I Believe (A sermon by Alejandro Flores-Brown, WashU '19)
“Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” In this week’s Gospel, we are told to follow the teachings of God because human nature can lead us astray. This reading raises a question: how do we know that God is good?
I think this question is crucial because it makes up a (less-noticed) part of faith. The question we commonly ask when we talk about faith is “does God exist?” But even if we assume that God exists, it does not necessarily follow that following God’s teachings will lead to good outcomes. Just because someone asserts that “I alone can fix it” does not mean that we should follow that person.
Imagine that God were not the God of the Old and New Testaments but a being like Zeus: capricious, prone to summary executions at the slightest offense, with a track record of treating women badly ...Personally, if I believed in the existence of such a God, I would actively and proudly reject following him. I suspect many people here would say the same.
But then how do we know that God is not like Zeus? Jesus tells us: “for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like.” Jesus tells us that the only way we can discover the nature of God is by looking to the things which people who follow God’s teachings do in the real world. For me, this means that we must look to saints and martyrs to see what God is like. We must look to the communities which found belief in God to be a rallying point and creator of strength in times of testing and oppression. We cannot simply look to statements from authority figures in the church or other figures in power because then we cannot tell whether their messages and actions spring from God’s teachings or the power of hierarchy.
And when we look to those who found God in times of test and trouble, we find that they were able to get through because of their faith of God, that they were able to overcome oppression and tests because their faith brought them strength. Seeing the impact of this belief in God throughout history is important to my own conception of God. It is easier for me to believe in a God who protected the most oppressed throughout history and served as a gathering point for resistance than one who did a bunch of stuff here two-thousand-plus years ago, is coming back sometime, but in the meanwhile is just hanging around somewhere else, doing nothing on Earth.
The various branches of the Christian church state their faith through the Nicene Creed, which summarizes the core tenets of our belief in the Old and New Testaments. I generally don’t take much issue with the Nicene Creed, although I admit I have my own reservations and doubts as much as any of us. But I find it insufficient to express my own faith.
I would start with the Nicene Creed, but modify it along these lines:
I believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
I believe in God,
who protected chattel slaves in the Americas
from as much of their deprivations as God was able
and provided hope for freedom and salvation.
I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
And I believe in Jesus Christ,
whose followers have clothed the naked,
fed the hungry,
and tended to the needs of the least fortunate throughout history.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
And I believe in the Holy Spirit,
who led Óscar Romero to stand up for the poor and brown
in the face of government oppression and tyranny.
I could go on, of course, but I believe my point is clear. My faith in God is greatly driven by the good works which have been done by his most faithful throughout history, in the face of any number of troublesome circumstances.
And this feeds into my own faith in God as well. I have to admit that I personally spend less time doubting the existence of God than doubting myself for not doubting the existence of God. I wouldn’t say that this is because I am some sort of pinnacle of religiosity or a great moral authority. Frankly, when it comes to my religious life, I could be more prayerful, and better at loving my neighbor. And I have done and regret now and will do too many bad things to consider myself anything close to some sort of paragon of morality.
But when I have questions about who God is or why God is not acting to fix all our problems in the world or whether God really is out there, I can turn to the past and see all the saints who have gone before in Christ’s name, and I can see all the good fruit that has come of their labors in the name of Christ. I can see the victories for the marginalized and oppressed that have been won by followers of Jesus - victories which Paul has told us that God’s servants will win on Earth. And I find faith in the sort of radical love which expressed itself through these saints easy to hold onto in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty.
I don’t pretend to know God or the nature of God. I can attempt to rationalize God, but my human nature will inevitably lead me to fall short. I don’t pretend to know all the ways which God will or will not intervene in this world, or what he does to prepare for us in the next.
But I can say that I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, who inspires Christians to make the world a better place right now. I can say that I believe in Jesus Christ, the only son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, the first and greatest in a line of saints who have sought and are pursuing justice and peace for all people here on Earth.
And for me, that is enough.