In the Spring of 1963, “Little Peggy March” released her best-known song, “I Will Follow Him”. It became a #1 hit all around the world, but she never achieved that kind of success again. Although she’s still singing today, Peggy March is a proverbial “one-hit wonder.” The song is much better known than she is and she never became an established star.
Once upon a time, an English pastor named John Wesley tried with all his might to do everything absolutely right and could never succeed. In fact, he failed to reach practically every one of goals. He was a mediocre preacher, a horrible failure as a missionary and a total loser with women. All his life, John Wesley had tried to practice Christianity as a religion. But at age 31 he discovered it’s a relationship. And he became not just a one-hit wonder, but one of Christianity’s brightest and long lasting stars.
In his sermon, “The Almost Christian,” Wesley says there are several signs that someone is not “almost” but “altogether” a Christian. Anyone can believe in God, that God exists. But how about “believing God” and believing God’s promises? Isn’t that something more?
I can believe that a chair exists. I can describe the physical properties of chairs in general, or a specific chair in particular. But when I sit down in that chair, my theoretical faith becomes a practical relationship.
So, I’ve come to believe that Christianity is not an educational exercise about a historical figure, but a powerful partnership with a real person. That’s not a religion. That’s a relationship. Who wants to be a ‘one hit wonder” anyway?
I was a part-time tomboy as a kid, the other part was frou-frou girly girl, and one of my favorite songs was “Anything you can do I can do better” from the Irving Berlin musical Annie Get Your Gun. In the song Annie sings with Frank, telling him that she can; shoot straighter, spell better, sing higher, and drink liquor faster. Growing up in an all female household I just accepted that girls could do anything. Mom seemed to fix things that were broken; Grandma handled dead mice, things managed to get done. So when I grew up and the world seemed to be divided along gender lines I was a little dismayed. When I realized the church I had been attending was also divided along gender lines, I left.
I found my way to the United Methodist Church. This meant I found a church that didn’t see me as less of a person because of my gender, and that was important to me. I needed to believe that my church would support me in whatever path I chose to follow. Not only had the United Methodist Church been ordaining women for more than fifty years, but when I looked around I could see women in the pulpit, and in positions of leadership. Our area had a woman Bishop and when she retired she was replaced by another woman.
The foundation of Methodism itself has been influenced by some very strong women. Susannah Wesley, Mother of John Wesley, is referred to as the Mother of Methodism because of her “unauthorized meetings” which she led while her husband was away at a church conference. In his book “John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life”, Charles Yrigoyen, Jr., observes: “In 1787, despite the objections of some of the male preachers, he (John Wesley) officially authorized Sarah Mallet to preach, as long as she proclaimed the doctrines and adhered to the disciplines that all Methodist preachers were expected to accept.”
I still wondered though; what did my church say about scripture? What about all the verses of scripture that the other churches quoted to me about the “woman’s place” in the church? From “United Methodism and the Ordination of Women” by Rev. Frank Gulley; “From Methodist beginnings, the Bible has been the chief source for reaching most decisions in our Church. John Wesley gave it first place among the resources to which we should turn in reaching important decisions about Christian belief and practice. But Wesley did NOT make it the sole source, nor did he believe the text of Scripture to be the literal Word of God. He believed serious Christians will always read the Bible using the insights of tradition, reason, and experience.”
In other words we need to look at scripture with the insight and knowledge we have gained throughout time. Many, many passages in the bible need to be looked at this way. What others can you think of? What about women in your church? Where do they belong?
When I was little I can remember believing my Mother was not afraid of anything. Snakes, spiders or frogs. Mother Nature had nothing on my Mother. I thought she was invincible! Imagine my surprise when I grew up and discovered that it had all been an act, she was quite the sissy! She had been pretending all those years so that I would not inherit her fear of creepy crawly things. In case you wondering if it worked, it did, not well enough to try what the kid in the picture is doing, but it worked.
What are the things we believe in when we are little that we end up being surprised by or even disappointed in when we grow older? Fairy tales and Santa Claus come to mind but there are other things that we believe in that don’t live up to expectations. Government, churches, families and friends can all disappoint us in life; they can even turn out to be something completely different from what we believe them to be.
What about God? Does God disappoint us? Does God turn out to be someone completely different than we expected God to be? I guess it depends on how we expected God to be to begin with. I am sure the answers are different for everyone. I will try and answer for myself.
I have been angry with God! I have been madder than I have ever been with any human being at God. I have felt comforted by God, abandoned by God, loved by God, ignored by God, and yes disappointed in God. Despite all of that however I have never felt that God has turned out to be someone I couldn’t believe in. God wasn’t a fairy tale. God wasn’t Santa Claus. God has stood the test of time for me and ended up being someone I could believe in.
How about you? Share with us your story of belief?
The song “I’m a Believer” written by Neil Diamond and performed by The Monkees, has recently been made popular by Smash Mouth in the Shrek movies. The chorus goes “Then I saw her face, now I’m a believer, not a trace of doubt in my mind. I’m in love, I’m a believer! I couldn’t leave her if I tried.” Love at first sight? Isn’t that how we are programmed? We see something and we believe in it. That is how the saying goes “I’ll Believe it when I see it” says the skeptic. We are taught to be skeptics. Our parents tell us “If it sounds too good to be true then it probably isn’t true.” But what does God teach us? God asks us to do the hard work of belief! God asks us to believe the unbelievable. To believe without seeing! God asks us to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead!
Even Jesus’ own Disciples did not believe this when they first heard it. From the Book of Mark Chapter 16; when the three women went to the tomb on Sunday morning to apply spices to Jesus’ body they found that the stone had already been rolled away from the opening of the tomb. A young man dressed in a white robe appeared to them and told them Jesus had risen. They returned to the Disciples who were mourning and weeping and told them, verse 11 states “When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.”
They had not seen the empty tomb. They had not seen Jesus. They did not believe. We have not seen the empty tomb, I do not think any of us has seen Jesus, but many of us do believe. How? We haven’t seen, touched, smelled, heard, felt, but yet we know God.
The Disciples did go on to see Jesus during the next forty days before he ascended into Heaven. They were able to see, touch, smell, and hear Him but we do not have that luxury. We have faith!
So, what is faith? Good question. Faith is belief in something unseen. A couple of my favorite writers have something to say on the subject; Kahlil Gibran writes “Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof.” Martin Luther King, Jr. writes on faith as well “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Where does faith come from? That is a much harder question to answer and I think the answer is different for everyone. Is it learned? Is it a gift? Well yes it is a gift from God and yes we learn it and we grow in it. I learned it from my Grandmother, literally at her knee. Sitting on the floor listening to her tell me Bible stories. She taught me the faith of a child. Where did I learn the faith of an adult, I am still working on that. My faith journey has brought me to a United Methodist Church. I have made many stops and starts on the way. Maybe you have too? What do you believe in? What do you have faith in? Where does your faith come from?