What Is Your Faith?

August 11, 2019

Helen Jacobi

Ordinary Sunday 19     Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16     Luke 12:32-40

 

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. It is pretty hard to define faith. If someone asked you what is faith? What difference does faith make to you? How would you respond?

 

Shortly in the baptism liturgy Jeffrey and Malachi will be asked this very question – what is your faith? But you might notice that we ask them this question after they are baptised, not before. It is not an exam question like at school where you are asked the question and you pass or fail. It is a question asked and responded to after baptism, after receiving the love and grace of God symbolised in the water, not before. It is only in receiving God’s grace, or discovering God’s grace within us that we can respond to the question “what is your faith?”

 

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. So says the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews (by the way we have no clue who the writer might have been; and apparently no clue either as to who “the Hebrews” were, they were not even necessarily a Jewish community).

 

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Frederick Buechner says faith is better understood as a verb and not a noun [1] so we could also say faith gives substance to things hoped for and offers a proving of things not seen [2].

Faith is active, in movement, not static and still. Faith is call and response, like the karanga on a marae, we are called forward by the Spirit and respond with our lives.

 

The writer of the letter evokes (Heb 11:8) the memory of Abraham and Sarah who were called from their homeland to travel to an unknown land and promised a child in old age in order to become the father and mother of the people of Israel. People of faith, the writer says, desire a better country, and God, we are told, prepares a city for them. (Heb 11:16) People of faith are travellers, pilgrims on the road. [3]

In being baptised today Malachi and Jeffrey do something pretty strange and countercultural. They join a tiny minority of people in our country who profess faith and are followers of Jesus.

 

We know that the community called the Hebrews suffered from ridicule and persecution (Heb 10:32-34) and while we do not experience persecution like many Christians around the world, we certainly can be targets of ridicule on social media and face to face.

People can be very dismissive of people of faith and make so many assumptions about what we believe or care about.

So we need our community here – we need to gather to be strengthened, to learn from each other, to seek the Spirit together, and to go out ready to find God in our world. Then we return next week with that God experience and begin again.

 

So often I think people think of the church as the “holy” place where God might be found and we are the holy people who take God out into the world. But God is already in the world long before us and we seek and find God there and then come here to reflect on what we have seen.

 

As I go along the communion rail each week I am acutely aware of what some of you bring with you and know that others carry just as much with them – worries about children, or parents or jobs; joys of births, new opportunities, travel; worries about school or friends; the joys of success and the pain of failure.

 

God is in the midst of all these things and so we bring God with us to the eucharist. We bring our whole selves not just the polished shiny part fit for public viewing.

 

Speaking of the eucharist brings us to the gospel reading from Luke – a rather strange parable:

Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

 

It would be quite normal in Jesus’ time for a “master” to expect his slaves to be waiting for his return in case he needs something before bed. In this case though something strange happens – the master says for the slaves to sit down and he will serve them some food – unheard of and most shocking!

The phrase “fasten his belt” means to put a belt around a loose robe so it won’t get in the way of manual labour and hard work. Like putting on overalls or an apron.

 

There is an echo here of John’s version of the Last Supper when Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, ties a towel around himself and washes the disciples feet. (John 13:4)

They too are shocked that the master will take the role of a slave.

Back to today’s parable – what food is he going to serve them?

The master doesn’t seem to take time to prepare anything. Nor would he know how to! And he has been at a wedding feast so the servants will have assumed he doesn’t need food when he comes home. So they have nothing ready.

 

Writer Kenneth Bailey [4] quotes Egyptian monk Matta al-Miskin in saying that the master must have brought food with him from the wedding banquet. He could have easily sent a waiter home with food for his servants if he wanted them to have a few tasty delicacies but he comes and serves them himself. He brings the food and serves them.

 

And in the same way, at this table – the table of the eucharist – we are served. We are served the symbols of Christ’s self offering love – bread and wine, body and blood; the essence of his life for the strengthening of ours. The master comes, week after week and offers to serve us. Offers to serve us so we can receive strength and renewal at this feast.

 

So when we are asked the question “what is your faith?” we might respond with the classic formula which the baptism liturgy gives us – I believe in God the Creator, and in Jesus the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.

 

Or we might unpack what lies behind that formula and talk about being in relationship with God and with each other; about the movement of our lives, being pilgrims on a journey and how each week we come to the table to be nourished and served by the master himself.

 

And while gathered at the table, we learn

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

 

Faith is about having hope for the future and knowing that things we cannot see or touch are still real – like love and prayer.

 

Faith that we are truly, deeply loved and valued, no matter what.

 

And that the way of Jesus is the way to become who we most truly are, created in the image of God for the good of the world. [5]

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.frederickbuechner.com/quote-of-the-day/2016/10/6/faith

 

[2] Feasting on the Word Year C vol 3 p329 Marion Soards

 

[3] “Faith is the word that describes the direction our feet start moving when we find that we are loved. Faith is stepping out into the unknown with nothing to guide us but a hand just beyond our grasp”. http://www.frederickbuechner.com/blog/2016/8/1/weekly-sermon-illustration-just-beyond-our-grasp?rq=%20just%20beyond%20our%20grasp

 

[4] Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes ch 29

 

[5] John Shelley Feasting on the Word Year C Vol 3 p 330

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