12th Sunday after Pentecost

A Sermon on Living the Life of Faith

As some of you might have noticed, the Suzanne in the pulpit last week was not me because I was on vacation visiting my family in Canada. Since I arrived back late Friday night and only had Saturday to prepare the sermon, it was suggested to me that I follow the “what I did on vacation” format. Unfortunately for me and luckily for you, there was nothing exciting to report (other than time well spent with family) so today we’re going to take a look at that ever illusive thing called faith and what it might look like to live out a life of faith.

One of the commentators I read characterized today’s gospel as a collection of some of Jesus’ best known phrases, the kind that end up on plaques in our kitchens and offices. I, still being in vacation mode, immediately thought of the plaque in my sister’s kitchen that says: “Cooking and Cleaning. I understand the concept, just not how it pertains to me.” Of course, the Jesus plaques would be a little more pertinent to today’s lesson:
Be not afraid, it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom;
Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out;
Where your treasure it, there your heart will be also;
Be ready and active for you never know when the Son of Man will return.

Now remembering the words of Scripture is good and useful but since each of us will live lives of faith that are unique to each of us, I want to try and capture the essence of what Jesus is saying and see if we can find examples elsewhere in today’s readings.

The first element of faith is found in Jesus’ opening statement: “Do not fear.” We live in a scary world that is constantly telling us that we should fear this and fear that, but Jesus does not want us to heed those voices. Instead we are called to say ‘no’ to fear because it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. God’s good pleasure—did you get that? God isn’t sitting around waiting for us to get it right. God is actively at work to give us the kingdom and give us all good things. She’s plotting and planning goodness, for us, for our benefit, because we are so loved, so important.

If you don’t think God gets that involved with us, then let’s take a look at Abraham. Hebrews says that God called him out of the place he knew, the place where he had always lived, in order to bless him, so that he could receive an inheritance. Abraham was 75 years old when he obeyed God and set out, not knowing where he was going.

Not knowing where he was going. I find that remarkable. How many of us venture out not knowing the way and happily leave our maps or GPS at home? And what about in life—how comfortable are we at undertaking something without knowing what the outcome will be? I do not know if Abraham was afraid, I would have been, but I do know that he did it anyway. Maybe that’s what saying ‘no’ to fear looks like—doing it anyway. And what was his motivation for taking such a huge risk for himself and his family? I think it was the certainty of God’s favor. He believed that God’s desire was to bless him and give him good things.

The second element in the life lived in faith is knowing treasure when you see it. Now we’ve been conditioned to think of treasure as gold and riches overflowing from great wooden chests or as amassed precious artifacts that translate to overflowing wealth. Either way, treasure is associated with stuff. But Abraham, our great patriarch of faith, understood it differently.

Treasure was his certainty of God’s favor; it was knowing that the One who had promised him an inheritance, was faithful. Now we might be tempted to think, “Well of course God is faithful!” but consider this:  Abraham not only set out to a place he did not know but the land he was promised was already inhabited. These people did not know him nor did they welcome him, but Abraham built an altar of worship and “looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” He lived out the promise of what hadn’t happened yet. He lived in faith.

Have you ever been asked to go somewhere you didn’t know and trust that everything would work out no matter how bad it looked? Well it wasn’t just the land that was a fly in the ointment of Abraham’s inheritance. There was also the little matter of old age. He was 75 when he left his home and his wife Sarah was not only barren but also well past childbearing age. However God had promised him a child from whom would come descendants numbering “more than the stars of heaven and as innumerable as the grains of sand by the seashore.” Abraham believed and obeyed. He was 100 and Sarah was 90 when their son Isaac was born.

Abraham’s treasure was the certainty of God’s favor and knowing that God was faithful. From that foundation, Abraham went forth with courage and did the things he needed to do while waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled.

This exemplifies the last element of faith, being ready to act. Saying ‘no’ to fear and embracing the treasure we’ve been given by grace, prepares and equips us for action. Waiting for God’s kingdom to be fulfilled and for the return of Jesus is not a matter of hanging out and doing nothing in the meantime. It may not even be a matter of proving ourselves faithful by our piety. Look at the words in Isaiah. God says that he’s sick of their sacrifices and burnt offerings. He tells his people to quit trampling his courts and bringing futile offerings, because they have blood on their hands.

Rather, God gives them a list of actions that will result in them being able to “eat of the good of the land.” There’s that God-wanting-to-do-good-to-them thing again. He wants to give them abundant lives and tells them how they can receive it. He tells them to make themselves clean, to stop doing evil, to learn to do good, to seek justice, to rescue the oppressed, to defend and protect the weak and powerless.

Jesus tells us the same thing.

As children of God and followers of Jesus we are called to live lives of faith.  That doesn’t mean we will never be afraid—it means we will refuse to be controlled by fear and will do that which we fear anyway. We will take that risk because of the certainty of God’s favor and faithfulness as demonstrated in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. If we want to know how precious we are to God and how dearly we are loved, all we need do is look to the cross.

This life lived in faith will also exhibit a particular perspective—we will see our treasure not in riches and things but in the dependability of God’s faithfulness and in the love and connection that holds us in community. That is where our hearts will reside. That is where we will invest the treasure of who we each are and the gifts we possess.

Empowered by the certainty of God’s loving favor and knowing where our true treasure resides we are then invited to participate in God’s work while we wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises. We wait and pray for God’s kingdom to come while readying ourselves with action—stopping the evil we do, learning how to bless others, seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, and defending and protecting the powerless.

Let’s bow our heads and hearts as we pray again today’s collect:
Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live faithfully according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Amen.