Sermon for 9th Sunday after Pentecost 2019
Genesis 15:1-6 Psalms 33:12-22 Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 Luke 12:32-40
A Catholic priest, a Baptist preacher and a rabbi go fishing at a lake. The preacher has to go to the bathroom, so he walks across the water, does his business and walks back. Then the rabbi has to go, so he walks across the water, does his business and walks back. The Catholic priest has to go, but when he gets out of the boat he falls into the water. He swims back, gets back into the boat and says, “God, let me walk across the water.” He tries again and falls into the water, swims back, tries again and falls again. The Baptist preacher leans over to the rabbi and asks, “Do you think we should tell him where the stumps are?”
Do we live in an age of faith? Religious historians write that fervor of religious beliefs often appears in cycles. The Middle Ages is referred to as the Age of Faith. During this period, intense belief was common. The Reformation has been called the Age of Revelation, where religious people renewed their emphasis on the importance of scripture. The seventeenth century began the Age of Reason, with Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and others arguing for the power of the mind in critiquing religion.
The twentieth century was known as an Age of Experience, as charismatic faiths exploded and modern Americans looked to experience religion. It has been said that the twenty-first century may well be label the Age of Faith. Few considerations in living a life in community are more important than the faith of the people. It is by God’s grace, through faith, that we receive salvation. Faith in God is what keeps us going in the face of life’s challenges. Faith is the subject tackled by the author of Hebrews in chapter 11.
The book of Hebrews was written to combat uncertainty and encourage those who were having trouble holding onto hope when Jesus didn’t return immediately after his resurrection. The writer of Hebrews gives us a valuable definition of faith, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The Greek word for “assurance” is hypostatis. It is a word that has to do with our belief. The Bible often relates hypostatis with both faith and hope, for our faith is connected to our hopes.
In caring for folks, I began to realize that people all hope for things, yearn for things and in faith ask God for things. Sometimes our prayers are answered. Children are born. The treatment works. The new job comes. Sometimes things take longer, and those who are waiting like the people in Hebrews waiting for Jesus’ return, we are still waiting for an answer from God.
It is difficult to follow God when we are not sure where God is leading. When we don’t see evidence of action, we begin to wonder whether God is watching over us. We hope that God is watching. We see loved ones grow ill and pray in faith, that God will hold their future. Then, every once in awhile something positive happens in our faith, something special that restores our conviction, strengthens our hearts and reminds us why we believe what we believe.
Faith matters. Our faith gives assurance that God has our best interests at heart, knows what we hope for and holds our future. We can hope, but in faith we often have to trust God and other people with our future and find our assurances outside ourselves. We have to have faith that God has prepared a “heavenly place” for us.
Believing in something is what faith is all about. Our faith is a gift from God’s grace. It comes through God’s reaching out through the Holy Spirit to allow us to trust Jesus.
I have shared this story before, but just can’t talk about faith without telling it. I was newly ordained and went to the hospital to visit a friend and church member who had had heart surgery but had not woken up yet. I glanced in the waiting room to see if any family was in there before going to the room. No family was there. A woman was crying in the corner of the room. I did not know her and did the mental volleying about intruding or not. Her sobs got louder, so I moved toward her and introduced myself. She told me that her husband had had surgery and was not doing well. He had been in the hospital for a couple of weeks. Her pastor had just left. He told her that if her faith were stronger, her husband would be healed. She was a mess – full of fear and pain and disappointment. I told her that God loved her and was here for her. Her husband’s healing was in God’s hands. We prayed together and I went to visit my friend. My friend died and so did her husband. I began to think about his funeral and what that pastor preached at his funeral – was it guilt about her lack of faith? But that idea of faith has never left me. Our faith is a gift from God’s grace. It comes through God’s reaching out through the Holy Spirit to allow us to trust Jesus. It is not about our strength.
In the Gospel reading, we are encouraged to put first things first. The things of God must get the highest priority. Neither fear nor worldly distractions are to pull us away from God’s tender, attentive care. There are no purses, designer or not, no stock portfolios, of human creation that will not wear out in time. God promises to surprise all who stand ready and waiting, with the gift of the kingdom.
There is nothing easy about waiting in an impatient world – instant coffee, communication, conversation, news and transportation. But fear and lack of preparation can paralyze us. Fear is a symptom of modern life. We all worry constantly. In Luke, Jesus explains that people of faith shouldn’t be anxious about food or clothing. We need to learn to trust. So this passage starts with the powerful urging – please stop being afraid – Fear not!
People who live without anxiety and fear are liberated people. We can sell our possessions and give alms because we aren’t worried about the health insurance bill coming in the mail or saving for our retirement. Instead, we are entrusting to God the future and living completely and utterly in the present.
Armed with this outlook on life, Jesus then invites us to shift our focus. We are going to be dressed for action. Then he uses a variety of images – like those waiting for the master returning home from the wedding banquet or like a house owner who wasn’t prepared for a possible thief. We need to be prepared to serve the Kingdom in whatever way God has planned for us.
Jesus speaks words of comfort. What comes as a gift does not need to be bought with our wealth, which the faithful are free to lavish on others in need. Not shame, but amazingly tender concern stands at the core of the Gospel message. It is spoken as an invitation to trust our future to the gracious promises and presence of God.
I was reminded of the man caught in a flood. He was able to climb to the roof of his house. In a few minutes a row boat came by and offered help. He said, “The Lord will provide.” In a little while a speed boat came by and offered help. He said, “The Lord will provide.” At last a helicopter made a swoop over him and dropped down a ladder. He said, “The Lord will provide.” The flood waters rose and he was washed away. When he got to heaven he was furious. He told God he was disappointed in him not saving him. God said, “I sent a row boat, a speed boat and a helicopter. What did you want?”
We see God’s hands and heart and feet lived out in our community of faith. We must trust God’s plan for us and embrace the plans of others. We must be there for others in their pain and loss. Our shoulders are strengthened by God to help support others. We must put aside our fear and embrace our faith as we journey together. Maybe we are meant to journey not only toward God or even for God, but with God and in so doing, we bring others with us to build a community of faith, and we all will be fed! Amen.