This weekend we celebrate the memories and show our gratitude to those who gave their lives in service to our country.
While the core purpose of Memorial Day is about persons who died while serving in the U.S. military, most of us understandably celebrate the lives of any and all who served in the armed forces.
As I reflected on members of my family who served during WWII, and my uncle, in particular, who lost his life on the beaches of Normandy — I couldn’t help but think about the ongoing war in Ukraine. While most of the world has stood behind the people of Ukraine, we are not standing shoulder to shoulder with the men, women, and children who live out the horrors of war every moment of their lives. Russian missiles are raining down on innocent civilians with no way to defend themselves.
Experts on war refer to the War in Ukraine as a “war of attrition.” A war where victory comes to the side willing and able to lose the most while staying engaged the longest. Wars of attrition favor the more powerful. So, given that Russia’s economy is approximately ten times the size of Ukraine and Russia’s nearly one hundred million more people, Ukraine’s prospects seemed impossible from the beginning. Yet they’ve managed to defend their homeland with extraordinary tenacity.
In an article published in USA Today this past Christmas, the head of the Knights of Columbus, Patrick E. Kelly, offered his observation of the faith of the Ukrainian people while visiting there. He writes, “Trauma was etched into their eyes, the mother’s face streaked with tears. Yet when they saw Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, my host for the day, they came alive. They held out their hands and asked him to pray with them. A sense of peace came upon them – and one of hope.”
Upon his return from visiting Ukraine, Kelly concludes that “Amid the darkness of spirit and daily life, a brighter light is shining. So many of the Ukrainian people have hope because they have faith.” And he makes this comparison, “In the same way that Christ came to Earth to be with us, the Christians of Ukraine are coming to each other’s aid to make their shared suffering more bearable.”
What a powerful testimony to faith. What an incredible witness to the courage and tenacity of the Ukrainian people. What inspiration for those of us living and working in our community. These stories offer hope.
But what is faith?
The writer of Hebrews begins a chapter with one of the most quoted explanations of faith from scripture. They write, “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.”
And what can we be certain of?
One of faith’s most essential foundational statements is this: “It is by faith that we understand that the universe was created by God’s Word so that what can be seen was made out of what cannot be seen.” Of course, this is only a starting point for faith, but it’s critical.
But where does faith come from?
According to scripture, faith is a divine gift. Left entirely to our own capacities, humans resist the pull of God’s love and turn to more visible and habitual sources for comfort when faced with seemingly insurmountable problems. We refer to these alternatives to faith as ways of coping. We all need and rely on multiple ways to help us cope with stress. But, while some coping methods are helpful, they usually fail to adequately relieve our discomfort or lead to a solution. They’re intended to bring temporary relief.
This coming Sunday is also a day we set aside to remember an event we call Pentecost. Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles about a day when the Holy Spirit filled the room and all gathered in the faith that God would save them. It was a dramatic show of shock and awe that restored rather than destroyed lives. A form of antidote for war.
But is the Spirit available to ordinary people? Is it available over the counter, or do I need a prescription?
One way of answering these questions comes from Matthew telling a story about Jesus’ healing blindness. The story is short and to the point, but its implications are far-reaching.
“Do you believe that I can heal you?” “Yes,” they answered. Then Jesus touched their eyes and said, “Let it happen, then, just as you believe!” And their sight was restored.
Two followers of Jesus were blind, says Matthew, and they cried out to Jesus, “Have mercy on us.” So, these were disciples of Jesus. And blindness, for Matthew, is a metaphor for a lack of clarity in a person’s understanding of Jesus. Persons with little or no physical sight are capable of outstanding accomplishments, more so than many of us who can watch them do them. However, spiritual blindness hinders faith.
Jesus taught by telling stories. Nearly all of His stories were short and void of details that explained the meaning behind His telling. And Jesus was candid about His reason for choosing stories as His pedagogy. Those receiving the divine gift of faith understood the points He made. However, persons with varying degrees of spiritual blindness usually missed the point altogether.
So what do we do when we don’t understand what Jesus is saying?
This is the beauty and grace that comes out of pursuing spiritual acuity. Like those who gathered for Pentecost, we gather to read, hear, and respond to the Word of God found in scripture. We listen to one another’s stories. And we ask for and receive God’s Spirit within our being.
All the while, we hold onto our belief that sometime before God chose to create what we know to be the world we live in, before anything else existed, Jesus Christ was with God.
And God loves the world so much that Jesus lived among humanity, sharing the good news of eternal life available to all who believe. Entrance into this Kingdom of God is open to all persons regardless of merit. There is no price to pay for Jesus already paid for us.
Do you believe this to be true? Then you have faith, and because of your faith, you have hope.
You can join us each Sunday in person or online by clicking the button on our website’s homepage – Click here to watch. This button takes you to our YouTube channel. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.
A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to connect@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.
Our series was inspired by and relies on content provided by Angela Hunt. Daughter of Cana. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2020.
Patrick E. Kelly. “’You are not alone’: Ukrainians hold on to faith amid devastation of Russian invasion.” © USA Today, December 23, 2022. Retrieved from: link