I’m not a person who particularly enjoys going to the gym. I get that some people really get a kick out of going, and I respect that. But I am not one of them. I don’t like that going is always a bit of a production—getting changed, finding my gym shoes, going for a drive (which just seems really counter intuitive), and getting a locker to store my stuff in while I work out. I don’t like having to wait my turn while other people use the machine I want, and I really don’t like other people waiting for me to finish on the machine that they want. Most of all, I find exercise equipment really boring. The advent of television screens and streaming movies on your phone has made it a bit more bearable than it used to be, but at the end of the day, there is no escaping the knowledge that I am running in place on a treadmill.
I still go to the gym, don’t get me wrong. But I go only often enough to torture myself out of some deep-seated masochism. I don’t go often enough to make it worth my while, to actually see any results. That’s the real kicker about going to the gym, once is never enough. It is not enough to go to the gym only when I feel bad about that Thanksgiving dinner, or all the delicious Christmas cookies I ate from the Cookie Fair. Nor is it enough to go sporadically, on those occasions when the stars align, and I actually feel like going to the gym.
Sadly, going to the gym only really works when we choose to go on a regular basis. Going to the gym only produces results when we choose to go on the days we feel like going, as well as the days that we don’t feel like going.
I think there is a similar dynamic at play in the people’s encounter with Jesus at the Temple in today’s reading. They had heard of Jesus, from their friends and neighbors, from the other teaches who gathered at the Temple. Some of them had even heard him teach before, listening to the sound of his voice with their own ears. Some had witnessed the miracles he had done, watching the signs he worked with their own eyes. And yet, as they heard his voice once again, as they saw him teaching once again, they pressed upon him, “Just tell us plainly, are you the one for whom we have waited? Just tell us that you are the messiah this once, so that we might believe.”
The trouble is, belief is not a one-off event. Faith is not something you do once and never again. It is something that must be done over and over again; sheep do not learn the shepherd’s voice on their first day in the flock, but only by listening to the shepherd’s voice, day in and day out, over and over again. The people who encountered Jesus that day did not yet understand this. Just tell us that you are the messiah so that we might believe. Just tell us so that we might be done, go home, and be satisfied.
I mean, that would be nice, wouldn’t it? It would be nice if we could point to one event—be it baptism, or confirmation, or an altar call—if we could point to a literal come-to-Jesus moment and say to ourselves that now we have faith! It would be nice if we only needed to worship God on days when we felt like it, or only needed to pray when we felt bad about something. It would be nice if Jesus would just tell us that he is the Messiah so that we could believe, get on with our day, and figure out where we’re going to go for brunch.
Don’t get me wrong, each of these things are good and important. But we cannot point to our baptism, or to our confirmation, or to any one trip to church, or to any one lesson in Sunday school, or to any specific prayer that passes our lips and say, “ah, yes, now I have faith; now I believe!”
Rather, each of these things are footsteps on a journey. Belief is something that is greater than the sum of its component parts. Faith is something takes root and blossoms because we choose it over and over again. It is a choice that begins with our baptism or our confirmation. It is a choice that we find ourselves making more and more every time we gather together at Jesus’ table, a choice we make every time we seek Christ’s healing and wholeness in our lives, a choice we make with every prayer we breathe out.
And you know what? Every time we make that choice, it gets easier. Every time we make the choice of faith, we discover anew that God has already chosen us, indeed that God chooses us in each and every moment. We continue to make that choice, we continue to choose belief, over and over again, in every moment of our lives. We keep choosing until at last we wake up on that day and discover we know the sound of the shepherd’s voice who is speaking to us, calling us by name.
Preached by Adam Yates