Craft of Preaching

Theology and Interpretation

Working with texts and placing them within a theological framework.

Durable Faith: Preaching Post-Election

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Many things came to mind as I prepared to write this month’s column. With the election in full view, two questions relentlessly pressed upon me. First, “What is durable faith?” Second, “What does durable faith look like in times like these?”

Durable refers to something that is long-lasting, persistent, firm, deep-rooted, undying, and everlasting. Faith has been described as confidence, trust, or belief. Durable faith, then, indicates a type of trust that is deep-rooted and undying. The writer of Hebrews put it this way: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV).

If faith in God is to be durable, it must have the ability to respond to the best and worst of times. Faith in the best of times makes few demands on the believer. In the worst of times, faith seems to make endless demands on the believer.

Durable faith is not a “Kum ba yah” faith that overlooks difficulty and moves much too quickly to an imagined “and they all lived happily ever after.” Rather, durable faith has the ability encounter the pain, go through it, and deal with the reality of changed circumstances.

In times like these, durable faith takes the form of hope. It provides motivation to keep moving forward and strength to do what needs to be done. It provides perspective to counter hopelessness and imagination to fuel a new future story.

Regardless of whether we did or did not vote, regardless of whom we voted for, the reality is that our nation, our world, now has to deal with the aftermath of this election. Here are some of my musings.

First, many are asking “Where is the hope?” I submit that hope lies where it has always been -- in God. The psalmist’s words below (Psalm 27:3, God’s Word translation; Psalm 27:13, NASB) are a reminder of this spiritual truth:

3 Even though an army sets up camp against me,
       my heart will not be afraid.
Even though a war breaks out against me,
       I will still have confidence in the Lord.
13 I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord
        In the land of the living.

For the believer, hope is in God and God alone.

Second, in times like these, durable faith will be tested again and again. More than once, one may repeatedly lament and cry out like the Psalmist in Psalms 42:5, 11 and 43:5.

42:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
 and why are you disquieted within me?
11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
 and why are you disquieted within me?
43:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
 and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
 my help and my God.

Sometimes just knowing that God hears and God cares is enough to bring hope into the worst of situations.

Third, hope does not mean waiting for blessings to fall from the sky. To the contrary, hope means not only trusting God, but also doing the work that needs to be done. For Abraham, it meant leaving his home for a land unknown. For Moses, faith meant going back to Egypt even though Pharaoh had threatened his life. When David faced Goliath, he put his faith in God, but he used pebbles and a slingshot to slay the giant.

For Naomi, it meant leaving Moab and returning to her beloved Judah. For Ruth, it meant adopting the life and religion of a community not her own. For Esther, it meant calling for a fast, approaching the king, and pleading for her people. For Job, it meant holding onto his integrity, even when misunderstood by his wife, friends, household, family, and community. For Hannah, it meant trusting God for a son even when neither her husband, Elkanah, nor the priest Eli understood.

For Mary, giving birth to Jesus meant she was both blessed and ostracized. For the Samaritan Woman at the Well it meant being the first to share the good news about Jesus Christ. For Peter, Andrew, James, and John, it meant fishing for people instead of fish. For Zaccheus, it meant repaying everyone he’d overcharged. For Mary, it meant listening at the feet of Jesus. For Jesus, it meant enduring the crucifixion. For Paul, it meant a life-changing encounter with Jesus on the Road to Damascus.

For the prophet Jeremiah, though often persecuted, it meant being a voice that warned Judah of the danger posed by Babylon and advising the community not to go to Egypt. Jeremiah 29:11 -- though often applied as an individual blessing -- is actually a communal blessing (“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”). The community was in denial, expecting that their time in exile (as prophesied by Hananiah) would be short-lived. Contrary to Hananiah’s false message, Jeremiah explained that God, in due time (seventy years, not two), would bring the remnant home. In the meantime, his message to the exiles was that they create a life for themselves in Babylon.

If preachers dig deeper, they will help parishioners see hope (with action) as part of durable faith. James put it this way, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 1:17). This is the kind of faith that propels one to love God, others, and oneself. This kind of faith answers the prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

If preachers are to preach a durable faith they must encourage hope (with action), even in challenging times such as these.

Alphonetta Wines' bimonthly Working Preacher column "Durable Faith" gets beneath the surface of words like "grace" and "love" and looks at how to preach through Scripture in ways that help listeners think, engage in difficult conversation, and face painful truths.

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