If you swap around ‘believe’, you get ‘live by’ (nearly).
I can say that I believe a rope bridge will take me safely across a canyon, but am I ready to live by that? Unless I am willing to step on the bridge, the words are just words.
To explore this, here’s a demonstration of putting your face where your faith is.
You will need:
- A glass
- A jug of water
- A rubber band
- A piece of smooth hard plastic
- Fine mesh fabric such as tights or muslin (test your fabric beforehand!)
- A towel (just in case)
Place the mesh fabric over the glass and secure in place with a rubber band. Find a brave volunteer with a lot of faith in science and ask if they believe in surface tension and air pressure.
Pour water in to the glass through the mesh until the glass is mostly full. At this point you can give your volunteer a towel, just to make them feel safe.
Put the plastic on top of the glass and swiftly invert them both, holding the plastic in place. Hold this over the head of your volunteer. ‘Do you believe in surface tension and air pressure?’ Hopefully, your volunteer will say yes. ‘Are you willing to put your face where your faith is?’
Remove your hand to rapturous applause as the plastic clings to the glass and does not drench your volunteer.
‘You have seen me pour water through the mesh. Do you believe the mesh alone will keep the water in when I remove the plastic?’ You may get a less positive response to this. Go ahead anyway.
Slide the plastic off and, except for the odd drop, the water should stay in place as the mesh forms thousands of tiny gaps, each bridged by surface tension.
Note: If you touch the mesh with detergent on your finger, you will break the surface tension and the water will pour out. Depending on your victi … volunteer, you might like to add this to the demonstration.
I admit it – I’m a grammar Nazi. I’m sorry, but there’s something inside me which squirms in horror at superfluous apostrophe’s and verbs that doesn’t agrees with it’s subject. ARGHH! I have been seen hovering over erroneous shop signs with marker pens and Tipp-ex. However, I ease off with my kids. Picking someone up on every single mistake is the best way to stop them trying.
So when my youngest made me a picture of ‘the sircoos’, I didn’t point out the lack of capitalisation, nor that she could have used an adjective in the title, nor her ‘creative’ spelling. The spelling is not so important as accepting a gift made with love. Had I corrected her, I would have been right, technically, but I would not have done right – and that’s a very different matter.
We can see a similar tussle going on in the mind of John the Baptist in today’s reading. He was right, technically – Jesus did not need baptism for the forgiveness of sins – but this was about doing right, not being right.
Jesus calms John’s objection, saying, “It’s OK, just go with it for the moment. I want to lead by example.” And so Jesus, as well as telling the people to repent and believe, shows them how it’s done. He forgoes he honour of being right and helps others by doing right. Paul made the same point in Romans chapter 14.
This New Year, it is good to look back to our own baptisms, and review how well we are still repenting and believing. Repent: not merely to say ‘sorry’, but to turn around, to change direction in life, to walk another way. Jesus is the way. Believe: not merely to give head assent to the truth of something, but to act on it, to stake one’s life on it. Jesus is the truth.
Every day I need to turn away from the easy wrong and turn towards the harder right. Every day I need to make sure I am living what I say I believe. I am pretty rubbish, if I am honest, but I have a loving Father who is not a grammar Nazi, and does not pick me up on every little fault. Blessed be his name. That’s not to say that sin does not matter, but that God understands I am a work in progress. If I am working towards doing right, for his honour, rather than being right, for my honour, then that effort, however badly spelled, is a gift made with love.
And God is well pleased.
Grant us, O Lord,
the will to accomplish all that pleases you;
the strength to do all that you command and
the reverence to respect all that you have made;
for your own name’s sake.
Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)
Matthew 3:13-17 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptised by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptised, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.