Hebrews 11:1-16 & Luke 12:32-40
Someone once said that hope is hearing the music of the future and faith is dancing to it.
Both our readings this morning are about Christian faith. There are three things that I’d like to draw out from them that I believe we need to get our heads round if we are to follow Jesus fruitfully.
The first thing I’d like to suggest is that Christian faith is faith in God’s promises. Jesus was talking about God’s promises to provide for the physical and material needs of God’s people. He was also talking about his own promise to return to bring in the government of God in all its fullness and glory. The writer to the Hebrews was talking about God’s promise to provide a home for God’s people for all eternity.
There are many other promises that God makes to us. God promises that if we repent and accept Jesus as our Lord then we will live forever in God’s household. God promises that we aren’t slaves in that household, but beloved children. God promises to speak to us. God promises to give us the Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide us as we follow Jesus. God promises that our lives will be fruitful.
All these promises are guaranteed by who God is. God is the creator of everything. God made the earth and the sky, the sea and the stars, every living creature and plant. God made you and me. God is the source of all life and love. God is the one who spoke, and creation came into being. God speaks and it happens. There is no gap. God’s words shape reality. More than that, all that is, everything that exists comes from God speaking. God’s words are reality. So God’s promises are completely real and trustworthy.
God promised Abraham that he would have many descendants that would make up a nation, and that God would provide them with a good land to live in. Abraham had faith that God would keep that promise, and the Old Testament in our Bibles is largely the story of how that promise was kept, but that despite this God’s people were not faithful. In fact, it shows that rather than having faith in God and God’s promises, they chose to put their faith in other things.
Unlike God’s promises, there are many things that are not reliable, that are not trustworthy. They will fade away and provide no support in the long run.
Some people put their faith in money and wealth. They think that money and possessions will bring them the best life that they can have. That is a fickle place to put your faith. Firstly, because the evidence is that many people who are wealthy have wretched lives, and many people who are materially poor have rich lives. Secondly, because as recent events have shown, the amount of control we have over our material possessions and wealth is not very great. They can be stolen from us by thieves, credit crunches, and budget deficits. Putting faith in money is foolish because it doesn’t bring what we think it will, and we have little control over whether we have any or not.
Some people put their faith in dead friends and relatives. There seems to be an idea around that people who have died can watch over us and affect the way that life goes for us. I think that I understand where this idea comes from. It is a comforting idea, one which we might want to be true. But I do not believe it is true, and I think that it is a dangerous belief. I think that it is dangerous because it can stop people putting their faith in something much more reliable and comforting, the promises of God.
I’d encourage you to spend some time this week chewing over God’s promises to you. You may want to talk with somebody about what those promises mean. For instance, do you believe that you have been promised full and eternal life? If not, and you want to live believing in that promise then please talk to someone before you go today.
You see, action is an important aspect of Christian faith. It is no good just believing things, we have to act on that belief.
The second thing about Christian faith is that it leads to action. Faith that does not lead to action is not Christian faith. The writer to the Hebrews says that Abraham was honoured for his faith because he acted in what God had told him would happen. God said to Abraham, “Go here and I will do this for you.” Abraham went. He acted on the basis of the promise. That is true faith.
Through Luke’s account of his life, Jesus shows us something about this. He teaches that our faith looks forward to Jesus’ return and affects the way that we behave, because of that expectation.
Liz and I have just returned from New Wine, and it was really encouraging to hear the stories of the work that God is doing in peoples’ lives up and down this country. To hear of the Christians moving into the most deprived estates in Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, to be Jesus’ love in those places. One of the themes that kept coming up through the week was that of urgency. As one speaker put it, “I don’t want to get to glory and to hear God say, “What were you faffing around doing, why didn’t you just get on with it?”.
It encouraged me to take a step back and look on my life and ministry and ask myself, “Does my life look like I believe in the promises of God? Am I acting in line with the faith that I say that I have?”
A couple of weeks ago I was out doing door to door surveys in Etruria. I met a few people and listened to their stories. I often asked if there was anything I could pray for that was going on the lives of the people that I met. There was one bloke that I met whose sight is deteriorating, and asked me to pray for him. I said that I would, and I have done, but I didn’t offer to pray with him there and then. I regret that. My faith was not strong enough to take that risky step. I intend to go back to that house this week and offer to pray with him for his sight to be restored. Will you support me in prayer and faith as I do that?
Maybe this week you could spend some time asking yourself that question. Does my life look like I believe the promises of God? What needs to change in your life so that it reflects what you believe? Ask the Holy Spirit to show you and strengthen you to become more fruitful. You might want to talk about it with a Christian friend. One of the reasons that God gives us each other is so that we can support each other in living out our faith.
The third thing that I want to highlight this morning is that Christian faith expects to see the Kingdom. I have talked about lots of the promises of God this morning. I have said that they all have a shared foundation, they all flow from the reality of who God is. God’s promises are trustworthy because they made by God. It seems to me that all God’s promises share a fulfilment as well. All God’s promises are kept in the coming of the Kingdom. The dawn of the undisputed rule of God over all creation happened when Jesus rose from the dead. At that point we were given the proof that death is beaten, and that in Jesus all can live. When we see God provide for us now, in our physical needs, in healing, and in people coming to a saving belief in Jesus, then we see that Kingdom breaking through. One day Jesus will return and that Kingdom will come in all its glory, peace, power, mercy, love, and justice. We pray for it every week, in the Lord’s prayer.
What does being ready for the return of Jesus look like? It seems to me that it is seen in people who are looking for the signs of that Kingdom breaking through in their everyday lives and who are working to bring about the breakthrough of Jesus’ Kingdom rule where they live. Directly after this service, people from here will be going to prepare food for children visiting this country from Chernobyl. That sounds to me like working to bring about the breakthrough of God’s Kingdom. Kingdom values of love and hospitality and generousity in Jesus’ name are being shown. This is what expecting to see Jesus’ Kingdom come looks like.
I wonder where you see the Kingdom of God breaking through in your lives? I wonder where God is calling you to work for that Kingdom break through? Who is God calling you to pray for, to speak to in faith, to walk along side. What injustices is God calling you to speak up against, who is God calling you to love? What is God calling you to sell so that you can give to the poor?
We have seen this morning how Christian faith believes the promises of God, acts on them, and expects to see the Kingdom. It is one of my prayers for St Mark’s that we will grow in faith. That we will hear and believe the promises of God in a new and deeper way, that we will have the courage to act on the basis of those promises, and that we will expect to see the Kingdom of God breaking through in the places that we live, and into the lives of those we live among.