While attending a training event for bishops a few weeks ago, I heard someone quote William Sloane Coffin saying, “I love the recklessness of faith. First, you leap. Then you grow wings.”
At first hearing, this evokes a smile. Upon deeper reflection, I’m touched by its penetrating truthfulness.
Faith is reckless. According to the letter to Hebrews, “Abraham set out not knowing where he was going.” And he and Sarah are lifted up as models of faith! But doesn’t every meaningful endeavor require stepping into uncertainty? Getting married, having children, responding to the call to follow Christ, offering oneself to ministry, initiating a new outreach…all these are things we might think differently about if we fully understood all their implications or if we knew all the places these decisions and commitments might take us. It’s reckless to think we can start a church, build a youth program, change our worship style, offer an invitation to a stranger to church, make a difference through our service. It’s reckless to send our money overseas to build churches and schools in far away places that may be destroyed by the next flood or overrun by the next invasion. It’s reckless to invite young people with little or no faith background into our churches and let them help shape our ministries.
And then he describes this reckless faith: “First, you leap. Then you grow wings.” When we step out in faith, we discover that we are not alone. We are unexpectedly sustained in ways we could never imagine. Step by step, usually with just enough light to see the next inch, we move forward. As scripture says, we go “from strength to strength.” We discover that where there was no hope before, there is now new possibility. We find that there are enough resources, prayers, people, and spiritual sustenance in each day to make us get through that day and into the next. We discover courage inside ourselves we never realized was possible. We discover colleagues, peers, mentors, fellow travelers and co-workers that we never imagined existed. We find wings…wings we didn’t know were possible until we took the leap.
But my favorite line is the first: “I love the recklessness of faith….” The writer stands in awe at the pattern that is repeated over and over in lives, ministries, and churches around the world. In matters of spirit and for navigating the interior life, faith is a more helpful guide and takes us further than either reason or certainty. Rather than feeling fearful, aghast, or upset at this truth, the writer embraces it. Forward movement toward God involves risk, and that’s a joyful thing. Following Christ is wonderfully and painfully risky, and that’s all right. Finding the inner courage to leap is one of the graces of life.
During the last few weeks, I’ve had the privilege of preaching and teaching in several “reckless” congregations. It’s reckless for one of these churches to think it can offer such edgy worship without chasing off mainline leaders, but it is reaching more young people than nearly any church I’ve visited. It’s reckless for another of these churches to build an expansive new extension for youth and children in such a lightly populated rural area, and yet the church has grown from seventy people in attendance to nearly four hundred in ten years and most of its membership is under 45. It’s reckless for another church to help launch a new congregation, but already that effort is reaching eighty new people. It’s reckless for a congregation in these financially stressful times to commit to a larger investment in overseas mission, but I know one that is thriving by doing so. I love the recklessness of these congregations. I love the recklessness of faith.
The adjectives of the five practices—radical, passionate, intentional, risk-taking, and extravagant—are all dangerously edgy. They push us into areas of uncertainty and discomfort. That cause us to ask questions about whether we are playing it too safe and too comfortable. They pull us forward toward new creativity, and they pull us out of ourselves into the lives and communities around us. They prompt us and poke us and stir us up. They help us risk. They help us embrace the recklessness of faith.
As the writer says, “I love the recklessness of faith. First, you leap. Then you grow wings.”
Yours in Christ,