Gospel Jazz musician Thomas Andrew Dorsey was only thirty-two when his life fell apart. He was in St. Louis, a soloist at a large revival, when he received word that his wife Nettie had died giving birth to their first child. He rushed home to Chicago, only to find his baby boy had passed away as well. Grief consumed him. At some point in his journey of sorrow, knowing that he could not move forward without God’s help, recognizing that his trust belonged only with his Lord, he sat at a piano and composed the great hymn “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” in which he wrote, “Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light. Take my hand, Precious Lord, lead me home.”
That surely is a word that we need today. It is a word that was near to Thomas Dorsey and should feel near to us. And I think it was a word of hope and strength created from a spirit of faith. But where is that word of faith that we need? Why is it so difficult to have faith and to feel as if God is near to us? Paul said, however, that the word of faith wasn’t far away in heaven or deep in the abyss. The word of faith is always near to us, on our lips and in our hearts.
But it is so difficult to have faith these days, isn’t it? We can’t really have faith in our elected leaders because many are self-serving and solely seeking reelection. We have a difficult time having faith in the media because stories don’t feel objective anymore and it is hard to know what is true. We have a difficult time having faith in religious leaders who would rather back political candidates rather than embody the prophets who divinely changed the world. We have a difficult time having faith in an end to the coronavirus when our scientists and doctors speculate on the varied possibilities of vaccines and cures, but we often don’t see real progress taking place. It feels rather impossible to have faith in anything in this terribly confusing and stressful time.
But Paul, in his letter to the Christians in Rome, sincerely asked for these new followers to have faith in something. Paul said that they were to proclaim the word of faith. They were to confess Jesus with their lips and to believe the work and ministry of Jesus in their hearts. Paul hoped their lips and their hearts would be connected, that they would have unshaking faith that seemed just as unreal and unpopular then as it does today. Rev. Martha Highsmith says, “It is unfortunate, and odd, that evangelism has come to be a kind of dirty word in some churches. People in these churches know it exists, but they are vaguely embarrassed by it. It is somehow not seemly to go around airing one’s personal faith to others, especially those who might not share that faith. It is uncomfortable, not the kind of thing one would want to do, not something to talk about in polite company. Evangelism is one of those ideas that has somehow lost its way, at least in some religious circles; it has come to be associated with itinerant preachers, tent revivals, and fundamentalists—expressions of faith and ministry that seem out of place in our modern world, even offensive to some.”
That’s true. But that’s also why I think faith is important now, and yes, even evangelism is important now more than ever. Evangelism in Greek is euangelion, good news, or Gospel. And we are messengers, or angels, of that good news. Can you see the word angel in there? Euangelion. Euangelion means good news. And as we’ve made our way on Sundays through Paul’s letter to the Roman church, we have witnessed Paul’s attempt to give some type of good news to those suffering under Roman oppression in the first century world. Paul was giving a gospel message. He was giving good news and a word of faith.
Unfortunately, we don’t hear much good news or good words these days. We hear a lot of hateful words and demeaning words. We hear words meant to hurt others and put others in their place. We don’t hear words that are life giving, life affirming, and life sustaining. We need to confess our good words, words of faith, and words of love. But it just seems so difficult. Mary Beth Anton says, “To confess, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ is difficult when one is an heir to discrimination, injustice, and oppression at the hands of an abusive power. To say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ is to trust in one who came to serve rather than be served and who offers freedom rather than bondage and chains. To have Jesus as one’s Lord is to give allegiance to the one who has loved us before the dawn of time, who calls us each by name, and who desires that each of us be a full son or daughter. When we believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead, we participate and share in resurrection life. In an age of uncertainty and shaky foundations, resurrection life brings meaning, hope, and purpose. Our confession and our belief begin and end with Jesus. From this foundation a life of faith and discipleship flows.”
