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Readings: 11th Sunday after Trinity

02 August 2013

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11th Sunday after Trinity

Proper 14: Genesis 15.1-6; Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16; Luke 12.32-40

O God, you declare your almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity: mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace, that we, running the way of your commandments, may receive your gracious promises, and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

WALKING around the extensive grounds of a National Trust property a few years ago, I discovered that the signage expected everyone to walk anticlockwise. By chance, I had set off clockwise. So, while there were always signs at junctions, none showed me which way to go. Instead, they all pointed back the way I had come, telling me that I was on a recognised road, but leaving me to make my own decisions.

Although I was walking, the collect (drawing on St Benedict as well as the Psalmist) envisages our running on the way of God's commandments, sure-footed even when the route is not marked out inch by inch.

God has made us for more than following directional arrows. In Robert Bolt's play, A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More says: "God made . . . man . . . to serve him wittily, in the tangle of his mind." We are not called to robotic compliance, but to intelligent, feisty discipleship, and the Bible paints a sometimes messy picture of the outcome. Faithful living is dynamic, a constantly evolving relationship with God.

"Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. By faith Abram . . . set out, not knowing where he was going." He had no directional arrows. Having left settled city life, at God's call, to become a nomad, childless Abram believed God's promise that his own son would be his heir. Despite many further childless years, he kept going, sometimes having vigorous words with God about his doubts. This was faith. It was not merely the spiritual equivalent of following directional arrows.

Hebrews tells of people who died in faith without receiving God's promises, seeing and greeting them only from a distance. We, too, walk by faith, not by sight. Faith is a relationship, not an abstract construct. We strengthen our faith as we set our lives in the context of the Bible's overarching story.

This gives us the confidence to live by faith that God's Kingdom is indeed coming. As Jesus put it: "Do not be afraid, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom." We are invited to live in an expansive, generous faith environment.

Faith is a response to an invitation to adventure. It is not mind-over-matter blind faith, or (to quote the White Queen in Through the Looking-Glass) believing "six impossible things before breakfast". Neither does living by faith involve sitting around waiting for a vision or step-by-step instructions to emerge from heaven. It is our active, informed, and loyal response to the bigger story of God's ways with the world.

We nurture it each time we recognise signs of God's activity, the signs confirming that we are on the right path; and we express it, as the Gospel describes, by being dressed for action, waiting to respond and do our duty even at inconvenient times.

Twice in this week's readings we hear: "Do not be afraid." If we are to nurture our faith so that we can go on in the face of fear, we are helped by having a good store of faith-engendering memories like those recounted to the recipients of the epistle. It may help to hear from older people, who often have remarkable faith in God, because they have more history to draw on to remind them of God's past faithfulness. It is never too soon, or too late, to start laying down memories of God's power, shown in God's mercy and pity towards us.

This approach to faith applies whether we face life in general, specific decisions, or entrenched difficulties such as ill-health, family problems, unemployment, or bereavement. Living faithfully requires tenacity, and sometimes is as unglamorous as doing whatever the next thing in front of us is, keeping on keeping on, doing the best we can in the circumstances.

Jesus commended the servants who retained their alertness when doing their boringly repetitive duty. Amazingly, he then turned the tables. Outrageously, the servants who were faithful ended up as the master's guests at the celebration.

We all have to start somewhere; even Abraham, the man held up to us as a model of faith, had to set out afresh each morning, and he walked - as far as National Trust signage went - in a clockwise direction. We are called to nothing less.

 

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