Faith is Living Forward in the ‘Not Yet’
August 11, 2013

Faith is Living Forward in the ‘Not Yet’

Passage: Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 Luke 12:32-40

Proper 14, Year C-2013

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Sometimes we may think that what we can see is all there is – that is not faith. We may believe (or others may believe) that nothing can change, or nothing will change – that is not faith. Or you may expect that the best times were in the past and will never return or be surpassed – that is not faith. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, though not yet. Faith is living forward, as opposed to being stuck in the present or living in the past. Faith is trusting, day by day, in God whose grace and purpose and kingdom go beyond what we can ask or imagine now.

Let us consider Abraham and Sarah, pioneers of Biblical faith, to illustrate this in practical, day to day terms. We read in Hebrews, “By faith Abraham (and Sarah) obeyed when (they) were called to set out for a place that (they) were to receive as an inheritance; and they set out, not knowing where (they) were going.” How did Abraham and Sarah step out, leave where they were, dare to go out without a map, not knowing where they would end up? By faith in God, by trusting and hoping in what was not yet, daring to live forward. How did they live in tents, on the road, in the interim times, waiting and watching and living forward? By faith.

How did they look forward, in the midst of change, hoping for a new city with foundations – with strong, solid roots – “whose architect and builder”, whose purpose and plans were of God? By faith in God who is with us in the not yet. And how did Abraham and Sarah not just wait passively for what was to come but engaged their own powers – of procreation, but this isn’t just about making babies. They engaged their talents and abilities and creativity – the powers that we also have – every one of us. They did not hold back because they felt too old – none of us are too old or too weak or unable for the work that God has for each one of us in ministry. To be faithful is to use what we have, our talents and abilities, for God’s kingdom. And we engage these talents and use them – not letting them rust or wither away – by faith. We face the same challenges as Abraham and Sarah. It can be hard to get going, to start off, and to hold on when the going is long and hard. it is like that for people of faith like Abraham and Sarah and Jeremiah and the disciples and the saints through history and all of us here.

Let us consider some of the reasons why it is hard to live with faith, with hope, and with confidence in God and God’s promises.

1. We may assume that this is all there is to life. We may act as if we know as well or better than God what is going on! When I catch myself in that kind of thinking, I must remember that God understands more than I do.
2. We may want the change, the results, the kingdom now, and if we cannot have it now, we refuse to be hopeful. We may believe that we are in charge of all things, and if we cannot make it happen, it won’t happen! Here again, I must remember that I am not God – neither are you – and so I look at what progress has been made in the past, what is good and growing now, and trust that God is at work in history and this present place and time.
3. We may think the future could not be different, and that something better cannot arise or be given to us because we fall short:
 a. Because of our own sins and short-comings and our shame. Here we need to listen to the words we hear in Isaiah this morning: God says to us –   “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like (white) wool.” God is forgiving.
b. Because we feel like “strangers and foreigners on the earth”. But so was Jesus, in a way, and all the saints. We look for the kingdom that God is bringing. We pray – ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’. It is coming.

Though we may have reluctance and resistance to living forward, to living in the ‘not yet’, God sustains us in faith. Listen to the last verse of our Epistle: “God is not ashamed to be called (our) God; indeed, God has prepared a city for (us).” So what shall we do? What does God want of us? According to our first lesson, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, God is not waiting for our worship and liturgy and sacrifices. These are not bad – I am glad to serve in the Episcopal Church, and I find our liturgy and Prayer Book to be powerful instruments and teachers to build up our faith. But God looks at how we live. He says: “wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Our worship and all our church activities should encourage us in such ministries – individually and as a community.

Listen as well to our Gospel – Jesus describes our faithful living: He says – do not be afraid – God will give us the kingdom. Be generous with your possessions, for our real treasure is in heaven, it is in God and through God, and will not wear out or run out. Be ready for life, for what is to come – have your lamps lit, be alert to the master’s knock.

Finally, be ready for surprises – the important time, of the Master’s return, might be at an unexpected hour, even in the middle of the night. And it may surprise us in its goodness, as if the Master would come home and serve dinner himself to all the servants.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Let me end with part of a poem that reminds me of the eagerness and flexibility and alertness of faith. It is by Denise Levertov. (It helps if you like or are familiar with dogs.)

Overland to the Islands
Let’s go--much as that dog goes,
intently haphazard.
. . .
Under his feet
rocks and mud, his imagination, sniffing,
engaged in its perceptions--dancing
edgewise, there’s nothing
the dog disdains on his way,
nevertheless he
keeps moving, changing
pace and approach but
not direction--‘every step an arrival.’

That is what faith is like – “intently haphazard . . . every step an arrival.”

Amen.

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