Tag Archives: trust

Faith

I wonder what “Faith” means to you? Faith is sometimes thought of as religious opinion; I’m sure you would go beyond that. We might talk vaguely of having faith in a government, school or doctor – that’s better ( it adds confidence to opinion) but does not have the idea of the trust which makes faith the basis of action.; that’s vital, as the stories we read today in Hebrews 11 and 12 show (the reading is Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2).

Faith is about what you do: it made the Israelites able to cross the Red Sea. They were pretty frightened, and it needed God’s action and Moses steadiness – but it was faith that made them listen to the instructions and then do them. They crossed the sea, and escaped the Egyptians, but they had to wait by the shore and then walk. That illustrates a point. Faith is not so much about being emotionally worked up and certain and not able to think of other possibilities. It is probably less important to have “great faith” than to be sure that the faith you have is in a great God, and is put into practice. So Abraham had to leave, travel, sacrifice Isaac. He didn’t earn favour, but learnt to look forward.

Faith is not always about doing the obvious. Moses had plenty of critics (and some mutinies). Joshua must have faced questions as he led the people in silence round the walls of Jericho. He may have shared those questions, but he had the faith to do as he was told, with dramatic results. Be careful! Faith is not following every daft idea that comes into your head. If you feel called to do something odd, check carefully and involve other people. Often the great temptation is to think we know best! Later, there are sad stories of those who thought they could improve on God’s instructions – Saul is an example, saving the “banned” cattle.

Faith is not irrational, but it is a decision, taken on the basis of what we know of God, to do what he commands, even when we don’t understand why or how it will work out. Moses had no rational chance against Pharaoh and his army; and yet, with some human co-operation and in spite of human opposition from others, his purposes succeed and the slaves go free. Human responsibility remains.

Faith can lead to uncomfortable experiences. Gideon and Barak both won important battles, but they were very uncertain, and needed a lot of persuading to take the lead. We are told that some won great victories, but others were lead by faith to suffering and death. And note that many were not “natural heroes”, faith changed them. Some we can identify. Jeremiah was mocked and imprisoned, Isaiah by tradition sawn in two, Zechariah stoned, and a number during Maccabean persecution (c66BC) tortured -2Mac6,7.

But that is not really the point. Why would we trust a God, if he might lead us into situations like that? Because its worth it. Even that sort of trouble is worthwhile if we then end up on God’s side. And we have an advantage that none of those examples did – we live after Jesus. We know what he endured, and where it lead him. We have even more reason to accept that a cross may be the way to heaven.

So faith is a belief, and a confidence, but always needing to be put into practice. These people, examples of faith, often knew less than we do of God’s plans, but they acted on what they knew; sometimes it lead them to strange and unlikely actions, but this was no madness – they were proved right by the results. Sometimes faith led them into suffering and difficulty, but again, it was not without reason in the purposes of God.

Which is all very interesting, and historical, until we realise that the time for faith is now. Don’t wait until you can see everything – you never will (on earth). If times are easy, faith will keep us from laziness. If times are hard, faith will keep us going. If times are confused, faith will steer us in the right direction. Faith, in a great God, is something to act on.

Faith

After 3 years of weekly comments on the gospel readings, I am moving on to comments on readings from the New Testament letters, while also referring you to earlier posts on gospel readings.

For Luke 4:1-13, see http://www.andrewknight.org.uk/lent/

In Paul’s letter to Rome, we read 10:9 “If you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from death, you will be saved.” Romans 10:8-13

It is very simple. Our attempts at “being good” are never enough to win us God’s approval or get us out of trouble. We need something else – belief / faith / trust in Jesus. (We need several words because they get cliched). Just as a skier doesn’t walk up the hill – they take a cable car or ski lift. So in Christian faith, we don’t expect to get there by our own effort. It is the doctrine historically called “justification by faith”

So, all you have to do is say the words, and that’s it? No. “ For it is by our faith that we are put right with God; it is by our confession that we are saved”. Rom 10:11 The scripture says, “Whoever believes in him will not be disappointed.”
To say “Jesus is Lord” was dangerous – Caesar was Lord, in Roman terms. To “believe that God raised him [Jesus] from death” verse 9 was not a matter of opinion; it was to recognise his significance, power, and authority. This faith that saves is a basic direction in life, more significant than adoption or marriage.

Does it matter what we do, then? Of course. You can help or hurt, be a blessing or a curse. Look at Jesus in the wilderness – he is trying to get it right, working out his trust in God the Father. [Or, if you are reading Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Look at the man bringing his produce to a Harvest festival, using words to recognise God’s gift of land and food].

