Faith – how many times did we hear the word in our reading? 6. The word is mentioned some 400 times in the Bible, depending on which version you read.
Faith – dictionary definition: ‘great trust or confidence in something or someone’. The definition given in the first verse of our Hebrews reading is – “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
It’s a word which has positive connotations – “Keep the faith”; “ We have every faith in him/her”; “Have faith in yourself”; “Taking a leap of faith”; “It’s my faith that keeps me going”; and of course from Matthew 17:20 when Jesus said “Faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains”.
Yet picking up on recent media sound bites faith seems to getting into a much more negative vibe – “We’ve lost faith in the justice system”; “The country has no faith in government/politicians, to restore faith they need to start keeping their promises”; and, closer to home, in relation to Bury FC, “the fans have lost faith in the current owner”. Interestingly though the latest chairman statement calls us fans to hang on in there and have faith! It would seem we are a land which, generally, has lost any feeling of great trust/confidence. And when it comes to faith in religion increasingly those around us claim to be of no faith. Our Christian faith is becoming more and more marginalised. Having faith – Christian or otherwise – is becoming a challenge. But wasn’t it ever so?!
Our faith rating
So what about us here this morning? The Christians of Walmersley. We who are attending church. We who do have belief; or are seeking belief. What’s our faith rating like? How do we register on the Abraham faith scale?
Our reading from Hebrews was reminding us of Abraham’s faith. Of his great trust and confidence in God and in God’s promises. How many of us, if God called, would be prepared to uproot ourselves and move to another (unknown) part of the world on the promise of a better life? Abraham did.
How many of us, of more mature years, would trust in a promise of more children and descendants who would outnumber the stars of the sky? Abraham did – though it has to be said, with more than a little cynicism!
How do we measure up?
Reading this passage of Hebrews made me think of the millions of refugees who have had to leave their own country to seek a safer, better home elsewhere. I thought of the thousands who try to make the crossing from North Africa to Europe; those who make the trek from Syria. They know that they face many dangers –people traffikers, miles of ocean in open unseaworthy boats, etc, etc and not least that they may well not be welcome in the promised land – indeed there are many who want them to be stopped from coming. Yet in desperation they still come, in hope, that things will be better in the new land they seek. Sure of what they hope for and certain of what they have yet to see.
Abraham had absolute trust in God. If God said this or that would happen then as far as Abraham was concerned it would! May be not right away but in time. Abraham had absolute reliance in God’s word. And because of that God says (Genesis 15:6) that Abraham is a righteous man. He’s a man who is right with God, a man who is how God wants him to be; a man God is pleased with; a man who is dependent on God in his life.
So, if we look on ourselves as people of faith, how do we measure up? Do we have Abraham’s absolute reliance. We may like to think that we should be expected to say “yes” to that question but I suspect, and speaking for myself, the true answer would be more akin to the grain of mustard seed that Jesus spoke of. A seed which is growing – and thankfully continues to grow. I would say of myself, “ I’m a work in progress!”
Mustard seed and mountains
I would like to ask each one of us to take a good look at our faith rating. Are we encouraging our mustard seed to grow? Are we content to let it remain a seedling or are we looking for growth toward the moving mountains stage? We may have it within us, especially when we gather here on a Sunday morning, but what about tomorrow and the rest of the week out there in the world? Would those around recognise us as people of faith based on how we act, what we say, how we relate to the world? When God calls will it be strong enough to react and do what he asks?
We may be apprehensive of course but that shouldn’t stop us stepping out in faith. Speaking out for Jesus; pledging belief and trust in him – in God – here in church, in this building, is the easy part. It’s out there in the world it becomes more difficult. That’s the real challenge for all of us.
Ask ourselves a question
Like Abraham, like so many whose actions are recorded in the bible, like so many since those days, when the call comes, when we are put on the spot, and we have to put our faith to the test and put ourselves in God’s hands. It’s not so easy then, and it’s not always easy to explain the whys and wherefores of what we do and the faith underpinning it. As St Thomas Aquinas said “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary; to one without faith no explanation is possible.”
This morning let’s just ask ourselves the question – life is a challenge – living in faith is a challenge – living with faith is a challenge – we know that. The thing is, are we ready to be challenged? Is our faith secure and strong enough? Are we ready?
This was a talk given by Nigel Silvester at Christ Church Walmersley on Sunday 11th August 2019. It’s based on Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16. For an earlier talk by Nigel please follow this link. For possible lessons to be learnt by the church following the later demise of Bury FC, please press here.
Please also check out this very moving blog by BeautyBeyondBones, one of our long-term friends. It tells of how important Hebrews 11:1 was to her during her time as an inpatient for anorexia.