Thursday, March 13, 2014

Can You Choose to Believe?

Last Sunday evening a new television series began called "Resurrection."  It had been advertised for many months with a clever little theme song to catch the imagination.  "I'm coming home, I'm coming home..." still runs in my head when I think about the program.  In case you did not see the first episode or have not been aware of the program, its premise is that persons who have died in the past are returning to the sleepy little town of Arcadia, Missouri.  The people return at the same age they were when they died.  The first episode was a the story of a boy who drowned at the age of 8.  It had been 32 years ago and his parents are in their 60s when he comes back.  They recognize him but cannot believe that it is actually him.  After his mother rejoices and accepts that this is indeed her son, he has a seizure of some sort and has to be hospitalized.  During that time in the hospital, the boy wanders out in the hallway and encounters his best friend with whom he played when they were both 8.   The best friend is now 40 years old and is the pastor of a local church.  When they meet, they both realize who the other is and the pastor is filled with questions which he addresses at a worship service the following Sunday.  The pastor makes a statement that I found very provocative and intriguing.  He said to his congregation--"You choose to believe."

I immediately thought..."That will preach."  And it does, especially in connection to the Gospel lesson this next Sunday from John 3.  I have preached that text many times.  It is the one in which Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night to ask him questions that he has pondered.  What kind of teacher is this Jesus?  What is he really about?  Nicodemus only talks a little during his conversation and Jesus teaches him many things about faith and God and love but after all of Jesus' teaching to Nicodemus that night, it finally all came down to the idea--Would Nicodemus choose to believe what Jesus said or not?

Is that what faith is?  Is it simply a choice we make?  Do we choose to believe what we want to believe in all the areas of our lives?  Do we believe in our political choices because they make us feel comfortable and more safe than believing in the opposite party or candidate?  Do we believe in our lifestyle choices because we think our quality of life is better by doing so?  Do we believe to be religious or not because our personal history informs that it was important to persons in our past so it must be important to us?  Is choosing to believe the dominant factor that rules our lives when we say we have faith in God?  Is it as easy as that...just making up our mind to believe?

Believing in a higher power is something that many find necessary.  Some find it to be needed because they find their life out of control without it.  My sister was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.  She was also an agnostic.  When she began attending AA meetings and got to the step where she was to turn to a higher power as her source of strength, she came to me with questions because she said she was unsure where to find the higher power.  As her brother, but also as a pastor, I tried to guide her but I could not force her to use a religious framework as her source for this if she did not find it authentic to her life.  All I could do was make suggestions.  Finally, she asked me if I thought it would be okay for her to use our deceased friend Mary as her higher power.  Mary had died of cancer a number of years before and my sister had admired her strength through her ordeal and had admired her wit and outlook on life also.  I told her that if she found strength through thinking of Mary as her source or strength in times of weakness that I thought that was great.  She made a shrine of sorts in her house to Mary with pictures of her and had that in a prominent display and I think she even talked to Mary when she needed her comfort.

My sister chose to believe that our friend Mary could be her source of strength in her times of weakness.  She chose to believe, to have faith in something that she was unsure of.  Humans choose to believe all the time in life.  What we choose to believe differs by individuals but it is part of the human experience.  Why do some find it harder than others to believe in the existence of God?  That is a complex question but there must be a multitude of answers to why some find it easy and others almost impossible to come to the same conclusion when it comes to matters of faith.

Nicodemus was told that the Spirit is like the wind.  It blows where it will and you only see its results from observing the landscape that is affected by it.  Some choose to feel the wind and enjoy how it feels on their skin when they are outside.  Some choose to run inside when the wind blows because they don't like how it feels on their skin.  Both reactions are reasonable.  It is just a choice people make when they experience the wind blowing.

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