If you are marking the season of Lent by some special or extra activity, it should be something that removes obstacles to God’s work in and through you. If you weren’t at all bothered to let Jesus control you, your faith would be in question – “Who are you kidding! “ we would say, “you don’t trust God, you keep preventing him doing anything!”.
But you can’t work it backwards, “I’m good, so I must be Christian”, not even “I’m good, and I believe in God, so I must be OK”. Not true – Jesus and the New Testament don’t say that.. Romans 10:9 “If you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from death, you will be saved.”

Faith, as trust in Jesus and letting him control – that’s what matters. Being Good, or less good – that doesn’t work with God, it’s just something we deal with later. Understand these words from Romans properly, and they bring great relief. What God asks of us is not that we reach a standard, but that we trust him, and let him do the work.

What if?

There is a story of a Nativity Play where Joseph was naughty, and was demoted to play the Innkeeper. Apparently reformed, his two words “No room” were perfect in every rehearsal, until the performance. The substitute Joseph knocked wearily on the Inn door and asked for shelter, and the Innkeeper beamed at him and said, “Of course, come right in”!

As we read Mary’s story – this week her visit to cousin Elizabeth, and the mutual recognition of the two pregnant women (Luke 1:39-45 or 1:39-55), you might wonder if it could have worked out differently. What if Mary had refused to be part of God’s plan? What if Joseph had divorced her? There are endless possibilities.

But Elizabeth is right when she says, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (or, in easier language, “The Lord has blessed you because you believed that he will keep his promise.” (CEV). Mary will make some mistakes, suffer a lot, but she is a pattern for Christian life. She accepts difficulties and risks, because she is asked to play a part in God’s work, and believes the promises she is given.

As we get to Christmas, let’s remember all those people who took the risk of believing what God promised, and took their place in the story. Not just Mary and Joseph, but the unnamed shepherds, and the kind innkeeper. They remind us that we too are called to play a part in the ongoing story, to believe that what God promises will happen, and that the ordinary people are sometimes the most extraordinary.

Resurrection

You don’t need modern science to tell you that dead people stay dead.  True, in my lifetime there have been changes of definition – we used to talk of heartbeat or breathing, and now both can be replaced by machines for a time.  But if you resuscitate a dying person, you still have to deal with the reason why they were dying in the first place.

So, when Matthew tells us of Easter Morning (Matthew 28:1-10), he is not saying that the crucified and buried Jesus has been resuscitated.  He is very carefully saying (as Luke says in Acts 10:40) that Jesus has been raised from the dead.  He is the same, and not the same.  Recognisably the same person, his body seems to work under different rules, and is clearly not weak and failing.

We’d love to know more.  What exactly is involved? How does this happen?  And we are not told.  Perhaps it would be beyond us.  We are given reasons to believe, but no explanation of the mechanism.  Matthew is careful to lay out reasons: Jesus had warned his disciples, there was prophecy, the tomb is empty – despite the guard, and the difficulty that causes the authorities.  Perhaps most important, I cannot think disciples lived new lives, and went to their deaths, for a lie.

Matthew is keen to explain that the risen Jesus continues the relationship with his disciples that has been the most important part of their discipleship.  As time went on during his ministry, they didn’t learn a system, progressing from elementary to standard and advanced.  They got to know him, what he was like, what he thought important, how he used the power and gifts of God.  That would continue.  It might not be an easy beginning: all had made mistakes earlier, but now, they had to come to terms with the fact that at Jesus betrayal and trial and death, they had all failed – seriously.  Re-forming that relationship with Jesus would be difficult, but vital.

That is one of the important things about Easter for us.  Like those disciples, we face the challenge of building a new life.  Even if we have been Christian for decades, it is always a new life, resisting the easy slipping back into the habits and ways of the surrounding world.  Can we live in the way he still lives, following his lead, keeping close?  It always has been a challenge, and still is.  We don’t have to make the journey to Galilee, but seeing Jesus, and what he is doing, is very much part of our Easter agenda.

The direction of Power

The story of Jesus visiting his friends and raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45) is a powerful introduction to the crucifixion and resurrection – though Lazarus is brought back to human life, and will die again, and Jesus is resurrected, to eternal life with no further death to face.  You can see why we read it on Passion Sunday, looking forward to the final events of Jesus’ earthly life. It stands with the raising of the widow’s son at Nain, and of Jairus’ daughter, as signs of Jesus power, even over death.

