First Reading Genesis 15:1-6
Psalm Psalm 33:12-22
Second Reading Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Gospel Luke 12:32-40
“Let your loving-kindness, O Lord, be upon us, as we have put our trust in you.”
- Ps 33:22. In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
"Do not be afraid." This almost seems like a platitude, when life in the world, and particularly life in Christ, can offer some scary propositions. This is not a new condition of humanity. "Fear not" and "do not be afraid" are offered over and over throughout scripture. There is so much to fear: terrorism, tyranny, war, the economy, hunger, racism, poverty, homelessness, disease, and death. These fears and more are all over the news, the internet and social media. It is impossible to escape these fears. The powers and principalities of the world even seem to use these fears to manipulate us. Paul's answer, along with pop singer George Michael, is simple ... you gotta have faith, faith, faith. Paul offers a concise, evocative definition of faith. "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." It is in this future, hopeful sense that Julian of Norwich offers us the words, "All shall be well ... and all manner of things shall be well." But this is in the future tense, leaning on faith itself, even as everything else is crumbling down around us. You just gotta have faith.
Faith is sometimes presented as necessarily divorced from evidence. Wrapped up in hopes and dreams, it is as if faith cannot be based on what we see and experience. If you have evidence for something, you don't need to have faith to believe it. That is not the sense of faith for Paul. Faith is not an irrational decision to jump off a cliff or step into the darkness. Faith is chosen and calculated by what we know and experience, and by grace our faith is empowered by God. Faith still contains risk and uncertainty, but it is not just blind stupidity. The foundation of our faith is faith itself. Faith is the air we must breathe to live! Faith involves belief and fidelity, question and doubt, obedience and action. Faith is a journey, knowing all that God has done, and yearning to see what is in progress, yet unknown. Faith causes us gasp for the next breath of God’s Spirit.
Anselm defines theology as "faith seeking understanding." Because we are humanity seeking reconciliation with divinity, we will never find complete understanding, which leads us back to faith. Paul understands the confusion in the Christian journey encountered in the early Church, and in our lives and communities today. In the face of all of our fears, our bedrock is our faith. Paul refers us back to Abraham, often called the "father of the faithful," to learn how faith drives our lives as Christians.
The Lord has made a covenant with and promises to Abraham, but so far in the story, these are things yet unseen. The flocks and crops and abundance are nice, but Abraham wants an heir. God comes to Abraham in a vision offering his continuing promises. Abraham has his doubts. God says, "do not be afraid," and gently leads Abraham outside to look at the stars. These are the stars that Paul reminds us were created by God's word, along with all of Creation. God said "let there be ... and it was so ... and it was good." God invites Abraham to consider and experience the glory and majesty of all the stars in heaven, and allows him to imagine that if God can do that, how much trouble would it be to grant Abraham and Sarah a child? We know how the story continues. Abraham, advanced in age, along with Sarah who is barren, conceive a child. Sarah wakes one morning craving pizza and it hasn't been invented yet. You can imagine the nurses in the medical tent unrolling the lab scroll to reveal that Sarah is pregnant. I'm sure there was laughter, and soon, that was the result. Little Isaac was born, whose name means laughter. God slowly reveals the fulfillment of his promises that Abraham's descendants will outnumber the stars in heaven. "Let there be ... and it was ... and it was good."
In times of doubt, God often points us back to faith in the many ways God is revealed, such as all the stars in the heavens. All the patriarchs in scripture do not see the completion of God's plan. Still God and Abraham both want, need, and long for the same things; they are aligned in their hope for the future. Abraham's faith led to action. He obeyed when God called. God's promises did not come first, yet Abraham still set out in faith for a place yet to be revealed. Abraham died in faith, all promises not delivered in his life, but seen from a distance, greeted and accepted. The Lord reckoned Abraham's faith as righteousness. Faith in the future, and faith elicited in the now.
We are called to the same faith, obedience, and action ... to plant trees under whose shade we will never rest. Faith encompasses an excitement of what God has done and what God has yet to do. Faith is based in our growing knowledge of God, and fueled by the longing to know God better, and to see what our faithful but enthralling God is up to. This means our alignment with and obedience to God takes on a more urgent dimension. We are not to be concerned with a faith that justifies, but faith that endures.
Jesus offers extraordinary words of comfort in an increasingly threatening world: "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." It is faith in God’s grace, God’s desire to give us good things, to inherit the kingdom, that allows us to defeat paralyzing fear. Jesus is making a plea for us to live in the kingdom now!
Jesus also shares a warning, which for some, brings fear back into the picture. Be ready, have your lamps lit, gird your loins to be ready for action. One interpretation is that if you are not ready, you will miss the boat. The Son of Man coming at an unexpected hour will be an ultimate judgement. This makes any of us question ourselves. But preparedness is not simply being ready so that you will avoid punishment, but rather to be ready so that you will receive blessing. Those who are ready when the master returns will be recipients of a heavenly feast!
Our Christian journey requires faith without fear. It is difficult to follow God when we do not always know where we are being led ... just ask Abraham, Jesus' disciples, or the early Christian communities ... or St. Paul’s Macon. We do not always know if we are following God’s will or our own. We may not always be prepared. We cannot watch over every part of our own lives and those we love. Servants will be found sleeping when the master arrives. Homeowners cannot be always be vigilant, and thieves will do what thieves do.
But knowing this, and being prepared for what God has in store, what excitement and fun we might have! Our faith gives assurance that God has our best interests at heart, knows what we hope for, and holds our future. Even when we stumble, in faith we know God is present to catch us, prop us up, and set us on the better path.
As we build our faith and pass it on to generations to come, it includes the certainty of God’s grace in what has happened and what is yet to come. It also includes the discontent over a world that has not yet realized God’s dream. This fuels our participation in the kingdom, and the desire to wake up every morning, prepared to serve. Our challenge is to breathe deeply in faith, and exhale with action.
When the master returns to find his servants ready, "he will ... have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them." Let us have faith without fear. Let us be prepared, be ready, and act. "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." AMEN