JulieKellySermon for Twelfth Pentecost -

Faith and Belief
By Vicar Julie A. Kelly -


A week after the death of my husband’s mom, Helen, I was deep in mourning. I retreated to the desert with my husband where I sat and soaked in the warm mineral hot springs of Anza Borrego. The late April sun kissed my face and the soft warm wind whipped through my hair.  In that friendly way that fellow desert campers do, a nearby man casually asked what I do for a living.  When I told him I am a pastor, rather than the expected and common responses he immediately asked me, “What is faith?”  He was not being facetious; he was honestly seeking the answer.  And in my grief that had tormented my belief, I did not have one ready for him; but I was willing to try.  As I look back now, I needed to answer his question as much for me as I did for him.  And I believe, had we been camping closer by, we could have stayed up by a fire all night talking about the things of faith and unfaith, belief and unbelief.
Somedays belief may flag and falter- it may even fail completely.  In the midst of this in fact, in spite of this, we can still have faith.  Faith is action for our bodies when our hearts and minds may not be able to follow along in belief just yet.  Faith moves us along until belief buoys and returns. 
quote oneGodFaith and belief are difficult to define.  We often find the definitions bleeding into each other, thinking that the two, faith and belief, are the same, or at least close cousins. But even when we cannot define them, we know what they look like.
 In fact, faith and belief are two very different animals and with pondering, I think it can be boiled down to this: belief is of the heart and of the head. It is fully internal and often emotionally threaded.   Faith on the other hand is outpouring action, the reflex and response to life that comes with or without belief.  Faith does not rely upon belief because one can act on faith while failing to believe.  I see you don’t believe me but just think.  We sent rockets up into space in faith… but we put monkeys in them instead of humans because we did not yet believe.

When we read Hebrews 11, this famous passage about the faith of our fathers and mothers, it can be overwhelming.  Compared to their historic stories of faith, it is easy to think that we are not faithful enough, nor ever could be.  How could we ever fill their shoes?
 Easily we stand in the mirror holding ourselves against the supermodels of faith, whose stories have been airbrushed by time, capturing the imagination and revealing none of the realities of life.  But we do not need to compare our stories to theirs. Instead we should be encouraged and inspired by them.  We can read back over their stories and see that they had doubts, too- that they were afraid, angry, and at times even unbelieving. Yet, when push came to shove in the end, the acted and did what they were called to do.  That, my friends, is what faith looks like.
Still, I want to remind you it was NOT easy for them.  They had to step out in faith that God would provide something far more wonderful for them, but not knowing what it would look like, unable to see the promised land, but unable to stay or return to their comfort place.  They received God’s promises from afar and not one of the stories referenced in Hebrews 11 refers to going back to the old places.  It wasn’t about the good old days and returning to them.  Through their stories we learn who we are and how our faith is not tied to our place, to our job, or to our history as much as it is tied to our promise in God and God’s own chosen people.  Our relationship with God is what identifies us as a people just as it did with Sarah and Abraham.  And just as in any relationship, it is defined not just by sentiment or belief, but also by what we do or do not do.  Our relationship and identity as people of God is not found in this church, not the street, the city, the land, or nation.  We are not identified as Christian because we worship at Mount Olive with an amazing pipe organ or have a pink Jesus on our building.  We are Christian because we belong to Christ and have declared it so in baptism, not by comparing ourselves to the Christian in front of us in the pew or the one who is not here.
 We are identified as Christians by our faithful actions such as the eating and drinking of  plain bread and wine and trusting that Christ is present in the Holy Spirit among us in that moment.  We are identified as Christian through our acting in faith, by attending worship when we could be sleeping in, giving generously even when we don’t agree with everything the church does, shaking the hand of a stranger to welcome them even if we don’t know if we will like them and moving out into the world again, week after week.  We do these things of faith in faith, not just because of belief, but because of who and whose we are. 
Speaking of who and whose we are.   I stand before you in my last days of Internship at Mount Olive. Belonging to Mt. Olive for a few more days and then, not.  Then being a housewife again for a few days and then not.  No longer a student, no longer an intern or vicar, not yet a reverend, not yet a chaplain. Yes, I know that I am taking 3 weeks off and then will serve the next 3 months at L.A. County Hospital USC and hopefully to accept my first call. But, I do not know what is next. I don’t know where I will be called or when.  But I step out in faith, not knowing what is ahead. 
This kind of change isn’t anything new for me. There have been many changes in my life, just as in yours.  I have stood on the precipice of change many times.  I have known homelessness and what it is to be a stranger in a foreign land.  I have felt the fear of inability to have a child and then the wondering how to provide for 4 of them once I did.  I have wondered how I could go back to college after having been a housewife for 13 years and I have wondered how I could possibly be called to this role of pastoring God’s people with my big mouth.
Remember I said I wanted to remind you it wasn’t easy for Sarah and Abraham?  It isn’t easy for any of us.  I have doubted along the way. I have bargained with God (to no avail) and I have tried to plan my way past God’s plans as well. I have looked at faithful and believing people next to me and ahead of me in life and thought to myself that I cannot compare.  There are some amazing pastors out there, how can I fill those shoes?  And when someone mentioned Vicar Sharon filling my shoes, I thought, ha, that’s funny we don’t even wear the same kind of shoes!  You see, we need not compare the shoe size, but instead, to simply put on the shoes we are given and walk the path before us.  That is what the faith that these stories teach us looks like.  Different shoes.  Different paths. One people.  One God.
None of us knows what is next. The BIG ONE could happen in 6 seconds or 6,000 years.  We don’t know what is ahead and we all know there are no promises in this world- no promises of health or wealth, love or life.  I do not know what the next year holds for you or me my friends.  But I do know this:   we are each called, we are each given our path and we are all given the stories of faith not to hold up for comparison, but for encouragement, to walk the long walk, trusting in the one  promise we do have, of eternal life that is procured by Christ on the Cross, so that we need not live in fear, but can freely and confidently step out, in our own shoes, on our own path, and walk on in faith.

Julie A. Kelly
Vicar - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California

Faith and Belief
Sermon for Twelfth Pentecost
Written by Julie A. Kelly
August 7, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California


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