But it is not only Jesus Power, it is about his motivation. In fact there are at least 2 other things to see in this story.  Jesus cares about these people. They are friends. He knows how different the 2 sisters are – Martha will meet him with forthright words, Mary with emotion. Jesus accepts that. He sympathises, and is moved to tears himself. Yes, his power, and this action, is important – but he is no showman, manipulating his audience to do tricks. Lazarus restored life will be a witness, and a support to the family.

So we learn about Jesus power, but also about his sympathy and relationship with this family and its members.  Thirdly, again importantly, we see how his conversations deepen the faith of Martha, Mary, and the others there. Martha: “Yes, Lord, I Believe that you are the Messiah”. Mary just comes to Jesus and kneels at his feet. For the moment, they are entirely bound up in their bereavement (which would have had serious consequences for their lives). Yet it will not be long before the faith now dawning and strengthening will be essential to them as Jesus disciples are scattered after his execution.

Are we just onlookers? I hope not. We need to know each of those 3 things, and to know them not just intellectually, with book learning.

  • Jesus is powerful. Some idea of what he can do is vital for us to trust.
  • Jesus cares. Even minor characters – the ones we might call unimportant – get loving and sympathetic treatment.
  • Jesus wants to talk with us about faith, life, and where we are going. Only when that happens can we find our way – His way – forward.

I imagine Mary said many times, “Why did it have to be like this?” We could answer, we are so glad it was like that, and written down for us to benefit!

Creation

Today we think about Creation, reading Genesis (1:1 – 2:3), and then from the sermon on the Mount Matthew 6:25-34.  Creation is an idea many of us have grown up with, so much that we find it hard to imagine alternatives.  Christians see God as one who is responsible for the (original and undamaged) Universe, who made things and declared them good.  That means we cannot see the world and ourselves as mere accidents, nor can we see material things as somehow “unspiritual” or an obstacle to deeper understanding.  Wasn’t it CS Lewis who said (roughly) “God likes things, He made them”, and went on to remind us that the use of bread and wine in the eucharist, and water in baptism, shows something of the importance of the physical.

So Christians enjoy what God made, and feel that the world deserves the respect due to its status as God’s work.  “Green” concerns, and respect for animals as well as humans, come from this.  What more is there for Jesus to add in the gospel?  He talks about the pointlessness of worry.  We need to think more deeply about Creation, and see that a God like that – a God who made things well, and enjoyed them – can and should be trusted.  Trust will stand against fruitless worry.  We may not understand everything, but here is an answer to “what if” disaster imaginings.  God cares, and while his Creation is now less than perfect (that’s the bit in Romans 8:18-25 about creation groaning), God hasn’t changed.

If you want to worry about something, then what God is doing and wants to see done is a much better concern that tomorrow’s meal.  Putting ourselves in line with God’s agenda brings purpose, joins us with other Christians, and puts our problems in perspective.  This is what we are meant to be about, part of our “re-creation”.  It helps with anxiety, loneliness, frustration, and the wrong search for celebrity.  Perhaps that is what Jesus means by “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  If what matters in your life is what matters to the Creator, you may well find purpose and peace, friends and forgiveness.  Of course, you may also find trouble – but you won’t face it alone.

Faith travels (Proper 14, Pentecost 12)

What is it about Abraham? Hebrews 11:8-16 tells of a man of faith. Not faith as a dogmatic, stubborn closed mind, living in an imaginary world. Abraham sets out on a journey because he trusts God, trusts that God has called him to travel. His faith is that trust – to go forward, take risks, (even to leave what he knows and follow God’s promise). It is through this faith, this trust, that he becomes such a key part of God’s story and the working out of God’s plan. Remembered by 3 faiths: Christian, Jewish, Muslim.

Perhaps we need to look closely to see how it is. Not blind obedience – he doesn’t live by rules: do this, don’t do that. No, he lives close enough to God to hear, and when he hears, to have the confidence to obey, and see it work out.

That’s exciting, and a bit scary. But it seems to be where many Parishes, and individual Christians, are. There is a time to think about where you are and where to go, about what God has taught you and what to do with it, to look at context – the community around you, and the comparison between Church culture and the culture of local people. How well is the sharing of Good News working? How many new Christians have there been in the last few years? It’s not quite 12 months since I left a Parish, and they have been getting used to some of these things.

Back to Abraham. He doesn’t see it all happen (we are talking c 1800BC!), but he sees God working in his life and his lifetime, and looks forward even beyond his time. So, will you look forward and work for the future, or only back? Have you the faith to be on God’s journey, looking for the promises, and the reassurances of being on the right track? This week’s gospel (Luke 12:32-40) paints a picture of some of the blessings given to those who travel that way. But we still have to set out, and keep going.