08 April 2021

Faith and trust in Capernaum

In the Gospel of Mark, at the beginning of the second chapter, there's the familiar New Testament story of the paralyzed man (Mark 2:1-12, The Message; NIV). Four men were carrying his stretcher, hoping to ask Jesus to heal him, but the house was so crowded that they couldn't get past the door. Instead, they made an opening in the roof and lowered the patient into the room. Verse 5: "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'"

Leonid Kishkovsky, protopresbyter within the Orthodox Church in America, rector at Our Lady of Kazan Church in Sea Cliff, NY, USA, and a respected ecumenist in the larger Christian world, gave this very brief sermon back on March 28, opening up an aspect of the story that I'd never really considered. If you have considered it, feel free to smile at my late awakening. [UPDATE: He also gave this sermon in English -- here it is. (Thank you, Sophia Kishkovsky.)]

In less than five minutes, he makes these important points:

  • Jesus responds to the faith of those men by healing the patient and sending him home on his feet, carrying the stretcher on which he had been lowered through the roof.
  • We don't know anything about the stretcher bearers except that they were men, and there were four of them. From the text, we can't say anything about their relationship to the patient. But it was their faith that decisively impressed Jesus.
  • People have various understandings of the word "faith." Some emphasize faith in the doctrines and teachings of the church. Still others understand that faith is best expressed in fulfilling the commandments and statutes of the church.
  • Not so many of us (he goes on) would connect "faith" with "trust" -- although in Russian, the word "faith" and the word "trust" have common linguistic roots. In other words, if we believe in God (have faith in God), we are demonstrating trust in God. [The phrasal verb "to believe in" comes from that same linguistic root.] This might be the simplest and most direct way of understanding faith.
  • In this account, we also see another dimension of trust: the trust that the paralyzed patient shows, most obviously, to those carrying him. And, together, they trust that Jesus can save him.
  • Let's orient our lives as Christians around trust -- that is, trust in God and trust in each other. Let's be friends to each other, so that we are each ready to entrust ourselves to each other. Amen.

To understand the importance of the patient's faith in his stretcher-bearers, all I have to do is to imagine myself in this scene, experiencing their scary improvisation, lowering me through the roof without tipping me off the stretcher.

For decades, one of my most urgent concerns as a Quaker has been the role of trust as the most basic Quaker testimony. Trust in God lies at the very foundation of our teachings on peace and nonviolence, equality, simplicity, and our method of church government -- centered (in all our flavors and branches) in the expectation that the whole community prays together to discern the will of God for each other.

In our own times, the centrality of trust in our lives as a community has never been a more important legacy for the Body of Christ as a whole. If we can, for the sake of discussion, set aside our mystical and metaphysical theologies about church and simply focus on its functional definition, is there any other social structure where we can meet together (despite all our secular differences) in utter vulnerability? Not only are we publicly saying that our faith/belief/trust is in God (which is no longer a reliable source of social approval!), but we are also meeting to carry each other, to risk for each other, to confess our weaknesses, tragedies, and addictions to each other, and relate our natural and supernatural experiences of God to each other.

I have never been part of a Quaker meeting or church where trust was always experienced at an ideal level. But there's something significant I've noticed in our Camas Friends Church's meetings for worship by videoconference over this past year. We have, in fact, become bolder in sharing our vulnerabilities with each other. It's this experience, week after week, that tells me Kishkovsky's sermon is solid.

Related posts:

What is our vocation?

The most important question.

Trustworthy, part one, part two, part three, part four.

On the basis of Paul's list of women co-workers (Romans 16:1-16) and other factors, Beth Allison Barr doesn't believe in male headship. (Dear Quakers: if you're tempted to pass this by because "we don't have this problem," please think again! First of all, historically we have had this problem. Secondly, Baptists are our brothers and sisters in faith; on the wider stage, our exceptionalism ill becomes us.) Thanks to Jim Fussell for the link.

What is the muon G-2 experiment and why is it so important? (And why should we remain cautious and wait a while before abandoning the Standard Model?)

Chuck Fager shares fascinating biographical writings by David Zarembka, who died in Eldoret, Kenya, of COVID-19 on April 1. Gladys Kamonya, David's wife, had just died of this same disease on March 23.

April 8, 1865: General Ulysses S. Grant was having a hard night.

Becky Ankeny on living with actual hope.

Nancy Thomas is Just Asking: poems based on Ephesians.

Kenny Neal, "The Things I Used to Do" and "Since I Met You Baby." Watch him hand the guitar off to Guitar Shorty at 9:30, then play the rest of the song on the harp.


Tom Smith said...

Johan, I appreciate the comments on Trust and Faith and especially like the inclusion in the post a link to the articles on the G-2 experiments. As a former physics and chemistry teacher who has struggled his entire career to make sense of atomic/nuclear physics and especially quantum mechanics, I recall several "break throughs" that changed the "Standard Model" of the Universe and atom at the time.
As a Quaker I have been especially drawn to Dalton's Atomic Theory which "completely" changed our view of what makes up things. Essentially all of Dalton's premises have sense been changed/adapted/disproven his theory was based on the Trust he had that the universe was "simple" (Quakerese for directly knowable and understandable) and not made up of "infinite" different things but of a relatively small number of "things" that combined in an "infinite" number of ways.
The atom was then understood to be made of another set of "things" that made up all other "things." This opened up another "era" of physics after Michelson, co-developer of the Michelson-Morley experiment that determined the finite speed of light, said that all that was left for physics was the more precise calculations of the known quantities. This is one of the similarities with the g-2 "arguments" that struck me as the calculations need to be more precise to the 5-sigma level, However, the more precise calculations referred to by Michelson led to Einstein's relativity theory dealing with the speed of light. These calculations and subsequent experimentation led to the "Big Bang Theory" which developed in my academic "life-time."
Thus the "abandonment" of the Standard Model would not greatly surprise me not as a refutation of what had been done before but a refinement and expansion in our Trust that the Universe is understandable at an even greater level with even more precision, but that our daily life and Faith in human understanding and relationship to the "Universe" need only be deepened not disrupted.

Johan Maurer said...

Thank you, Tom! I like the way you put "abandonment" in quotation marks.

Sophia Kishkovsky said...

Dear Johan,
Thank you very much for posting my father's sermon! He gave it in English as well: https://www.facebook.com/sophia.kishkovsky/videos/10159440399182704

Johan Maurer said...

Sophia, thanks so much! I'll put that link up in the body of the blog post. Blessings!