How is your faith? It may seem an awkward question, especially if you’re asking it of someone else. In today’s world, questions that put others on the spot are deemed inappropriate or at the very least unwelcome. But, especially this time of year, “How is your faith?” can be a very appropriate question for church-going people to ask.
Over 1,700 years ago, the early church began an observance during the forty days prior to Easter. We know it today as the season of Lent. We get the word “lent” from the Old English, lencten – as the days this time of year begin to “lengthen.” It is very similar to the Dutch word for Spring – lente. Traditionally this has been a time of self-reflection. So, “How is your faith?” becomes a good question for Christians to be asking of themselves during the six weeks prior up to Easter.
Even if your house of worship does not follow the church calendar or observe the different seasons of the church year, you have probably heard of “giving something up” for Lent. Jesus gave up his holy place in heaven to come down and live among us in our not so holy world. During Lent, his followers have traditionally been called to “give up” something they cherish as a symbolic remembrance of all Jesus gave up for our sakes.
This has been a worthwhile practice, and I am not going to speak against it, but this year we are doing something a little different at Mountain of Faith Church. During Lent this year, we are studying Pastor Max Lucado’s “He Chose the Nails” which is his take on the book of Romans.
In this study Lucado suggests that instead of thinking of Lent as a time to “give something up,” we consider it as an extension of Christmas. Lent then becomes a season of gifts. It is a time for us to contemplate the precious gifts that come to us at Easter.
Although Pastor Lucado does not talk about it in “He Chose the Nails,” I think one of these precious gifts is the gift of faith itself. But faith can be a little bit tricky. If we’re not careful, we can turn this gift into something we take credit for ourselves.
In my Lutheran tradition, we take seriously, Ephesians 2:1 where Paul declares clearly that we all were dead in our transgressions and sins. Dead people cannot give themselves CPR. They can’t call out for help. So, faith in my tradition is not about trying harder and harder to believe. It is about God’s gift of planting a seed of faith in our hearts that may take some time to take root and grow.
That seed is nourished by the Gospel, or the Good News that Christ died for us. Faith is trusting that Jesus took our sins upon himself and God raised him from the dead. It ends up not being about what we do to gain God’s favor. It is not some work that we have to get right to be saved. It is about trusting what Jesus has already done to make us right with God.
Lutherans love Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” But, I’m a firm believer that Ephesians 2:8-9 should never be read without also reading Ephesians 2:10 — “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared on advance for us to do.”
The good works come, but we’re not saved by them. Good works come as a response to the grace we have been given. In fact, if the good works do not come, it may well be true that the gift of grace was never really received. A wise pastor once said good works don’t save us, but they are a pretty good indication that we are saved.
So, during Lent, when we ask ourselves, “How is your faith?” we are asking a number of questions. Have we been faithful in giving up that precious thing that we said we would give up during the six weeks before Easter? By the way, if you do decide to give something up for Lent, please know that you get Sundays off. Every Sunday in the weeks leading up to Easter are like a mini-Easter. It’s a time to celebrate. Anything you’ve given up can be enjoyed on Sundays. Party on.
But, during these forty days, “How is your faith?” also asks us to consider the coming gifts of Easter. Have we really thought about them? Have we really understood how much God loves us by giving us the gift of faith? The Bible says faith comes by hearing the word of God. If you or someone you love seems to have shaky faith, it is not a reason to panic.
Doubts tend to creep into the lives of everyone, but faith is strengthened by God’s Word. Especially during this season of Lent, we have good reason to put ourselves in a position to hear God’s Word. Now is the acceptable time to read that Word in the Bible or to hear it proclaimed from the pulpit in your house of worship.
Rick Ehrheart is pastor of Mountain of Faith Lutheran Church in Tooele.