Back in your school days you may well have learnt that faith is a noun and yes, that holds true for English grammar. But in the spiritual world faith is a verb. Faith is all about action, trusting, taking risks. It is like Peter coming to Jesus across the waters on a dark night. Faith is trusting in God with one’s whole self. It is not certain knowledge or knowing the road ahead. It is stepping out into the unknown, like those first four disciples who left everything on Lakeshore Galilee to follow Jesus. They were obviously very impressed by Jesus and when asked to follow him they knew, somewhere deep inside them, that it was the right thing to do. Faith for them meant putting their whole lives in the hands of Jesus. Like the Israelites at the time of the Exodus, they too were heading out into uncharted territory, not knowing their final destination. Such actions defy reasonable explanation. It is only at the level of the heart that they make sense.
Abraham and Sarah are put before us today as models of faith. Here again faith is a verb. When Abraham was 75 years old, God called him to leave his family, his kindred, his fatherland, for ‘a land that I will show you’. Again surprisingly and without any reasonable explanation, Abraham did exactly as the Lord commanded him. You might think that at 75 it was time to throw in the towel, but not so Abraham. Instead of easing off (on a sofa as the Pope would have it!) he becomes an old man in a hurry. Hebrews gives the explanation. It was by faith that Abraham “sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob.” This surely is the life of a nomad. In taking this radical step it wasn’t just his country and his kindred that he left behind. The real leaving behind was his earthly understanding so that he could live by faith and look forward to a city founded, designed and built by God.
What becomes clear from this example is that the goal of faith is the God quest. That was Abraham’s quest. Perhaps it began with an unease and boredom with his surroundings until he set off, at 75, on a deeper search for his God. I think we can empathise with Abraham on this score. Do we not at times feel uneasy or even bored with a material world and its endless, seductive promises? Do we not feel at times that there must be something more to life that mere horizontal living in a materialist world? Were we not all built for greatness and what can be greater than to share in the life and love of the Triune God? St. Augustine names it so well when he says: ‘You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.’ Only the God quest can satisfy restless depths of the human heart. As for this world Tim Suttle, a pastor from Kansas in the US, has a rather sober view on what it can offer. “I can think of few things more counter-culturally necessary than joining a church. Why? Because the church (if done right… a big if, I know) is one of the only places on the planet in which the people around you will tell you that you can’t have everything you want, when you want it; every need cannot be met, every problem cannot be solved, and nobody is perfect; idealism is an illusion, and all the upward mobility in the world cannot make you safe and happy”.
Following Christ is indeed counter-cultural. It means that too are asked to take God’s hand and to follow a path which is often at odds with the values of the world in which we live. It also means discipline, being vigilant, being watchful. During these days of the Olympics we will be witness to many extraordinary feats in the sporting world. But behind all of this is an amazing world of discipline, commitment and dedication. And that, as St. Paul says, is for a mere worldly prize. What then is asked of us for something far more valuable and prize worthy, namely, the eternal banquet held out for all disciples of Jesus? Well Jesus doesn’t put a tooth in it. “Sell your possessions and give alms.” That doesn’t mean you sell the roof over your heads. But let’s remember that the word possession is a double edged sword. Yes, I can possess things, but alarm bells should ring when they begin to possess me. Because then they hold me back from setting out on the God quest. Anything that proves an obstacle on my journey of faith and trust in the Lord must be left behind, and the same goes for all earthly thinking. Like Abraham, we too must live on this earth as in a foreign land, living in tents while we look forward to ‘a city founded, designed and built by God’.
In the parable of the master coming home from the wedding feast, there is a surprising turn of events. When the master finds his servants awake and waiting for him, then, in a reversal entirely unexpected in that hierarchical world, he himself puts on an apron and serves his servants as a servant. We can best understand this reversal in the light of Jesus himself who, at the Last Supper put on a towel and washed his disciples’ feet. Then he declared, “I am among you as one who serves.’
Faith is trust in this kind of Jesus. The deposit of faith, a list of truths that the church holds true, does indeed hold an important place in our church tradition and it is important that we adhere to these truths. But, first and foremost, faith is trust in Jesus, the lowly servant. Let us today place our hands in his hand and walk with him into an unknown but exciting future.
Sunday, 7 August 2016