Faith Works
A sermon on Luke 12:32-40, Heb 11: 1-3, 8-16 by Jill Friebel 12 Aug 2007
 
 
Several years ago when we did a church review I recall one of the questions raised an almost unanimous response from all those who filled it in.  It was something to do with the services, and I can’t remember the question as well as I can remember the response.  Almost everyone said the thing they appreciated most about coming to South Yarra was that they were able to connect more with God in the services.  
 
Now in talking with one on one I also hear the longing and desire to experience God more.  Some wonder or doubt if they have ever really experienced God.  I don’t think there would be anyone here tonight who doesn’t have that desire and even though there is doubt about your experience there is something that keeps you coming back.  Several weeks ago Liz shared how she had experienced God recently, and how that was changing and transforming her.  Others have shared their stories.  But the energy or enthusiasm certainly can wax and wane and somehow needs to be encouraged and fanned into flame.  That’s why it is so important to journey with others and that is what underpins the covenant – the desire to encourage each other and to be accountable.      
 
The difference in learning about God and experiencing him/her is the difference between reading a recipe book and sitting down to a banquet and eating.  The reading can start the salivary juices running, enough to get some energy going to get into action.  It can be just what you needed to give you enough of a push to buy the ingredients, prepare and cook them and fill the table with good food and invite friends to share it.  But if you are like me I end up reading the recipe book then run out of time and we end up with baked beans on toast.  
 
So reading or learning about God is important, it expands our vision and increases our expectations and gives us a desire and yearning to experience him/her for ourselves.  But if it doesn’t get past the learning or head knowledge it can leave us more frustrated than ever and we just don’t feel that we experience much.  
 
We had a reading from Hebrews 11 which Nathan has paraphrased  “Faith is the capacity to put all your eggs in the one basket, when even the existence of the basket must be taken on trust and hope.”  Nathan’s paraphrase has a twist which describes  the right meaning well,  in that faith is clearly described as an action.  It is the capacity to put all your eggs in the one basket, even when you can’t prove the basket is there.   It is likely we are more familiar with the translation -  “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  Which has unfortunately given many of us the impression that faith is believing something intellectually and the more you believe it the more it is true.  I know that was how I used to hear it.  That took me down a path of having to be certain about everything I believed.   Which made me rather dogmatic and sure that I knew and then fearful that if I wasn’t sure enough and didn’t know then somehow it wouldn’t be true.  
 
Now I am much less certain of what I believe but more able to bring all the unanswered questions and doubts and throw them into the basket and jump in with them.  Faith is the capacity to go beyond oneself toward another, to transcend our limitedness and reach out to another.  It is a movement, an action, a relationship towards another person.  It is experiencing God and not without some substance.  It is a relationship that gives insight into a heavenly world of reality.  
 
Hebrew gives a long list of the people who acted out of their experience of God fully convinced that they could trust their lives to God and that they would be rewarded.      “It was the exercise of faith that enabled Abraham to cooperate when God called him to uproot himself and emigrate. He was to be given a new and permanent home, but when he set out, he had no idea where he was headed. It was faith that kept him going, even when, on arrival in the land that had been promised to him, he had to camp like a refugee and see his son Isaac and grandson Jacob doing the same. What he inherited and passed on to them was a promise that was yet to be made good. He was sustained by a vision of the city that would be founded, designed and built by God.  Every Sunday evening we say together,
 
We come because our hearts are made restless
by echoes of a song we have never heard
and memories of a place we have never seen
This is picking up Abraham’s experience and it is just as much ours as it was
Abraham’s.  We experience the same restless as Abraham experienced and it was this that kept him trusting day in day out even when there seemed to be no hope.  The restlessness was the hope.  
 
They had long staying power of trust.  It doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of times when they questioned, or felt fearful and even tried to take matters into their own hands.  But the overarching experience was to hang in, to keep coming back, to keep transcending and persisting in what they had experienced of God.  They had this inner knowing that this was better than anything else around.  Somehow the alternative on offer didn’t hold enough attraction to divert them from their persistence in waiting, acting, trusting that there was something much better, something that had substance and was about relationship and love and reality.  
 
