Leap of Faith

Rev. Chris Jimmerson
October 1, 2017
First UU Church of Austin
4700 Grover Ave., Austin, TX 78756

Often we must make decisions and face challenges with incomplete information and limited options. Sometimes if we move into these situations with an open mind and heart, doing so can be transformative.

This past Friday morning, as I sat down to start writing this sermon, which I had titled, “leap of faith”, I glanced at the calendar on my computer and realized that it was exactly three years from the day I began full-time ministry here at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin.

So, it occurred to me that I probably ought to start by thanking our senior minister, Meg Barnhouse, for having taken a leap of faith on a fresh out of seminary new minister, who had only just received ministerial fellowship from our Unitarian Universalist Association three days prior to that first day of full- time ministry here at the church.

Thank you all for supporting Meg’s leap of faith.

The phrase “leap of faith” is thought to have derived from the Danish Philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, who actually used the term, “leap to faith”, which he thought was necessary in order to accept the contradictions and paradoxes present within the Christian belief system.

In my life, I eventually came to agree with him about those contradictions in Christian beliefs, so Ileapt to a different faith and became a Post-Christian Unitarian Universalist.

Anyway, I wanted to explore the ways in which we take leaps of faith and even what we mean by the phrase these days, with or without the religious connotation. I was curious about how much power the phrase might even still hold in our more secular era.

So, I conducted my own, rigorous, scientific study.
I put a post on Facebook asking folks to tell me about a time they had taken a leap of faith.

The post garnered 42 responses.

I told my trainer at the gym about this because he often likes to get into philosophical discussions with me as he puts me through exercises no one my age has any business attempting.

He said, “Wow! I didn’t think you had that many friends.”

Apparently, he’s a comedian too.

Anyway, some common themes emerged. Lots of folks had made a leap of faith to move somewhere to which they had always been strongly drawn – a place where they felt a peace and at home – often at great expense and often involving the sacrifice of lucrative careers.

Similarly, many people expressed having given up a career, often in mid-life or later, and making a leap of faith to pursue a strong sense of calling:

– Some, like me, had felt a calling to ministry and found themselves upending their lives to enroll in seminary.

– Many other people had made a leap of faith to switch careers and answer a calling to one of the other helping professions such as psychological counseling, social work and medicine.

– Other folks felt called to pursue a wide variety of creative arts fields, from writing to music to different types of design work to performance arts and many others.

People also talked about making all kinds of leaps of faith around parenting.

Another common theme people expressed was taking a leap of faith to allow themselves to love and be loved, as well as to leave a long-term relationship that was no longer working.

Finally, several Unitarian Universalists wrote of their struggles to allow themselves to even experience faith again after finding Unitarian Universalism, because they had been wounded by religion in their past.

Several themes around what taking a leap of faith is and is not and under what circumstances we most often take such a leap also emerged from those posts, as well as in several journal articles I read on the subject.

We most often take a leap of faith out of a love for something, a desire for something greater and more fulfilling, not out of fear. In fact, fear-based decision making most often keeps us stuck where we are or causes us to regress.

Leaps of faith are not acting rashly or foolheartedly. They occur when we feel a strong pull toward something, we feel a need for change in our lives, we face some challenge, and we must make decisions about what to do with incomplete information and often with limited options.

We choose to move forward, we make the leap as best we can in the face of great uncertainty.

And, really, when in life are we ever not facing great uncertainty.

And in fact, some folks have expressed that their leaps did not even really feel like much of a choice at all. I remember reading the story of one woman who eventually established a successful consultancy business after feeling unfulfilled and miserable for many years in a corporate job. She wrote of her experience, “It felt less like a leap and more like being pushed off the edge of the cliff.”

And we have to know that sometimes we do fall off the cliff. Sometimes we make a leap of faith, and we fail, or it does not work out, at least not the way we had planned. Sometimes, like the Wiley Coyote in those Road Runner cartoons, we go flying off the edge of the cliff only to hang impossibly in the air for a moment and then fall straight to the ground below with a loud “splat”.

The thing is, almost always, like the Wiley Coyote, we somehow miraculously survive the fall. And unlike the coyote, sometimes good things do eventually come out of it – we learn from it – we are transformed even if recovering from the fall is painful.

Back in the early 2000s, my spouse, Wayne, and I had begun to realize that we wanted to make some changes in our lives. We were living in Houston at the time. For a variety of reasons, we wanted to get out of Houston and felt that Austin would be a better fit for us.

Likewise, though we both had good positions doing work we liked at a non-profit healthcare clinic, for me at least, there was still a feeling of something missing, something not quite completely fulfilling about what I was doing.

So, I began applying for positions in Austin.
In 2004, when I was offered a position as the executive director of a non-profit organization providing immigration legal services and advocacy on behalf of immigrant rights, we made a leap of faith.

Wayne is a physician, we thought. He can get work anywhere, we thought.

We leased an apartment here in Austin, and I moved over to start the new position while Wayne remained in Houston for a while to sell the house and search for primary care positions here in Austin.

We sold the house, and Wayne thought he had found a position.

