Let Our Faith Towards God Go Out (An Exhortation to Christians in America)

ImageAt first site of this blog title, one may be inclined to think that this is going to address the losing of faith. I mean, it is entitled “Let Our Faith Towards God Go Out”, so it is reasonable to assume as much, However, this post is not at all about losing faith, faith diminishing, or the flame dying. In fact, it is going to be about the exact opposite of those things.

Last night, for some odd reason, I was drawn to read I Thessalonians. I suspect that this was the Spirit leading me since I had pondered some other thoughts from these two books concerning a discussion on eschatology that I had had earlier in the day. I began reading I Thessalonians chapter one, which says:

And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit,  so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.  For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,  and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

It becomes quite clear to one reading that the Christians in Thessalonica were incredibly well known for their faith in God. These folks were part of a community founded in the summer of 50 A.D. during what would have been St. Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-18:22).  Verse 9 indicates that they were not composed of primarily Jewish believers as much of the early Church was, but in fact were former pagans, Gentiles, who had heard the Gospel and became disciples. Due to this they were often treated with hostility from fellow citizens often stirred up by the Jews (1:6; 2:14; Acts 17:5-9).  In an extremely pagan society and setting, they had difficulty adhering to Christian values.

My point in addressing their background is not to mention the hostility they faced nor to draw a line of comparison to the persecution, or perceived persecution, between their persecution and ours in this land of darkness in America. My point is to address their incredible faith and their setting, a pagan culture and society.

St. Paul says that they faith had reached distant areas so much so that St. Paul and his team did not have to tell others about these Thessalonian Christians. Their faith in God was standing on its own. They were faithful believers of Christ among a cesspool of paganism and persecution.

My reading of this caused me to immediately think of Christians living in America. Despite arguments over persecution there is no arguing over whether or not we are living in a pagan culture. We are! There is no arguing over whether or not America’s society is post-Christian. It is! This lead me to think of whether or not St. Paul could say this of our faith. Could he?

In a pagan society such as our own, how do we let our faith towards God go out? I believe we must begin by becoming serious disciples of Jesus Christ. Christians often believe shallowly in America. Our faith is a mile wide, but an inch deep. Christ does not require us to be perfect disciples, but serious disciples. We begin by being serious about cleansing our lives of idols. St. Paul says these Christians turned from their idols and false gods to the serve the true and living God.

I believe we begin to let our faith toward God go out by becoming eucharistic people who live eucharistic lives. Our fall from faith comes from not being thankful. “The only real fall of man is his noneucharistic life in a noneucharistic world,” writes Father Alexander Schmemann in “For the Life of the World”. We were made to be priest who offer back to God the creation which He gifted to us in adoration, praise, and thanksgiving. When we fail to do this in our setting our faith is diminished and it receives a bad name.

Another way we can begin to let our faith towards God go out is to become bearers of pain for those in pain. And by pain I mean those who are hungry. The pain of hunger is deeply felt by those who have not found their food and drink in Christ. Too often Christians in this country scandalize the faith and Christ by our actions be it through our social-political power grabs, culture wars, or snobby attitudes. Instead of befriending those who are hurting and preaching the Gospel to them softly and through love we shout that which is not the Gospel with hate! We are to go out from our fellowship with one another and take Christ to those who are hungry.

Man is hungry. I believe this hunger is spiritual, but affects us holistically. Father Alexander Schemman writes in “For the Life of the World”:

Man is a hungry being. But he is hungry for God. Behind all the hunger of our life is God. All desire is finally a desire for Him. To be sure, man is not the only hungry being. All that exists lives by ‘eating’. The whole creation depends on food. But the unique position of man in the universe is that he alone is to blessed God for the food and the life he receives from Him. He alone is to respond to God’s blessing with his blessing.”

We have chosen to respond to God’s blessing with His blessing, but so often we fail to take the food and drink, Christ, to those who are hungry. I believe that if we begin to be gracious and gentle among those who are living in this darkness that we would see greater openness to the Gospel. We would see our faith go out to them.

“Everyone is called to willingly suffer for Christ. Of we truly did this, we would judge others less harshly because our own broken heart would understand how to love,” writes Father Stephen Freeman. Those who are hungry are indeed suffering. We all suffer in different ways. We Christians know about suffering, we are called to enter into it on our cross. If we truly began to live on our crosses we would be able to enter into the suffering of others in their hunger.  For our faith towards God to go out, I believe we have to learn to suffer on our crosses, to learn what it means to be human, to empathize with those who hunger, so that we can love them as Christ loves them rather than judge them.

I believe these were maybe some of the same Christians practices, virtues, and beliefs that the Christians in Thessalonica had trouble living out in a pagan setting, however, their faith in God was so strong and so vibrant and so alive that it went out towards those around them.

I am aware that I am rambling on without much organization, so please pardon the unorganized nature of this post. My goal is to talk about the faith of these Christians, raise questions about how we live in a similar setting, and ask how we can live our lives in faith so that we may see that faith go out. I am simply presenting a few ways in which we could begin to live in a manner in which our faith towards God goes out.

My prayer is that we who profess Christ will begin to live such holy lives full of vibrant faith among a pagan culture that our faith towards the living true God goes out among all. I do believe the biggest way we can do this is to become joyous people once again. We have found the food and drink of Christ, which gives us life and light. Someone once said that a “Joyless Christianity is a demonic caricature of itself!” I believe that is right! We are to be filled with the joy of Christ in His Eucharist. We take into us divinity in that moment of partaking of the Eucharist and we are to then take that joy to the world, to our culture, to our neighborhood, to the lost, to our friends, and to the hungry.

Today, let your faith towards God go out among our culture. Let it be a light to those in the darkness. Go out and live in a eucharistic way among those who hunger. Come along side them in their pain and walk them out of it. Be gracious with your actions and words. Suffer with those who suffer. Live in Christ and take Him to the world. Live your faith in God in such a way that those around us see it and may believe. Turn from any idol in your life and believe in the true God, who transforms us from within. Take the Light we have found and shine it to those in darkness. Allow those around you to see how drastically Christ has changed your life, and how He has fed you and satisfied your hunger. Show them to the Food and Drink!

May the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord be with you.

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