globalism/

[3] James 2

[4] Tim Crous: http://www.firstuu.com/sermons/2015/08/08022015.pdf