........”These early heroes of faith went to their graves without having seen the promises fulfilled, but still trusting in God. They were glad to have just caught a glimpse of what was coming, and that vision was enough to sustain them. They freely admitted that they were on the earth as outsiders and guests. This attitude made it clear that they were still expecting to eventually find their true home. If they had regarded themselves as truly belonging to the places they had come from, there was nothing to stop them from going back. It is clear that the reason they didn’t was that their hearts were set on a better country — a piece of heaven itself. It is no wonder that God is proud to be known as their God. And their faith will be vindicated, for God has made ready a city for them.”
 
This letter of Hebrews was a sermon written to small group of people most likely in Rome who were facing persecution, torture and death for their faith in Jesus.  If they denounced their faith they could save themselves and their loved ones.  It is hard to know how we would respond in that sort of situation.  But this call is not for death but for endurance.  Even the cross will be spoken of as something Jesus endured.  Jesus is an example for us and suffering is seen as a divine discipline.  Death isn’t the last word.  
 
Jesus said to his followers,  “You lot may seem small and helpless, but don’t be afraid. God conceived you in love and is only too happy to give you the kingdom. Simplify your lives. Off-load your possessions and share generously with people in need. Commit yourselves to a new investment strategy, putting all your eggs in God’s basket. Such investments are not subject to the vagaries of the market. If the treasures your heart is set on are all in God, they are totally fire-proof. Nothing can ever devalue them. The fact is that wherever you make your greatest investment, your passion and energy will inevitably follow.”
 
So we may not be facing life threatening persecution, in a way that is easier to see it for what it is – not easier to face it though.  But Jesus says not to be afraid.  Don’t put your faith in what you own and what you earn.  This could be extended to anything we depend on to give us security.  We are facing these sorts challenges everyday mostly unaware and just because they don’t appear to be life threatening they don’t seem so important.  But in fact they are life threatening.  Each small response and decision will either take you out of yourself to transcend or feed a fear within you and you die a little bit more.   All our motivations and responses come down to one or the other either fear or love.  
 
Transcending ourselves, going beyond ourselves, reaching out to another is what happens when we fall in love.  All of us who are parents know how this experience transforms our lives literally overnight.  We bring a baby into the household and we transcend what we want to do when we want to do it, because there is a little person who we have fallen in love with and whose needs demand that we met them before our own.  And what’s more is we do it because we want to.  Whenever we fall in love we forget ourselves for a while.  There is nothing that is too much that we can do for the one we love.  But love needs to be nurtured and sustained and it takes endurance.  It is all too easy to respond to the fears that so insidiously and unconsciously control us.  Can you even name when you are fearful and what you are fearing?    Stand outside yourself next time you react to someone or something – feel the pain of it and ask yourself what is it you are afraid of.  Listen to your own conversation, have you become stuck in your neural groves and only have a few topics that you talk about or the same stories that you keep telling?  It is so easy to fall prey to our deepest fears and get stuck.  To get stuck is to give up and it is a living death.  
 
We are conceived in love.  The longing and restlessness we have to experience God is a gift and it is what it means to be made in God’s image.  It is comes from the longing that God has for you and for me.  Even the longing is experiencing God.  It is the glimpse we get that will give us the endurance to keep nurturing the longing and acting on it.  As you put your faith in God and act in ways that respond in love and endurance you will be transformed in the process.  You won’t notice it at first, but others will.  It will be just plain hard work for you.  If you really give into your longing for God you will get a chance to act on it even before you go to bed tonight or leave the building this evening.  
 
Soon we will be offered a piece of bread, it is the broken body of Christ who endured the cross for you and me and now lives inviting us to eat and live and never die.  Don’t be afraid to act against your fears, just keep coming to God eating and living.