Friday, December 14, 2007

Curiosity and Risk

Two Hallmarks of a Faithful Life

I have a folder for the emails I want to go back to on a regular basis. The folder is titled “Inspirational.” The folder contains precious little that high school classmates send me because for some reason beyond my own comprehending, they think I will enriched by sappy and soupy religious sentiments.

My “Inspirational” folder contains a number of things, but the largest number is my collection of essays or reflections by Lane Denson. Lane often sees things that others don’t. Most of the time I am challenged by his reflections, other times comforted by them. What follows is, I believe, one of his best – entitled by Lane as “Risk” – prepared for Advent III and reflective of Matthew 11:2-11.

– Thomas B. Woodward


There is always an element of uncertainty in a life of faith.

For this, faith must have an open mind. And open minds are not only marked by curiosity, they are also marked by risk. Curiosity and risk are two of the hallmarks of a faithful life. To make faith into a closed system, nailed down in some century long past and for all time, is not faith, but dogma. It has its place. It is orderly. Above all, it is safe, for there is little or no risk. It is the life blood of religions. But it is not faith.

Even John Baptist, as certain as he once had been, finally had his moment of zen there in the dark of that prison when he sent his followers to ask Jesus, "Art thou he that should come? Or do we seek another?" Are you the one? Or do we have to keep waiting — and looking? If we're to believe that meeting between Mary and Elizabeth, their moms, John spent his entire life pointing to Jesus and walking and talking and preaching the risk of faith.

When the Baptiser finally got prison for his reward and entertained his greatest moment of doubt, Jesus understood. Jesus answered John in effect with what John already knew. He answered him with the only truthful answers that can ever be given to certify the presence and work of Jesus, the Christ.

The work you have already witnessed, he said to John, continues. Be assured. The blind see. The lame walk. The deaf hear. The poor and hungry are fed and finally know justice and peace. A broken world is being mended. And you know, as I, that wherever such healing takes place, there is present the kingdom of God.

We make covenant in our baptism to "seek and serve Christ in all persons … " And we can fairly ask, "Yes, but how will I know this Christ?" It is the same question John asked. Our baptism not only commissions us to be Christians, it commissions us to a ministry altogether, like John's, as well ... a ministry to witness, to point, to say Here is the Christ ... There is the Christ ... in this event, in that healing, in that judgment, in that moment of truth.

Civil rights leader Howard Thurman set the stage for us to know this Christ when he wrote of Advent and Christmas as seasons of hope. "When the song of the angels is stilled," he said. "When the star of the sky is gone. When the kings and princes are home. When the shepherds are back with their flocks. The work begins … To find the lost. To heal the broken. To feed the hungry. To rebuild the nations. To bring peace among people. To make music in the heart."

But it's no promise of a rose garden. There are "false Christs," Jesus said. There are those who in his name would justify war, who would substitute piety for service, who would put orthodoxy before sacrifice, who would make of the gospel a system or a philosophy rather than the Way of life, who would claim me and then turn their backs on me, who would elevate doctrine before faith.

When we make that vow in our baptism to seek and serve Christ, when we ask that question with John, Are you the one? we're soon, to take C S Lewis's great phrase, surprised by joy to discover that we are not only part of the answer, we are the answer. In this present time in the church … we cannot just be handed out the answer by some prelate, we must be the answer by our faith. For it is the Christ in us that will always recognize and know the Christ in others – and in all.

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