“Whatever” can be used as slang to dismiss what someone has said. In her sermon, “A Whatever Faith,” the Rev. Teresa L. Fry Brown used it positively to describe having faith wherever you are and whatever circumstance you find yourself in.
She was preaching at the 9:15 a.m. Wednesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Her text for the sermon was Romans 8:31-39, Paul’s hymn that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
“I have been reflecting on some of the questions that people asked on Sunday about my faith journey, why I have stayed in the church despite the bibliolatry, the numbers who are leaving, the specter of sexism and racism, elitism and militarism all around us,” Fry Brown said.
She called Romans her “second heart” text, her first being Psalm 34, which was her text for Tuesday’s sermon. Her mother was a woman of faith, and she taught Fry Brown that in the midst of “faith quakes,” times of failure or the need to be close to God, God is still in control.
“Whatever my lot, it is well, it is well, it is well with my soul,” she said, quoting the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul.” “A whatever faith is a faith that says no matter what the case may be, God is still God. We receive God’s assurance of peace and grace while we wait in this inexplicable mess.”
Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, who were living in times similar to our own, she said. They were unable to do anything about the poverty, war, the selective justice, violence everywhere, “killing what they did not create, drunk with power and giving voyeuristic critiques of other people’s lives through soap operas and grocery store checkout magazines, men and women abused for the pigmentation of their skin who lived in a land they helped build but could not own, whose young people were called ethnic thugs while others were called misguided youth.”
The Romans revered power, but Paul knew that God’s power was more and the believers who claimed Jesus Christ as their true savior “knew the price, the cost, the hardship, hallelujah and majesty of ministry.” Paul was called to follow what God said, regardless of the circumstances.
One of the circumstances Paul had to confront was a handicap that pushed him to his knees, she said. Three times he asked God to remove it and three times God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.”
“Stop worrying about your limits; have a whatever mindset,” Fry Brown said. “Just live your whatever because no one can tell you what your whatever is.”
God spoke to the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “Surely I know the plans that I have for you, for your welfare, to give you a future with hope.” Paul told the Christians in Rome that “surely, absolutely, conclusively, without a doubt God knows the plans he has for you, for your well-being and prosperity,” she said.
“God never lies,” Fry Brown said. “Faith is born in the crucible of the struggle and the trials of life. If you knew where God would place you, would you go ahead and go there? Personally, I would go the other way.”
But God has blueprints and strategies for our lives regardless of how old we are or where we reside, she said. If we listen to God and believe that God has a plan for good, we can defeat anything.
In Romans 5-6, Paul described the inheritance that the believers had. They shared in Christ’s suffering, and through that suffering, the world groans with labor pains.
“Despite spiritual hysterectomies, God is still birthing a hope-filled future,” Fry Brown said.
What can we say about God? Paul asked. If God is for us, who in all creation can be against us?
“If God put everything on the line for us, is there anything that God would not do for each and every one of us?” Fry Brown asked. “Only God can separate us from God’s love. Who is foolish enough to mess with one of God’s handmade children?”
Jesus, she continued, died for my sins, not some church or institution.
“No one can drive a wedge between you and God,” she said. “You are more than conquerors; you can defeat anyone because God loves you anyway, even when you are imperfect. You are cleansed, consecrated, commissioned by God’s Spirit, and the Spirit sees possibilities.”
She quoted Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, not things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” can separate people from the love of God.
“When I look back on my life, I have experienced the mercy of God in every step,” Fry Brown said. “Whatever my lot, nothing can disconnect me from the love of God. A whatever faith says that whether or not I make the team or get the job, God has something better. When we were dead inside, God erased the record and we were paroled by the Spirit. We can say, ‘Whatever my lot, it is well with my soul.’ ”
Deacon Ed. McCarthy presided. Celia Thomason, who is enjoying her third year as resident adviser for the Chautauqua Scholarship Program sponsored by the International Order of The King’s Daughters and Sons, read the Scripture. The Motet Choir sang “Ecce sacerdos magnus” by Edward Elgar under the direction of Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music. The Jackson-Carnahan Memorial Chaplaincy and the Harold F. Reed Sr. Chaplaincy provide support for this week’s services.