12th Sunday after Pentecost

August 7, 2016

Summary

Faith – a daily relationship

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:1-6 ESV)

All religions deal with the supernatural – deities, worlds, and relationships which by definition are beyond our senses – beyond what we can empirically test – and to ‘get there’ people have used mental exercises – perhaps meditation, hallucinogenic methods, physical actions such as fasting or prostration, or diet or geography – those special places in nature or where the ‘energies gather’ – and these are all bridges or steps to link with the supernatural. Christians have used some of these methods over the centuries but especially since the Reformation there has been a clear message that it is through faith that people know God, trust God, and follow God in the person of Jesus Christ. This faith believes what God says – and so the believer says, ‘I believe what God says to me’. Today we consider faith.

Abram – later God changes his name to Abraham – has left Haran to go to a land God will show him with the promise that from him will come a great nation and through him all the families of the earth will be blessed. There is one slight hitch and that is Sarai – later God changes her name to Sarah – Abram’s wife – is barren. This is the first detail we hear when we’re introduced to her. In all the talk about descendants we’re not sure how this will come about for Abram. Abram isn’t sure! God’s made the promise but he hasn’t given the details.

So about 10 years later after leaving home and going to the land of Canaan which was occupied and then down to Egypt and back north into the Negeb where he and Lot separate only for Abram to have to go and rescue Lot and battle local kings, God keeps telling Abram that his descendants will have this land. But it isn’t happening and our first reading is about God coming to Abram in a vision and again promising protection and success but this time Abram wants details. ‘I’m still childless’ Abram points out – actually it’s pretty pointed ‘behold, you have given me no offspring’ and so he enquires whether the local inheritance rules apply – and is God going to keep his promise through Eliezer a trusted servant / slave? To which God says, ‘No. It will be your son’ and your son will be the first or an uncountable number – look at the night sky, let it be a confirmation to you.

All Abram has are words in a strange land not his own – his descendents will one day own it – words about a son and he still has a childless wife and it’s been 10 years (thereabouts) – and that’s the background to v.6 – And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Abram trusted that God will keep his word. There is no specific reason why he should – 10 years mightn’t be long to wait for some but many people today in our fast, impatient, time conscious world 10 years is simply too long. (Who do you think you are, God, to keep me waiting?!) For Abram … ok, the promise isn’t fulfilled as far as Abram could see but it wasn’t dead – and more importantly he wasn’t dead for God had been with him helping him through the past decade. Still Abram had a choice – trust or not trust – believe or reject – follow or say ‘time’s up, you’re a fraud, God’ and he believes which is regarded as righteousness – he is in a right relationship with God.

Faith is often very much about waiting – not seeing but trusting in what you’ve been told will happen – one day. And in the meantime? Well, you live regarding those words – often a promise – as truth for you, a guide for you in the day to day decisions you have to make.

Religious faith is often regarded as something very different from other faith. In essence faith is faith – a trust, a belief, a commitment to something you just can’t prove. Here in this world, we see whether our faith has been vindicated more quickly than with spiritual faith, which will only be revealed to be true for all the world to see at the end of things – when faith gives way to sight.

In the meantime we all have various faiths, things and people we trust – at home, at work, on the road, with strangers – which means we live by and with a lot of faith! Adding a God you can’t see, isn’t that big a stretch – and all the religions in the supermarket of religions are calling out ‘trust our God – he/she/ they are the best!’

Christians make this claim about Jesus. He is Lord. He is faithful when we’re not. He is merciful and kind. He is trustworthy. He won’t let you down. Such are the messages people have said about Jesus. The statements are all true but just saying that is a faith statement! For many people, Jesus or his followers have let them down; caused them to wait; didn’t do as

they said and so they can’t be trusted – and the faith evaporates. Troubles come and the faith withers.

Christian parents worry and are in anguish when their children – brought up in the Christian faith – don’t believe or pay lip-service to their Christian past for the parents’ sake but don’t live day-to-day trusting Jesus and his word. These parents then live in the tension of when to speak about Jesus but not to ‘drive them away’. Having faith is more than having knowledge – it is knowledge in a relationship that affects you and your choices, decisions, actions each day.

