By Faith

By Faith

Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Readings: Genesis 15. 1-6; Psalm 33. 12-22; Hebrews 11. 1-3, 8-16; Luke 12. 32-40 (view all)

I wonder what you would do if I asked you to draw God? When I was about twelve or thirteen, my RE teacher, perhaps short of ideas for activities for us to do at the end of the year, asked us to do just that, to take a blank piece of paper and draw ‘God’.

As you can perhaps imagine, there were more than a few pictures of old, bearded men lounging on clouds, as well as a plenty of other eclectic images.

It was just a task given on a whim, but the memory has stayed with me because I’ve become more and more convinced that the image we have of God matters. If, as many people do, we imagine God to be a harsh, authoritarian ruler, or as a distant, but generally gentle, grandparent, then this impacts the way we live our lives — our choices, our actions, our faith. 

So, how can we cultivate a healthy understanding of who God is? And what does it mean to live a life of faith? 

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus provides his disciples with two familiar pictures of what God is like. The first is of a Father — he tells them,

Do not be afraid… for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

And the second is of a Master, whose servants are waiting up for him to return — but this master, when he returns to find them ready, is the one who brings them into the dining room and serves them, instead of the other way around. Jesus shows us this through his life and death — the one who came to serve, rather than to be served himself, and to give his life for us.

These aren’t images of a distant god, who is uninterested in us, or an authoritarian god who subjects us to deprivation or punishment in order to ‘toughen us up’.

And yet, so often, we can allow our image of God to become twisted — a tragic event happens in our lives, or we see the sheer injustice of a world full of natural disasters, and we ask, ‘Is God punishing us? Does he want us to suffer? Does he even care about us at all?’ Even if we have been churchgoers for a long time, or for our whole lives, we can find ourselves in a crisis of faith. 

In this morning’s Old Testament reading, Abram, whose name later became Abraham is at a crisis point, doubting God’s promises and in need of reassurance. 

He has left his old life behind, including a place in his father’s house and his ancestors’ religion, in order to follow a new God, YHWH, who has spoken to him and promised him a new life, a new home, and a new family. And yet his destination still seems a long way off, and the challenges ahead seem insurmountable — so God offers him reassurance, and renews his promises with him.

Abram,’ God says,

Look towards heaven and count the stars… so shall your descendants be.

And we’re told that Abram chose to believe, and step forwards once again in his journey of faith. 

The author of the book of Hebrews draws on Abraham’s story in order to teach us about the nature of faith. For them, Abraham is a defining person of faith — someone who kept on ‘by faith’ no matter the barriers he faced. 

And they write that faith is about two things: ‘faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ Put another way, faith is about believing God’s promises, and the gift of seeing things from his perspective.

When we understand that God is actually truly good, then we can believe that ultimately he has only the best for us and for his world. And when we can see through God’s eyes, with his kingdom vision, we can let go of where we are now in order to journey towards the incredible plans that God has for us. 

We can live now, in the light of the eternity to come. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. is credited with saying,

Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.

And in those crisis points in our lives, we face a choice — to believe God’s promises, to believe he really does ‘have our back’, or to attempt to seize control of what’s around us ourselves — something which is ultimately impossible. Insecurity breeds insecurity, and we end up, stressed, uptight and anxious, checking our email inbox every thirty seconds, fearful of what might appear next. 

We also have the choice whether to trust God’s vision, or to follow our own. If we live to our own vision, we end up short-sighted, only able to see our little corner of God’s great and spacious kingdom, only willing to invest in the bits that concern us, rather than the common good of all. 

So, this morning, are we willing to once again step onwards in faith? To receive the gift of peace as we feel the weight of our problems lifted off of our shoulders and onto God’s, and the joy of being invited to receive sustenance at the Lord’s table. 

And are we ready to ask God to grant us the gift of seeing from his perspective? To be inspired with a vision of God’s dream for our lives, for our world, for our Ministry Area, and to let go of the old in order to embrace the new, to work for peace, justice and inclusion of all, to live our lives now in the light of eternity.

As I close, the American theologian, Reinhold Neibuhr’s , famous prayer of serenity comes to mind: 

God, grant me the peace to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

So, as we come to the Lord’s table this morning, may we come with renewed faith in his promises, and asking to see things from his perspective, trusting that we are his beloved children and ‘it is his pleasure to give us the kingdom.’ Amen.