August 11, 2019/Ninth Sunday after Pentecost /Richard E. Holmer First Lesson: Genesis 15:1-6 /Second Reading: Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16/Gospel: Luke 12:32-40
Living with Assurance
I want to share a hunch I have about most of you. What I sense is that most of you feel, from time to time, like your faith is not strong enough, not good enough, not faithful enough – in short, not what you think faith ought to be. In your heart of hearts you might feel like a pretender – or even a hypocrite. It may seem to you that many others have the real stuff of faith, while your own faith feels kind of feeble and inconsistent. As a Christian you may feel more like an outsider than an insider. Sure, you come to worship. You sing the hymns, confess your sins, say the creed, share the peace, take communion . . . And yet somehow you feel at best like a minor league Christian – not ready, not qualified for the major leagues of faith. You don’t know the bible real well, you don’t pray enough, you don’t give or serve enough. Much of the time you don’t feel that you are truly following Christ, making disciples, and living the gospel.
Am I right? I expect this is true for some of you – for at times it’s certainly true for me. If you ever feel this way, the first thing to know is: you are absolutely right. Your faith is not all that it could be. You can be weak and inconsistent – it’s certainly true. Which is why we begin each service as we do: by telling the truth about ourselves, that we fall short, that we are not all that we could and should be, that we fail to love God with all our whole heart, that we neglect to love our neighbors as ourselves.
It is safe to say that every one of us falls short of perfect faith – maybe by a little, maybe by a lot. When it comes to faith each of us has room to grow. We can all sincerely pray: “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” (As the father said to Jesus when he asked him to heal his son.) The good news in regard to faith is that it can grow. However weak or small your faith may be, nothing says it must remain that way. Remember what Jesus said about faith as small as a mustard seed: It can move mountains. It’s good to be aware that your faith has room to grow. It’s not good or helpful to worry about it. You should not be afraid that your faith is somehow inadequate.
All our readings today have good things to share in regard to faith. Hear what Jesus says as words of assurance addressed personally to you:
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
We can get the gospel backwards. We think that we need to have the correct amount of faith in order to truly belong to God’s gracious kingdom. We imagine that it’s like getting into college: you need to have high enough scores and an impressive resume. We fear that we may not be good enough to be accepted. Jesus tells us that God isn’t judging our worthiness or the strength of our faith. Actually, God is pleased, thrilled and eager to welcome us, to give us the kingdom.
We always need to keep in mind that faith is not having faith in ourselves or faith in our faith. Our faith is in God. Because we are saved by faith, we can make the mistake of believing in our faith rather than God. Faith is not our achievement, something we can work to accomplish. Faith is more like a recognition of what is really true – a realization of how things actually are. Seeing the light.
Faith is trusting God because we recognize that God is worthy of trust. God is constant, dependable, steadfast, true. Faith is coming to appreciate that God can always be relied upon. You and I do not need to earn God’s favor. Instead, we can depend on it. That’s what faith is: depending on God to be God for us. It’s what Abraham and Sarah learned to do – and what God’s people have been learning to do ever since. It takes a while to get the hang of living by faith.
I have enjoyed observing the process of how our granddaughter, Charlotte, has learned to be at home in the water. Most of us have an initial fear of water – especially deep water. It’s not solid like the ground. It can swallow you up. A couple years ago, Charlotte liked to be in the water, but she didn’t like to put her face in the water. Last summer she was swimming, but mostly the dog paddle, keeping her head out of the water. This summer she’s like a fish – totally comfortable diving, swimming under water, doing flips off the diving board. She’s come to realize that she’s safe and okay in the water. When she dives in, she knows she will bob back up to the surface. The water is consistent and dependable – it faithfully buoys her up.
Faith in God works kind of like that. We experience that God is dependable. We can count on God to love us, to forgive us, to show us the way. Charlotte has the confidence to plunge into the deep end of the pool. Do we have confidence to dive into the deep end with God? Faith is living each day with a calm confidence – the blessed assurance that God is with us. Self-confidence is an asset – yet faith is something stronger and more enduring. We have our good days and our not so good days. God’s faithfulness never wavers.
This is not to say that if we have faith, we will never have troubles. Faith has more to do with ultimate outcomes than having each and every moment work out for the best. Trusting God does not mean that I believe God will prevent anything bad from happening to me or to this world, day by day. Clearly this is not so. Faith is living in the assurance that in the end God will have his way, that love and goodness and mercy will have the last and enduring word.
Pastor and theologian Sam Wells writes about how Christ’s resurrection finally overcomes all our setbacks and disappointments:
If Christ wasn’t raised from the dead, the Christian story is a tale of doomed love in which God makes one last pathetic attempt to win our love back. It’s a story that ends in agonized failure on the cross. But if Christ is raised from the dead, because Christ is raised . . . then God’s love is not finally in vain, our love is not finally in vain. Agonizing as it often feels, all that is done for love will finally become fruitful. Death does not have the final word. Hope really is the shape of tomorrow. All our pain, shame, and regret will finally be redeemed. Nothing is finally wasted. Fear will finally pass away and joy will prevail. All will finally become beauty.
We certainly hope this is true. Our reading from Hebrews tells us that, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” You and I are invited by God to live each day with faith like that – with the calm assurance that, come what may, God is with us and God’s promises are true. It’s not a matter of how big your faith is, but how great our God is.
Thanks be to God.