When we’re talking about God – faith in him – it is often expected that God will be acting in that person’s life dramatically, supernaturally, when often – most often – it is through the natural workings of this world. No doubt you’ve heard the joke of the pastor whose church was flooded and the water rising who believed that God would rescue him. The 4-wheel drive came from the emergency services but the pastor declared that God said that he would save him. Then power boat as the water lapped the ceiling. No, God will save me. Then the helicopter as the pastor was on the roof. No, God will save me. But the waters continued to rise and the pastor was swept from the roof and soaking wet he appears before God and asks, ‘Why didn’t you save me?’. To which God replied, ‘I sent you a 4WD, a powerboat, and a helicopter, what more do you want?!’.

God works through means – the stuff of this world – but that just makes him harder to see – and people then are more reliant on faith – and the world can still shake its head.

Back to Abram – God will give you many descendants, more than the stars in the sky. They will be wanderers – and oppressed for 400 years – and Abram will live a long life – but still no details about the child.

What happens next? Sara offers Hagar her servant to Abram. How unusual was that? No one really knows but if the wife is saying, ‘It’s ok’ … what’s a fellow to do?! Faith gives the answer. And God hasn’t given details – so maybe it’s this way – and Hagar gives birth to Ishmael – Abram, at 86 years old, has a son! – but there is conflict and trouble in the home – and we discover that trying to do God’s work for him isn’t faithfulness but impatience or rationalising behaviour you want to do.

So God goes to Abram again – changes his name, introduces circumcision as the mark of the covenant God is making – and now specifically says that Sarah who will give birth to a son. When both hear this message, they laugh – wryly perhaps, incredulity for sure – but they laugh – and even though Abraham puts Sarah into another man’s harem, and even though Abraham argues that Ishmael as his son surely could be the descendant God planned, God intervenes to make it clear that he will do what he says – and there will be no doubt – Abraham and Sarah will have a son, Isaac (means laughter) when Abraham is 100. This promise is 25 years in the making. Abraham was expected to have faith for 25 years in this single instance.

Are we prepared to both wait and act in faith? That’s the question a believer asks. The question arises particularly when there is an option to act as if one didn’t have faith. So God blesses a marriage – and the couple believes it at the altar – but later when things are tough going … what then? So God gives new life in baptism but there are no close encounters with God – nothing special – so why struggle daily with sins? Temptations are often thought of as matters of sin when at a deeper level they are actually matters of faith – do we believe and follow what God is saying in this situation?

I could go on about so much of our day-to-day living and whether faith in Jesus has any part in it. The truth, of course, is that we are not perfect believers. We have our doubts and struggles. We can make choices we know Jesus doesn’t want us to do but for the moment, Jesus can go jump. When it comes crashing around us, some people feel too ashamed to return to Jesus, while others do. What we find is that Jesus forgives us, restores us, and then tells us to trust him again in the day-to-day decisions! It’s as if Jesus hasn’t listened! Doesn’t he understand how tough it can be following him? Sometimes we do want to follow Jesus but we slip up and other times we just give Jesus the flip – faith can be so hard to live out at times.

That’s why Jesus doesn’t abandon us. God came to Abram and spoke. Jesus, using words, water, bread and wine, comes to us and speaks. His starting message is ‘I love you’ and then it can become very personal very quickly as the Holy Spirit takes God’s Word and applies it to us – as we hear Law and Gospel – not generally but personally to me in my marriage, with my work situation, with my fears, with my secret sins, with my hopes and dreams – and all the time guiding us in the day-to-day actions we should do to follow Jesus.

Christian faith is a relationship lived out each day – where Jesus holds us, forgives us, guides us, feeds us and blesses us – and in which we respond. Yes, we’re not going to be brilliant on our side of the relationship and we and the people around us will suffer at times but God will remain faithful to us. God’s Word will stand – it doesn’t fail – when it is located in the Word made flesh for us.

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Bible References

  • Genesis 15:1 - 6