Then, it fell through, and he was not able to find another one.


Apparently, at that time, primary care physicians across the country were trying to move to Austin, and the city’s healthcare infrastructure had not kept up with its population growth, so such positions were almost never coming open.

So Wayne had to go back to work for the clinic in Houston. For a year, we lived in separate cities, one of us traveling to be with the other one on weekends when we could.

And it was hard. It did feel as if we had fallen off of a cliff sometimes.

And yet we learned from it and were eventually transformed by it.

We learned that our love for one another, our relationship, was strong enough to survive and overcome the geographic distance that had been placed between us.
We learned that there really is some truth to that old adage that absence can make the heart grow fonder, but what they don’t tell us is that we have to work at it, even from across the distance, to help that love grow even stronger.

We learned that my domestic skills and talents were extremely lacking. I found out you can’t microwave an egg.

I’ve gotten better since then, though Wayne might feel differently as to what degree.

Eventually, Wayne got a great position with a clinic here in Austin, where one of the other doctors happened to be a member of this place called First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin.

He told Wayne all about it, and we decided to visit the church. So began a series of other leaps of faith that have been transformative in our lives and have led to me standing in this pulpit this morning telling you this story.

One of the things that so strongly drew me to Unitarian Universalism was that it inherently involves taking a leap of faith – not a leap to faith so that we can accept holding contradictory beliefs simultaneously like Kierkegaard said was necessary – but rather an acceptance that none of us has all the answers.

That revelation is continuously unfolding.
That there are questions more profound than answers.
That undiscovered vistas still lie before us.

That sometimes we experience transcendence by allowing the great mystery to wash over us.

We make leaps of faith within this religion all the time.

Lifelong UUs and/or UUs who are people of color, who stay with our faith even when it does not always live up to its own aspirations.

People who were previously non-religious who discover in Unitarian Universalism a faith that does not require holding beliefs in the supernatural.

Folks from various different faith backgrounds who often felt wounded by their prior religion, and find in Unitarian Universalism a faith where they can leap back in again.

And every Sunday, we come together as people from these wide ranging backgrounds and more. Every Sunday, we come together as a people with a multiplicity of theologies or world views.

Earlier, I called myself a “post-christian UU”. I made that distinction to acknowledge that we do have many UUs who view their faith through a Christian lens.

And among us every Sunday morning we have atheists, and agnostics, and possibilians, and Buddhists, and folks who draw from earth centered traditions and many, many other faith views. We have a number of us who hold a faith we have constructed for ourselves by drawing from many of the world’s wisdom sources.

Yet, despite these differing views, we come together to experience, no matter what each of us may envision it to be – humanity, the web of all existence, God, the music of the universe unfolding – no matter what we call it, we come together to experience something we recognize as much larger than ourselves, yet of which we are not just a part, but an integral part.

And that leap of faith we make together during worship, at its best, creates in us a sense of accountability to each other and our world – a faith that the way in which we lives our lives matters.

It takes a big leap of faith for us to come together across such a wide range of spiritualities, and yet every Sunday, we do exactly that.

Perhaps we need each other to take our leaps of faith. Perhaps, though we must sometimes go alone into the wilderness for a while, in the end our faith exists only in relationship with others.

In fact, sometimes, we make a group leap of faith. Over the years, I have witnessed the folks in this church make some pretty big and brave leaps of faith together.

Here are just a few of recent examples. Offering immigration sanctuary first to Sulma Franco and now Alirio Galvez. We were taking a leap of faith in both instances because it is not possible to know what the outcome may be when providing sanctuary.

And with Sulma, we were having to kind of build the bicycle while riding it because we had never done this before. And what a leap of faith Sulma took and Alirio is taking with us.

This church also had a capital campaign and is about to begin renovations and expansions. We made a leap of faith that like in that old movie, Field of Dreams, “If we build it, they will come.”

And my friends, they will come. Already, they are coming to our doors. We are only swinging those doors wide open and setting up a larger welcoming table for folks who are not really “they” but “us”.

Author and speaker Martha Beck said on Oprah, so it must be true, that our leaps of faith are always love based decisions, never fear based. These then are just a few of the love based decisions this church has made together.

We make our leaps of faith – we take risks in the face of uncertainty – because we are lured by love and life to do so. We take our leaps of faith because we don’t get to feel fully alive, most creatively alive unless we take these leaps.

We only get love if we leap.

We only experience the fullness of our own creative capacity if we leap. Our souls only take flight if we take a leap of faith first.

So, now you can go out into the world after our service today and tell people that one of the ministers at church told you to go take a flying leap.

Please, just be sure and also tell them that he said that because he wishes you the love and creative life fulfillment he gets to experience every day serving as a minister at this church.

Podcasts of this and other sermons are also available for free on iTunes. You can find them here.

Most sermons delivered at the First UU Church of Austin during the past 17 years are available online through this website. You will find links to them in the right sidebar menu labeled Sermons. The Indexes link leads to tables of all sermons for each year listed by date (newest to oldest) with topic and speaker. Click on the topic to go to a sermon.