“We walk by faith and not by sight.” This is probably one of the most quoted lines from Saint Paul about the Christian life, about our lives. We walk by faith and not by sight. Let’s take a moment to reflect on what that what actually means. This phrase has a much deeper meaning than many realize. When St. Paul is talking about sight here he isn’t just meaning our ability to see with our eyes. He is pointing to an essential truth of humanity: our ability to reason, to use our minds to understand the world around us. Now primarily that knowledge does come through our eyes, by seeing the world around us, and coming to understand it, which is why St. Paul says it this way. But reason goes beyond eyesight; it points to our intellectual capacity, our mind. Our reason is what makes us truly human. Animals and plants lack this ability to “see” and, therefore, are not human. Humans have used our reason to understand much of the world around us: we have built skyscrapers and submarines; we are exploring deep space and deep under the sea (on a side note, Philae Lander is a comet probe that landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko last November and had to shut down to conserve power because it landed on the shady side of the comet. This morning it finally rebooted and has contacted its mothership, the Rosetta orbiter, with an 85-second-long status update. Read more here. This is an amazing example of how human reason is exploring the vastness of outer space! Philae Lander even has a Twitter @Philae2014); and even cyberspace is so advanced because of our reason that you can turn your home oven on with just a button on your smartphone. But even as advanced as humans are with our ability to see and use our reason to understand, we still cannot understand everything. Life itself is still fundamentally a mystery and so are the inner workings of God. And that is where faith comes in to guide us where sight cannot. Faith is not opposed to reason, but Faith goes beyond reason. That is why we walk by faith and not by sight. Not that we ignore our sight, but that we allow faith to guide us beyond where our sight can. The book of Hebrews aptly defines faith as: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This is crucially important for us because faith gives meaning to our lives. Faith reveals to us that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, our savior, a truth that couldn’t have been known by reason alone. Additionally we can’t rely on our reason to understand how God is working in our lives and in the world around us because God’s ways are hidden from us but faith reveals that God is always there and since He is love, we trust Him.
This is the same truth that Jesus was pointing out in today’s Gospel with the parable about seeds. Jesus uses two examples to explain the kingdom of God, the first is of a man scattering seed on the ground and the seeds sprouting and growing and the man does not know how that happens. The second analogy is of a mustard seed; this small, small seed that grows into something so large the birds of the air can come to rest in its branches. Jesus himself is the man scattering the seed of His Word in our hearts and there it will take root and grow, guided by the Holy Spirit in a process we can’t see, into something large and beautiful that it will give rest and joy to others. This process is something we cannot understand because we can’t “see” it; God’s ways are not our ways. It is the work of God within our lives. In the past four weeks I have been privileged to attend the priestly ordinations of nine men and the diaconate ordination of one man. These have been joyful celebrations of the Universal Church of God’s hidden work within each of these men. Every vocation, whether it is a priestly or religious vocation, or a married or single vocation is the silent work of the Holy Spirit within each individual. I can guarantee that my friends whom I saw ordained priests and a deacon had the Word of God seeded in their hearts when they were younger by their families and friends and local community, and God worked silently within them, guiding them to their priestly vocation. If you were to ask them to share their vocation stories, they would be varied and often you would be surprised at how God quietly led them to the priesthood. They chose to walk by faith, and not by sight and allowed the seed of God’s Word to grow in their hearts, resulting in their priestly ministry which will bring joy and rest to those they minister to.
I, too, can relate very well to this. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Deacon Andrew Kinstetter and I was also recently ordained to the diaconate and I am thrilled to be spending the summer here in Sheridan. I was ordained a transitional deacon in February in Cheyenne and will be ordained a priest next year; but if you were to have asked me when I was in high school if I was going to be a priest someday, I would have told you “of course not!” I grew up on a ranch near Moorcroft and was fully intent on getting a Computer Science degree from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City and then working in the IT field. Priesthood was barely on my radar. But what I didn’t realize was that God had already been at work in my life guiding me. I had the aptitude for math and science to be an computer programmer and make a lot of money but I kept having this constant feeling that I would’t be satisfied and always felt more fulfilled when I was at the Cathedral Church going to Mass and ministering to the wonderful people there. By my third year in college I was spending more time at Church than I was at college and began to realize that I desired a relationship with God more than I desired the “successful” career and the large salary that the college would gain for me. God was silently nudging me to walk by faith and not by my own sight. More often than not this came through the voice of someone in my local parish community telling me that they saw in me the qualities of a good priest, and they encouraged me to pray about it. I ended up realizing there was more to life than what I saw in the world of science and math. I made the tough choice to leave college after three years without a bachelor’s degree to enter seminary and study philosophy and theology because of my growing desire to be in relationship with God as His priest. And I haven’t once regretted that decision. And now here I am, after five years of seminary studies with only one more to go until my priestly ordination and I can attest that God was the one working in me, not myself, guiding me to the priesthood. I wanted to make a lot of money in an IT career, but God had other plans. And even though I can share my story, I cannot adequately explain how God worked deep within my heart, nurturing that mustard seed of faith in me, but here I am now studying to be a priest and I’ve never been happier.
God works similarly in each of our lives, not only in the joyous moments, but also in the harsh painful moments of life, working in each one of us. It’s easy to see God at work in the many priestly ordinations I have been to including my own diaconate ordination, but His presence is often less noticeable in times of distress. Many times in our lives, like when a family member dies or is diagnosed with a life threatening disease, or family issues lead to divorce, or our lives are upended by natural disasters, God can seem absent and we can’t see Him. And it is within these harsh moments in each of our lives that we must hold on to the truth that St. Paul told us today, “We walk by faith and not by sight.” Especially in these moments when we can’t “see” God we must hold fast to faith, which takes us beyond our sight, and know that God is still working in our lives even if we don’t know how, and it seems too painful for God to be present. God can take the worst situation imaginable and bring good from it. The pinnacle example of this is in Jesus’ own horrific death and resurrection that brings salvation to mankind. This was the bleakest moment in Jesus’ own life and He experienced a feeling of separation from God, but He didn’t lose His Faith. And because of that act on the cross, Jesus brought about our redemption. And that is what we celebrate each time we go to Mass: Jesus’ sacrifice for all of us is made present in the Eucharist. And even though we can’t see Jesus in the Eucharist, our Faith reveals His true presence to us. So we walk by faith not by sight. It is because our Faith that we come to Mass each week to be strengthened and nourished by the Eucharist in good times and in bad. It is because we know by Faith that God is with us, that we are able to walk out of Mass each Sunday proclaiming as we did in the psalm: “Lord it is good to give thanks to you.”
And so as we continue Mass today I invite you to remember the words of St. Paul, “We walk by Faith and not by sight,” and, especially in your own struggles and challenges, remember that God is always there, working silently in ways we don’t understand. But no matter what, remember that He is always with you. In your faith, let the Eucharist, strengthen you and give you courage to face each hardship trusting wholeheartedly in the Lord and giving thanks to Him for his constant presence. Let us walk today not by our own sight, but walk by Faith in the Lord.
Hebrews 11:1 RSV