6-30-15 - The Power of Disbelief

I am away from home this week, serving a summer church in the mountains where I have the great good fortune to stay in a rectory the church provides visiting clergy. The house is equipped with everything one might want, including wifi. But my first day here it was barely working, there, but slower than slow. It took me 90 minutes to upload, format and send Water Daily, where it usually takes me about 20.

Turns out the service had not yet been turned back on for the season – and what I was experiencing was a trickle of connectivity that is always there. I think of this when I read about the effect his townspeople’s skepticism had on Jesus’ ability to wield the power of God in his usual way:

Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

All he could do was cure “a few sick people.” It is hard to imagine that anything can impede the power of God to effect what it will, especially when invoked by one whose faith lacks nothing. But Jesus attributed the “connectivity problem” to the unbelief he encountered in that place where they thought they knew him so well. The crowds further away accepted him fully as he was; his homies could not believe that the Yeshua they’d grown up with was indeed the Anointed One, the Messiah. And their lack of faith held him back.

This should not surprise us. We think of Jesus as the power behind miracles – yet over and over he commends the faith of the people whom he heals, saying, “Your faith has made you well." Jesus responded to the faith he encountered – and I guess he still does. This puts a lot of pressure on us, doesn’t it, to think that God responds to the faith of those praying.

It can be a quick jump from there to the notion that someone who is sick or hurting doesn’t experience healing because they lack faith – and unfortunately, some in the healing ministry tell people that. Wrong. The faith to which God responds needs to be in the community that is praying for someone to be healed. God does not punish people for lack of faith – it just appears that God’s power is impeded when there is a lot of disbelief in a system. That’s why communities in which healing is regularly invited and expected tend to see a lot more of it than those who think it’s rare and don’t exercise their faith in prayer.

Does that put a lot of responsibility on us as people of faith? You bet it does! It means our faith matters more than perhaps we wish it did. It means we do all we can to strengthen the faith of those around us. We make space for questions, sure, but we don’t encourage disbelief. The stronger the faith in the community, the more invitation there is for Jesus to do his works of power.

As our new Presiding Bishop-elect, Michael Curry, said in his brief greeting to General Convention delegates after his election, quoting St. Augustine, "Without God we cannot; without us, He will not.” And he added, “Together with God we can and we will.”

Without us, God will not. The Omnipotent can, of course, but has chosen to give us that much power to participate in God’s work. Let’s turn the service on and let the connectivity and power flow!

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