The spirit of faith is eager to flow through us, today. But uncertainty and doubt plague us and we can’t seem to find stability and strength. We don’t have answers to the questions swirling in our minds. We don’t feel acceptance and love, only us vs. them mentality and “otherness.” It’s very difficult to have faith in anything when we feel oppressed by loneliness and isolation. And that’s why, I think, having faith in Jesus is so important right now. Because Jesus was ok with questioning and with doubts. Jesus was ok with feelings of loneliness and hurt. Jesus was ok with imperfection and impatience. To follow and confess Jesus is to know that we don’t have to have all of the answers and we don’t have to have everything together. We simply need to lean into a spirit of faith, a spirit of faith that calls us to get up in the morning, put one foot in front of the other, and focus on the life, love, and liberation of Jesus.
Anton goes on to tell a story of a woman in her church that celebrated her fiftieth birthday. And in an effort to mark the occasion, her husband offered to give her a grand party. “She began making plans but was troubled by the expense and the fuss dedicated to her birthday. So, instead of a party for herself, she and her family threw a Thanksgiving feast for the members of the church and its neighbors, including the community who gather nightly to share their meals at the local soup kitchen. She hired the best country-western band in West Texas. On the night of the party, all were welcomed, both neighbors who had never darkened the doors of the church and lifelong members. Everyone sat around tables eating and listening together as the band played old-time gospel hymns. Following dinner, Jody Nix and his Texas Cowboys cranked it up. Before long the wooden dance floor at the front of the fellowship hall was full of dancing couples young and old, members and neighbors dancing and laughing together.”
Anton finished her story by saying that nobody was converted that night. Nobody really said any magic words or prayed the sinner’s prayer, but that Jesus was present, as Jesus always seems to be if we but have a little faith. That those who might not have known goodness, joy, and inclusion found that they could have faith in something, in someone, in each other, in Jesus. Oh, what would evangelism be like if we found ways to dance with the spirit of God, in the joy and love and acceptance of all of God’s people.
Paul said that the word of faith is near to us. God is near to us and will be faithful to us even in our deepest sadness and deepest grief. Paul reassured the early Christians that even though they were oppressed, even though they felt they were unworthy, even though they didn’t know when Jesus was going to return and rescue them from their struggles and strife, even though they felt like outcasts in a city of power, they were to have a spirit of faith. We are to have a spirit of faith that God isn’t hiding in the heavens and God isn’t dwelling in the depths, but God is right here with us, even when we can’t feel God’s presence or see God’s care. A Spirit of Faith beckons us to know this and to confess to the whole world that this is true.
And that’s the kind of faith that Paul was clarifying in his letter to the Roman Christians. All people could have a spirit of faith and could follow Jesus, whether it be confessing with their lips, praying in their hearts, or acting with their feet. Paul’s message of faith was good news for both Jews and Gentiles in Rome. This word of faith was good news for everyone who was rooted deep in faith or who only knew a little bit about God. This story of Jesus was good news for everyone, no matter who they were or what their heritage. Paul was calling all followers of Jesus to have a spirit of faith.
Could I be so bold to challenge us to be evangelical in our faith this week? Could we find ways to share the life changing good news of Jesus so our faith and other people’s faith might be increased? What might it be like if others who knew you acquired more faith in love this week? How might it be if the world increased its faith in human care this week because you spoke good news? How might it be if the world increased its faith in the possibility that all people can have a family, can have clean water, can have a portion of our abundant food, can be treated with dignity, that a good word is actually present in the world instead of all of the bad news we see every day?
Because if we indeed have a spirit of faith this week, then Paul’s quoting of the prophet Isaiah will be true, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” I hope that you and I share with our lips, our hearts, or our feet the good news of God’s love. I hope that we might be a people of God who affirm to the world that through the storm, through the night, God will lead us to the light. I hope that we might share, this week, the Spirit of Faith.
 Mindy Douglas, Connections Commentary. Thomas A. Dorsey, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 834.