Bishop Reflection: Leaning in to our stories of faith
by the Rt. Rev. Deon K. Johnson,
Bishop of The Diocese of Missouri
November 7, 2023
One of the constants in my childhood was my grandmother. Coincidentally, her name was Constance Katherine Murrell Johnson. Her singing voice was the soundtrack to my childhood. I often woke up to her singing or humming a spiritual or a hymn. Many mornings I woke up to her singing and many nights her voice was the last thing I heard. She died in 2001 and I imagine her in heaven among the celestial voices joyfully and blissfully singing.
She sparked my faith. She ignited the ember of God’s love and joy for me, not because of what she said, but because of how she treated others. No one was beyond saving and no one was outside the realm of loving. One of her consistent sayings was, “You always hold a light for the devil to see.” I did not really understand that saying until I was an adult.
She welcomed strangers and friends into our house so much so that everyone called her Mother. My story of faith began and continues because of her story. I got my courage from her, my strength from her, my inspiration from her. She sparked my faith with her stories. She did not just tell me stories of faith; she showed me what it meant to be faith-full!
Constance was not a woman of great learning, she only had an 8th grade education, but she was full of wisdom. She knew who she was and more importantly, she knew whose she was. She knew without a doubt that she was a part of God’s unfolding love story for her and for the world. She knew Jesus, not as a distant figure in a far-off place, but as a trusted companion and faithful friend along every journey, every highway, and every byway.
- Who sparked your faith?
- Who brought the story of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness alive for you?
- Whose story are you sparking with your life of faith?
Jesus in his earthly ministry sparked faith. Jesus often called those from the margins and the edges to find their being and belonging in the center. Not only did he see God’s love reflected in the lives of those who had been accounted as “less-than” he often commended their faith and their faithfulness in the face of bigotry.
As the Church today, we are the inheritors of those transformative and life-giving stories. The problem often is that we have tamed the radical love of Jesus to comfort and not convict, to calm and not challenge, to coddle and not confront. In some ways, we have reduced our faith to the simple recitation of prayers and not the transformation of faith.
For this time, we need to lean into the stories of our faith. For this time, we need to move from simply saying good things about Jesus and move towards being about sparking faith in Jesus.
Remember the time when you faced difficulty and despair and your faith carried you through? Remember the time you lost a loved one and the people of faith showed you what it means to receive holy hospitality? Remember when you felt alone, lost, and desperate and the right person showed up and reminded you that you are loved, seen, and valued? Remember walking into a faith community for the first time and someone offered you the hospitality of welcome? Share those stories. Center those stories.
Faith at its core is about sharing where, and when you have experienced God’s radical love for you and for the world. Our prayer then must be the prayer of the disciples, “Lord increase our faith.” Luke 17:5