What Is Faith?
Sermon by Humphrey Kanga
May 21, 2006
I grew up in a little village called Chuka in Kenya Africa. My father was a polygamist with fifteen children, so it was interesting to live in this family. I remember very vividly that the basic needs of life like food, clothing, and shelter were insufficiently met in this family. In this family there were poverty, conflicts, disputes, jealousy, and diseases. The list is endless.
At an age of seven I got so sick that my mother almost lost me. On Sunday morning I remember my mother telling the rest of the family members that she had no money to take me to a hospital. I sensed the desperation in her voice, and I was scared. I was not ready to die so young. I suggested to her to take me to a church (chapel) where I had gone to Sunday school, so that we could pray for my healing. She told my brothers and sisters that she would walk with me to the Church, and if I died on the way she would stop and come back. The utterances hit me like a ton of bricks. I was not ready to die young. I still remember the tension that gripped the whole family. My sisters and brothers cried uncontrollably.
We walked slowly and made it to the Church where we met the minister, and my mother told him of our mission. She requested him to pray for me. I remember the Minister told her that he was not a healer. He did not pray for people the way others did while claiming to have the power to heal. He suggested that all of us shall kneel down and pray to God who has the power and might to do what we can not. I had faith that if we prayed I would be healed and would not die. We knelt down and prayed, and from then my health greatly improved. With time I was completely healed.
In Matthew (chapter15) Jesus was in a bitter conflict with the Pharisees over the tradition of elders. The Pharisees accused that Jesus' disciples were breaking the tradition of elders. As a result of this bitter conflict, Jesus withdrew (retreated) to the region of Tyre and Sidon. He met with a Canaanite woman who had a great need. Her daughter was sick (demon possessed). "Leaving that place Jesus withdrew ..." He went in a kind of retreat, which also coincided with his ministry to the Gentiles. His fame of teaching, preaching and performing miracles had reached to the Gentile land. In the region of Tyre and Sidon he was confronted by a Canaanite woman. Don't forget that the Canaanites were traditional enemies of the Israelites. The Israelites could not intermarry with them. They had nothing to do with them. From Genesis through Judges, you find many incidents where Israelites fight with the Canaanites for the settlement in the Promised Land. The woman begged him to heal her daughter who was demon possessed, "Lord Son of David have mercy on my daughter, for she is suffering terribly from a demon possession." Any woman can tell a story of a sick child, but this woman was in great pain because her beloved daughter was sick. I can tell you numerous stories of my family and the way my wife behaved when our daughter, Makena, got sick one night.
Jesus seemed hesitant to grant her request. See that he told her: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." The woman was not ready to be discouraged. She knelt before him and said, "Lord help me." Even when Jesus compared her with a little dog she was ready to take that title provided that her daughter was healed. In Africa where I come from it is a great insult to call anyone a dog; it was the same case in Palestine at the time that Jesus lived.
Finally, Jesus had this to say about her: "Woman, you have great faith. Your request is granted." This woman was so persistent. Her faith was very compelling.
I remember attending a church three years ago. This Sunday school was taught by a great theologian. It was my second day to attend this church, therefore I did not know much about the history of the church or the nature of Sunday school. The subject of discussion that Sunday was faith. The text on focus was the scripture that says that the just shall live by faith. I got an opportunity to make a comment just like the rest of the Sunday school members. I said "faith has to do with a strong inner feeling that the Holy Spirit puts in us. This feeling gives us the power to trust and hope in God." Even before I finish I could see disagreement on the face of my Sunday school teacher. After I finished he gave a critical analysis of my answer. He did not like the word feeling in my definition on faith. He quoted great names like Augustine, Zwingli, Luther, Calvin, Wesley and Bullinger. He gave a dissertation of what these church fathers understood about faith. I wish he knew that I was only in my first semester in seminary and I did not know much about those great names. I wish he knew that I was not a great deal into theology like him. My definition was only out of what I understood of the Bible to mean as a layman. Whatever I said was the image and the picture I get when I read about people like the centurion and the Canaanite woman who showed such big trust in the Lord, and Jesus finally said that they had great faith. I also related faith to what happened when I was sick as a child, only knowing about and trusting in Him when my mother thought that I would die; that trust and faith in Jesus healed me. There are many components of faith. It is a mystery. I don't know what happens when you trust God, but one thing I do know is that God honors those who have trust and faith in Him.
