Sermon for Trinity VIII, August 11 2019.

Published on Tue, 13 Aug 2019 11:13
Sermons

Hebrews 11.1:  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Sermon for Trinity VIII, August 11 2019.

Giles Goddard

 

Last week someone came to see me, to talk about confirmation. He said ‘I don’t know what I believe, I don’t know if I am living out my faith, I don’t know whether I’m really a Christian … my friends who are Christian disapprove of me … what’s it all about, Giles? And what’s confirmation for?’

 

I should have asked him to read the letter to the Hebrews. It’s all in there. Combination of confidence and mystery. It’s one of my favourite books…  written probably for Roman Christians being persecuted. There are some people who think it was written by Paul’s colleague Priscilla, but no certainty about authorship. It focuses on the person of Christ-  but is also much about faith and what faith is for and what it’s about.

 

The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

 

What does that mean, though?

 

The person I was talking to said -  I haven’t got an answer when people ask me what I believe. What do I tell them?

 

I think many of us struggle with the idea of faith: what is it? What do we believe?  Think about it a second. What would you say? What do you say?

 

My thoughts what faith is not are threefold.

 

1          Faith is not about being certain. There’s a phrase I often repeat to myself –  the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. By definition, faith is something which requires a leap. I don’t have to have faith that this floor will hold me up. I know it will. But I do have to have faith in the God who is love, because I can’t see or touch or speak directly with her.  There is a writer I love, called Anne Lamott, and she said:

 

The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. Faith also means reaching deeply within, for the sense one was born with, the sense, for example, to go for a walk.

2          Faith is not about agreeing to a set of propositions or ticking boxes.  In a way I think Christianity is distorted by the creeds … of course they are important, as an outline of the Christian system, but it’s not a tick box exercise.

 

In fact I want to try something, later which I’ve wanted to do for a long time – I’m going to ask you all to stand up at the beginning, and when we get to a part which you don’t believe or aren’t sure about, I’m going to ask you to sit down. I think it’ll be interesting to see how many people are still standing at the end.

 

3          Faith is not about orthodoxy. Have a look around you. I bet that there are as many different understandings of God & Christianity as there are people here. At the moment I am very involved in a big piece of work for the Church of England on sexuality, gender and identity called Living in Love and Faith. It’s become necessary because sincere and thoughtful Christians have reached very different views on questions of sex and gender and part of the purpose of LLF is to see if we can acknowledge one another’s shared membership of the Body of Christ even though we think very differently on these things.  The history of Christianity is littered with heartbreaking stories of the murder of heretics. That’s partly about fear and it’s partly about power, but it’s always sad – we are each, individually, too small to understand the whole of God. We each only get a part of it.

 

So Faith is not about certainty, it’s not a tick-box exercise and it’s not about one kind of orthodoxy.

 

So what is it about, then? 

 

Three more things.

 

1          Faith is a journey.  There’s a clue, here:

 

8By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.

 

It’s very clear to me that in order to discover who and what we truly are, we have to be open to unknown possibilities. We have to be willing to go on a journey. Not knowing where we are going, like Abraham? If we’re not open to possibilities we can never learn!

 

They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return.

 

2          Faith is community.  One of the things I disagree with most is when people say, you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. Oh yes you do. Because Christianity is, by its very nature, right at the heart of everything, shared. We  are the body of Christ, we say every week. Not  I am the body.

 

3          Faith is about love.

 

God is love, and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.

 

It’s worked out, in Christianity, through the person of Jesus Christ, who lived, died and was resurrected in some mysterious way for us, and through the Holy Spirit who inspires us and lifts us and carries us forward.

 

At the heart of it all is the mystery of the reality, the groundedness, the foundation of love. It is the reality of love which transforms us and leads us on and lifts us up, and it is the denial of love which destroys us – as Georgie said last week, greed and the desire for power are the killers. Love is the light, greed is the darkness.

 

SO: to sum up:

 

Faith is not about certainty, it’s not a tick-box exercise and it’s not about one kind of orthodoxy.   It is about a journey into the unknown, it is about community, and it is about love.

 

And finally; overall, it is about mystery. Which brings us back to the letter to the Hebrews:

 

1Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

8By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.

 

At the heart of our life is the mystery of love, and faith embraces the mystery. We are too earthbound, now, as humans. We don’t allow the mystery to flow through us. Faith is about putting ourselves in the hands of the God who is love, who is already at the heart of our being. Faith is about letting that happen.

 

So, my friends, to finish: let me exhort you to let the mystery flow through you, so that you can be seen, known, understood, as reflections of the life of love which Jesus lived. That’s what faith’s about. It’s quite simple and yet massively mysterious. But it changes the world, and for that, I give deep thanks. 

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