Faith Lives in You

Preacher: Jessie Houff

Scriptures: 2 Timothy 1:5-10 & Matthew 2:1-12

One of the great joys I have had in the last year is to be a part of a group of amazing humans in the Church of the Brethren Denomination: Women in Ministry. We have a monthly check-in call to come together and share how we’re doing, provide comfort in community. Many of us are also a part of a messaging group and every once in a while someone will text something, whether it be good news, prayer requests, or a question. It’s an incredibly supportive group of which I am so honored to be a part. 

A few weeks ago I put a message in the chat asking for feedback on book suggestions, particularly relating to womanist and queer theologies and other books that are written by persons of color, women, queer folks, or all of the above! I got an epic response with about a dozens of suggestions. One of the suggestions was a book called A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church, written by Wilda C. Gafney, a black queer woman.

Today, I will be reading the scriptures from this book, and will most likely be using this text throughout this year, for which I am really excited. 

Our first scripture comes from 2 Timothy 1:5-10

Our second scripture is from Matthew 2:1-12

The Nativity Story is a film from 2006 directed by Catherine Hardwicke that I used to watch a lot. Every Christmas for several years my family would watch this story on Christmas Eve so we would never forget the life of what Christmas is. In this film, there is a beautiful moment, a very short scene, of the three wise men after just having met baby Jesus. They are on their way back to tell the news of the newborn to King Herod, for he requested their return. Sitting atop their camels overlooking their path back to Herod, they pause. One says, “If I am right, and I usually am, perhaps we should keep what we have seen to ourselves.” He looks to the one next to him, who nods, looks to the third, who also nods and says, “We shall not return to Herod”, and they go on their way to their home. 

This is a part of the scripture that is so quick, in fact in this translation it is only half a sentence: “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” Matthew 2:12. That’s a pretty big decision that the bible only notes in one simple sentence. And this decision by these men is arguably one of the most important moments in the entire story of Jesus’ birth. What if they had gone back to Herod?? What would have happened? Now, Herod had figured out where he needed to go on his own, so perhaps nothing different would have happened, especially since God awoke Joseph to leave the town before Herod got to them. But perhaps Herod would have gotten there sooner or at least have heard what the family looked like and been able to track them down…then where would that leave us? Jesus would be gone? No one to save us, no reason to continue the story…sounds like it would be the beginning to the end of the world. 

The end of the world. 

Obviously, that didn’t happen. The wise men were indeed smart enough to derive that Herod’s intentions were not good nor holy, but disastrous and selfish, and here we are today. 

The end of the world did not come because of that one, simple, insightful inclination of the wise men.

The end of the world…

I watched a movie about the end of the world the other day. Renada, Malachi and I sat down to watch the new exciting Netflix hit, “Don’t Look Up” directed by Adam McKay, staring some of Hollywood’s biggest stars Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, and Leo DiCaprio. I’ll try to avoid too many spoilers, because I do recommend y’all watch it, but I’ll give some overview for perspective. 

This movie came out in 2021 and it tells a fictional (of course) story of two astronomers, played by J Law and Leo, who discover a 9 kilometer-wide comet on a direct path towards Earth, set to impact in exactly 6 months and 14 days, that will decimate the entire planet. In a desperate act they run directly to the president, played by the G.O.A.T Meryl Streep, and in a series of unfortunate interviews and meetings are seen as laughing stocks to be ridiculed by folks on the internet and not taken seriously. This leads to dividing the country into folks who believe them and folks who think they’re full of fear mongering, blown out of proportion, farsities. Those who believe chant, “Look Up! See the truth!” Those who are doubtful chant, “DON’T Look Up! DON’T Look Up!”

wear a mask, don’t wear a mask…

While this movie is a comedy and fictionally parallels real-life, it was very interesting to see what the producers, writers, and directors of this movie put forth. A divided country brought on real science, fakey news casters, memes and gifs made to make fun of the scientists behind the truth, strangers that either spit at their feet or rally by their sides. Doesn’t sound like a parallel to me…that’s just real life being depicted with different subject matter.

While some may view this movie for simple entertainment, I found it to be theologically rich. There isn’t much religion in the script or talk of faith, however there is one character, a young skater boy and skeptic of the comet that thinks if God really wanted to kill us all, he’d just do it. Why would he need to send a comet to do the job? Not seconds after this remark, he looks up and sees far in the distance a big, bright, beautiful streak in the sky, undoubtedly on its way to them.

This skater boy character called Yule is the only dose of faith in the film. But the character states he grew up in a Christian household and he reflects on how his upbringing truly brought him to his own kind of spirituality, which is just bare bones faith itself – that God exists and God will always love us.

“…faith lives in you. For this reason I remind you to reignite the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but one of power and of love and of self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:6-7. What beautiful poetry. 

I don’t think faith can be explained. It can be felt, it can be written about, but it’s different for every person. I have faith when I die, I’ll get to meet God spirit to spirit. When I am under stressful times, I have faith that I am given nothing I cannot handle and to take care. I have faith that there is goodness deeply rooted in every living creature.

One book I’ve been reading, that was actually given to me by this guy named Nate Hosler, is called Rainbow Theology. It dives deep into what Rainbow Theology is, which is by and for LGBTQ+ Persons of Color, and it includes all theological perspectives, more than just Christian and includes LGBTQ+, Black/Asian/Latinx, womanist, and all of the above captured into one big pool of theology. It’s delicious. The Author, a queer Asian American man, Patrick S. Cheng, discusses how difficult it can be for someone of faith who is of the LGBTQ+ community and a person of color to find a true home. Since they occupy multiple identifiers (being queer and poc) one feels they need to choose which identifier is more important to them. There’s Queer Theology and POC Theology but what about the people who occupy both and? Patrick writes, “Rainbow theology reminds all of us that only in God can we find our true homes” (Cheng, 124).

You know what’s so great about that idea? We don’t have to wait for death to find this home because guess what? God’s always within us. Faith is always there because God put it there. 

We always have faith and it’s always within us, planted by God. 

Of course this doesn’t mean we don’t also have questions. Some questions can be answered with science or experience. Some questions we will never know the answers; perhaps they’ll be answered when we meet Godself. 

In “Don’t Look Up”, Yule questioned why there was a comet coming to end the world when God could end it any other way? 

The three wise men wondered what they would find when they finally made it beneath the brightest star.

Herod wondered what was so great about this new king.

I wonder what books are out there that could spark my faith journey and project me forward in learning about theology.

We will never be out of questions. That’s the beauty of life. I’m actually finding that the more I grow the more questions I have. There is always so much to learn, sometimes it can be overwhelming. Why is the world so corrupt? What would have happened if the wise men went back to Herrod? What’s for dinner? When is Jesus coming back? Why can’t dogs talk? Why don’t more people get vaccinated? What time is it? 

Faith, my friends. I’ll read once more our message from 2 Timothy. I invite you to center yourself, whether you need to close your eyes or put your hand on your heart or open your hands towards God as we listen one last time.

“Considering the recollection of your faith without pretense, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, now I am persuaded that faith lives in you. For this reason, I remind you to reignite the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but one of power and of love and of self-control. 

Be not ashamed, then, of the testimony of our Savior or of me Christ’s prisoner, rather share in suffering for the sake of the gospel, do so through the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, rather according to God’s own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.

Now it has been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who negated death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” 

Amen.

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