Evening Prayer online 28th February 2021
On Faith and Drains
Hebrews 11. 1-3, 8 - 16
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen
Hebrews 11: 1
The Church of England has just produced a comprehensive report about, and vision for, housing. The result of two years’ work following a chapter in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s book Reimagining Britain, it holds out a rounded hope not only for plentiful and affordable housing, but also housing which is sustainable, enriching and fruitful. It could be said, by some, that this is the church going beyond its remit, which is surely about faith and belief, not architecture and town planning. But, as the Archbishop of York reminded us in his article in the Church Times this week, one of the great recent theologians of the Church of England said that you can’t be interested in the doctrine of the Incarnation if you are not also interested in drains.
Last Thursday Bill Risebero recalled us to William Blake’s vision of Jerusalem being ‘builded …in England’s green and pleasant land’. The post Second World War government led by Clement Attlee talked seriously of building the “New Jerusalem” in this shattered nation. Among many other things (like the National Health Service and serious investment in education) a million new homes were built in just six years, a project with such momentum that it carried on under the Conservative governments which followed.
The project owed much to the urgent and passionate work and vision of people like Father Basil Jellicoe in Somers Town, and the St Pancras Housing Association, some twenty years before. The New Jerusalem aimed to rid the nation of “squalor”. Jellicoe’s concentration on the conditions as well as the basic shelter afforded by housing contributed to the fact that Attlee’s council houses had a larger square footage and durablility than all that came before, and many that came after. The New Jerusalem enabled people to thrive in the homes they were offered, not just survive.
Good housing has everything to do with faith, however much people may want to restrict believers simply to hymns and prayer. Hebrews Chapter 11 begins with the definition that faith is about that about which we are sure but which we cannot prove. Of course it is about belief, hope, trust, and inner assurance, often despite the evidence of our eyes and ears. One commentator says that, as our eyes are the organ by which we see, so faith is the organ by which we believe. Hebrews does deal in this kind of overarching and underpinning faith: those who approach God ‘must believe that God exists’, says the writer, (11:6) and this same faith leads us to believe that God made the world ‘out of the invisible’ (11:3)
But, it’s also about action, about drains and houses, if you like. When you look at it, Chapter 11 of Hebrews is mainly about the things which faith makes us do. A belief in God is one thing. To believe that you need God, that God is involved, not just present, that wholeness only comes through God, supremely through Jesus Christ, is another level of ‘faith’ altogether, and it becomes personal and life changing, life giving.
And this is where faith ‘cashes out’. To affirm faith in Jesus Christ is to commit ourselves to action: to offer our lives to the Christ who gave us completely of himself, to put our old lives to death as we are reborn in the waters of baptism, to ask to receive Christ’s grace, to bring our sinfulness and wrongdoing and thinking to Christ that we might be forgiven. This faith requires commitment and offering. This is about sacrifice and self-giving.
Hebrews says that such faith is to be made plain in how we make future hope present now. We cannot be satisfied with waiting for what is to come. If we believe in the Kingdom of God then we must do all we can to reveal that Kingdon here and now: to look for the New Jerusalem here even as we look for the hope of glory.
The whole of our Christian life is about the assurance of things we cannot see being worked out in the every day. This may lead to a challenging call. Father Jellicoe was burnt out by his passion to see the love of God made manifest in the awful conditions in which he ministered. He was 36 when he died. Beware then of the faith remains internal, and does not have an impact on the kingdoms of this world. Beware too the faith which is only about social good, and does not relate this to the Jerusalem which is to come.
To fix our eyes on this is to trust in that which we cannot yet see, and to work to make it visible in all that we face day by day. There is a housing crisis to face. There is a climate crisis to face. There is a health, physical and mental, crisis to face. We look for the New Jerusalem. Rejoice that, at the end of the end, it is not our stumbling faith in God through which we are saved, but God’s unwavering and sure faith in us, to whom be all glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, now and for ever.Print This Page