The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Parish Eucharist      11th August 2019
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen
Handley Stevens

Trinity 8, Year C

1st Lesson  : Genesis 15.1-6

2nd Lesson : Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16

Gospel       : Luke 12.32-40

Our readings this morning invite us to reflect on the faith of Abraham, that faith which was reckoned to him as righteousness (Genesis 15.6).  Starting from Abraham’s story, I want to explore how we might follow his example of faith to-day.

Abram and his nomadic family had left their home at Ur with the intention of moving to Canaan.  They travelled a long way up the Euphrates to Haran, where they stayed put for some years.  In Haran Abram heard God’s call once again to go on to the land which God would show him, a land where he would be blessed and become a great nation.  So with Sara his wife, and Lot his cousin, he set out once again for Canaan (Genesis 12.1-5).  When he got there, the Lord appeared to him confirming that this was indeed the land that he would be given, but when he found it already occupied, Abram continued south towards the Negeb.  A famine drove him still further into Egypt, where he was initially well received. Sara was even taken into the Pharaoh’s household (Genesis 12.15).  But when Pharaoh discovered that Sara, who had been passed off as Abram’s sister, was in fact his wife, the whole family was sent packing once again. So they fetched up in Canaan after all. It’s reassuring to observe that in the end God will realise his purposes for his faithful people, even in the most turbulent times. 

Meanwhile, after all this coming and going,  Abram and Sara were no longer young.  They had believed the promises God had made to them, their flocks and their herds had grown and prospered, but much time had passed, and still they had neither land nor children.  And they were getting too old now to hope for children of their own.  True, Abram did have one child by his slave girl, but was that really what God’s promise meant?  Where did that leave Sara, whom he loved deeply and faithfully?  It must have looked as if the promises in which they had both put their trust were an illusion, even a cruel mockery. And yet, despite all the disappointments they had experienced, Abram and Sara refused to give up their faith – the assurance of the things they hoped for, which rested on their conviction that they could trust the promises which they believed God had made to them.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews invites his readers to regard Abraham, and a whole host of other Old Testament heroes, as examples of the faith to which we too should aspire.  At the climax of his argument he looks beyond Abraham to Jesus, whom he describes as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, Jesus who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross … and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12.2).  If Abraham was the model for the men and women of faith who received the promises made to God’s chosen people of old, Jesus is more than a model, more than an example of faith, he is himself the pioneer and perfecter, the mediator of the new promise through which we become with him citizens of the new community of God’s people.  In the final chapter of the letter to the Hebrews we are assured that by his sacrificial death we are made ‘complete in everything good, so that [we] may do his (the will of the God of peace), as he works among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through the grace and power of Jesus Christ’ (Hebrews13.20-21).

The heroes of the faith, from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, through Joseph and Moses and the judges to David and Samuel and the prophets are a great source of encouragement to us lesser mortals, even if they may also seem rather daunting.  What gives us the hope and the strength to follow their example is the presence of Jesus in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, through which He comes to dwell in us and we in Him. This is My Body; this is My Blood; do this in remembrance of me.

We are not asked, as Abraham was asked, to believe in a God who has revealed himself to us only in what we think we have heard him say.  We have in the Old Testament the record of his dealings with the people of Israel, through which our perception of his wisdom, his power and his steadfast love gradually takes shape. In the Gospels we see in Jesus what God is like when he appears in human form. What he does in his life and in his death is the full and perfect expression of the love which lies at the very heart of God’s nature. To-day’s gospel reading invites us live by faith in that same spirit, bringing the management of our time and treasure into full alignment with the promptings of a faithful, loving heart.  

God has revealed himself so much more completely to us than he did to Abraham.  Yet like him we still have to journey through life by the light of faith.  We have to put our trust in the revelation of God’s nature in Word and in Sacrament.  As we go through life, we continue to study God’s Word as we find it in the Bible, and we meet as God’s people to eat this bread and drink this wine.  As we do so, we open our hearts to the love which found perfect expression in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, that love which is the defining feature of the kingdom of heaven – our home in this world and the next.  Feeding on him, by faith with thanksgiving, we discover little by little, as Abraham did, what it means to know in our hearts and to show forth in our lives the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

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