Jesus told the Canaanite woman "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." In another place Jesus said "When you have faith as little as a mustard seed you will move mountains." It challenges me to see people who have demonstrated great faith in God by whatever they do and by their lives. We all know of Mother Theresa of Calcutta. She demonstrated great love and concern for the poor and the destitute. John Wesley identified with the poor and the lowly, preaching to them outside of factories in England, during the industrial Revolution. He waited for the poor factory workers after work to preach to them. The two were moved by faith and trust in God. This Church, Mars Hill, has demonstrated faith in God in that though they did not know me fully, and yet they believed that God had called me to be a preacher. They have sponsored me in my journey of faith as I pursued a seminary education for the last five years. You have clothed, fed and accommodated me in your houses. What you have done for me humbles me, and may God bless you in return.
Stories are told of Christians in the former Soviet Union, who endured torture, suffering and even death from the abhorrent of the communist party. In our time we have great heroes of faith like Billy Graham, who has reached millions of people with a simple message that God loves you. As a community of faith what is our calling today? Some are called to live by faith, others are called to preach faith, others to demonstrate faith by their lives, others show actions of faith, and others are called to die for faith in God. "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen;" (Hebrew 11:3)
Karl Barth once said that faith is acknowledgment, recognition and confession. As all these terms indicate it is a "knowledge," so in every case it is an active knowledge (Basic Christian Doctrine 177). The Canaanite woman had some knowledge about the Jewish messiah; a messiah (Son of David) who would come and liberate people from all forms of calamity and sin. She believed and had faith in Jesus; that is why she cried out to him. Faith is a personal act. It is also an attitude which touches the totality of our existence. It propels us to move to a direction that the Lord is leading. Faith as an ultimate concern is an act of total personality. When the object of our faith is God, we don't take "No!" or "Stop!" for a solution. When the Canaanite woman was compared to a little dog, she was okay with the comparison. But there was also "but" and "if". "But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters table" she said.
Faith in God requires taking great risks. Remember Shadrack, Mischeck and Abednego in the Nebuchadnezzar fiery furnace. Faith is a wholeheartedness created in us when we hear the gospel. "Faith is trust. It is confidence and joy in God." It is the sense of God's presence and Lordship. (BCD 174) Christian faith is trust in God who was incarnate in Jesus Christ and who continues to reveal himself through the word of scripture. Faith gives believers confidence, and delivers us from fears and doubts. It gives us an orientation to God.
Martin Luther once said that faith is always very busy doing works of love and mercy. We are called to go beyond our comfort zones. Faith believes, hopes, and anticipates. The Canaanite woman hoped that her daughter would be healed. She anticipated that Jesus would have mercy upon her daughter. She hoped that her daughter would be healed from demon possession. My mother hoped and anticipated that her son would be healed when I suggested going to church and praying for my healing. In Africa where I come from, we have the problem of looking upon people in the basis of tribe, family, political affiliation, economic status, level of education, etc. You are perhaps familiar with 1994 Rwandan Genocide. The Hutu Militia massacred the Tutsi minority. I have a Tutsi friend who invited a Hutu for his graduation party. This man escaped the massacre by playing dead and by covering himself with other people's blood. Jesus is calling us to exercise our faith and go beyond the tribal, racial, political, social, economic boundaries and share his love with people. The sharing of the love of Christ with people is faith. The call is to go by faith beyond our comfort zone with a message of hope and love of Christ.