United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

Leap of Faith”

April 14, 2024

Rose Sheehan, CP, MBA



What is a Faith? According to Wikipedia, Faith is defined as a strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion.


Now, I like to tell you about a movie that I saw years ago and it had a real effect on me. It was called "Leap of Faith" It is about a revival show, and about a character named Jonas Nightingale, faith healer and preacher, who can pick a stranger at random out of his

audience, and tell him or her the most amazing things about themselves. And then he takes up a collection!


"Leap of Faith" was the first movie at that time to reveal the actual methods used by some revivalists and faith healers to defraud their unsuspecting congregations. It exposed how electronics and computers were used to fabricate miracles on demand.


 As the movie starts, one of the trucks breaks down with engine trouble, and they pull off into a Southwestern town to throw a few unscheduled shows until replacement parts arrive. Part of the plot, the best part in my opinion is how the Preacher and multiple other characters struggle with their faith and hope.


In 1992, there were faith healers on TV as bizarre as portrayed here, and even though before this I was not a fan of Steve Martin; in this movie he is rather good. His prancing, posturing delivery, his show-biz antics, his glittering suits, his backup gospel choir; all truly feel real and draw you in.


What many people did not know at that time was the way faith healers use computerized databases, informers and overheard conversations to gather miraculous insights and fool their congregations.


 Today we call that scams and our fraud alert warnings go off.  

They used a tiny earpiece in the preacher's ear, so that a backstage helper can whisper instructions: "Woman in red, sixth row aisle seat . . . has back problems." Debra Winger plays the woman backstage at the computer.  Like her boss, she sees the show as good honest entertainment. People pay their money, and they leave with a few laughs, a few tears, some great music, and maybe a little more hope than they walked in with. Where's the harm in that? When the local sheriff played by Liam Neeson tries to shut down the show because times are hard and the drought is killing the crops, and people don't have money to throw away on con men, it's Winger's job to charm him. The preacher also meets a woman in the town, a waitress with a younger brother and he is attracted to this woman. The waitress’s brother sees the preacher as a man who can possibly heal his crippled leg. The waitress does not. The preacher tries to warn him off, he tries to give the kid a break. He knows the truth about his own miracles. All of the story in this movie is fascinating, and what happens toward the end – I love! Spoiler alert: multiple characters take a leap of faith!


Now, I like to share with you a leap that I have taken in my life. One big one was when I went back to college to get my first bachelor’s degree after being out of school for over 20 years and then I went unto get my MBA. All that while working full time, helping my husband struggle with illness, helping my 3 sons finish high school and get into colleges, and being an active member and Elder in my church, etc. There were multiple thoughts on my mind while trying to make the decision to go to college, not necessarily in any order but all at once.


I had some real doubts and doubting voices in my head!

“What are you nuts! This is not the right time! You cannot do this! I switched my thoughts to “you can do this and just try and see what happens”. Then I prayed and I tried and kept praying through it all.


Psalm 4 -Answer me when I call, O God of my right!

You gave me room when I was in distress.

 Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer!


Years later, the next big leap that I took was not my decision, not just my leap but God’s calling me to pulpit supply, to pursue Theology courses at seminary, to go through the arduous process of writing essays, interviews and testing to become a commissioned Pastor. The voices on my mind were saying: are you sure God-me -you want me? The discernment process was long and in depth much like Henry is going through now but with much prayer and much help from the many solid people of faith from the Elmwood Park church and especially Mike Capron who mentored me, I was able to take that walk of Faith with God.


Now, unto today’s reading from Luke 24:36-48.

Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see, for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. Yet for all their joy they were still disbelieving and wondering, and he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.


Can you imagine how scared they were when Jesus appeared -they were terrified!


The disciples had ongoing doubts and terror since they think they are seeing a ghost. To convince them that he is indeed really present, Jesus shows them his hands and feet, referencing the nail marks. Jesus is showing proof that he is not a ghost. Among the ghost tests, people would check that bones were evident, like hands and feet and make sure that a person’s feet were touching the ground, and look at one’s teeth and to see if they ate food.

In Luke 24:4, we hear “Have you anything here to eat?’” After eating the broiled fish, they gave him, he once again reminds them that everything that happened to him happened in order to fulfill the Scriptures.


They were not prepared to take this leap of faith, that this was truly the Messiah in front of them.   Jesus knew they had doubts, he had offered his hands and feet as proof of his true existence. Then he ate broiled fish and this is significant because it proves that Jesus was not ghost, ghost don’t eat. Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures were fulfilled.


Jesus made us all with free wills and minds, feelings and thought, therefore we have doubts. We are not robots! Every day we must make choices and preferably choose to include prayer and God into all parts of our lives. I don’t know everyone in this church very well yet, but what I do know is that everyone that I have met, seem to have solid Christian beliefs and want to continue walking in faith.

I think when Judy started the Garden State Threshold Choir and Karen started Baby’s closet, they both took Leaps of Faith. Most recently the deacons with the help of many here -had the first post covid Easter Egg Hunt. Now, even though you had the Easter Egg Hunt before, this took work, courage and faith to have this event again. In previous years, people had showed up an hour early and so we were expecting that.

But when only a couple of people with children had shown up by 12:40 pm, someone expressed their reasonable doubts to me and I also wasn’t sure. I think we were both praying a bit harder at that time that this would not be a bust. But then 5 minutes later people started to come in and then kept coming and a successful day with children and over 200 people in all was a beautiful outreach to our community. I am sure there are many other examples of faith here at United.


I want to remind us all, that God made us human, not perfect and it is ok to have doubts or fears on the road of faith! We are human, not perfect!


Yesterday, I walked past a homeless man outside of Dollar General in Saddle Brook. He was huddled up on the ground with a plastic tarp covering him partially up, but he was not begging, just sitting there looking wind burnt, tired and probably hungry.  As I passed him, I thought what can I do for him and also is it safe for me to approach him? I said a prayer for him and went inside and bought him bottled water and a snack. It took my faith and courage to give it to him and he barely looked up at me as I left the bag by him and I was glad to see that some other people had also left him food. I also made a phone call from the car and asked for someone from the town to please check on him, not cause him trouble but see if there was anything more that could be done for him.


There are so many everyday situations in our lives where we can apply our faith.


When I started this sermon earlier this week, there was not an escalating conflict in the Middle East. We need Faith that God will help us through this and we need to pray for this situation. Prayer, faith and God will get us through.


I think sometimes Faith can be like a leap, sometimes a skip, or a step, the saying is one step at a time, but I say one prayer at a time. A leap or step of Faith is always a possibility!


I encourage everyone to keep praying and to try to continue to follow the path of faith and that will take you further on the walk with God! Keep praying for each other and supporting each other!  

If you need anyone to talk to about your faith journey, I am sure that Rev. Becca is more than willing to listen and help and I am also willing to support you in your faith journey; but please remember Rev. Becca and I are human, not perfect - and always remember that God is available 24/7!


Galatians 5:5 For we live by faith, not by sight.