On Faith

Themes: Hebrews Luke

Annette James

Has anyone been on a walk or a hike or a climb this summer? There is a lot of preparation needed, and lots to consider like equipment, clothes, the route and a look at the weather.

Where did you go… did you climb up to high places and down again?

Last week we were in the south of France visiting relatives. One day we drove to Bidarray in the foothills of the Pyrenees and we set out 5 of us, with a map, water and some snack foods, for a long walk up into the mountains. I really enjoy walking and being out in the countryside but I have two problems – I have osteoarthritis in my knees and I have vertigo. I can walk/hike/climb uphill with no problem at all, but I have real difficulty coming downhill. So, getting some height is no problem. We climbed up high and sat eating our lunch watching Spanish eagles circling in the updraft of the valley below us.

At one point as we sat an eagle came from behind at shoulder height and we were able to see its markings really clearly. It was magical. Then we carried on to a peak and began our way down. Looking down is a real problem for me as my vertigo produces a feeling of unease as I feel myself being pulled toward the edge and if I have to come down uneven terrain – then my knees hurt… so how do I manage? Fortunately, over the years I have come to have complete trust and confidence in Andy who is a star, he just plods along and seems to have no problem with height or terrain he goes ahead of me and I lean on his shoulder when I need to… dependent on the gradient this could be more or less…

The dictionary definition of faith is - Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.

So, I guess I have faith in Andy – faith to help me to achieve things that I would otherwise struggle with. Problem with putting your faith in another human is that they too are vulnerable.

And… Faith is a strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof.

Faith and the prophets

Both readings today are difficult …

The beginning of Hebrews chapter 11 always reminds me of that cartoon with Moses parting the red sea and the people of Israel complaining that the terrain underfoot is wet and muddy – it is so true of all of us that we witness fantastic miracles but complain about a little discomfort – a truism of life I find – people can always find something to complain about.

However the Hebrews passage does help us to understand what faith in God is, at the beginning of this chapter V 1-3 Paul writes – “Now faith is the sub stance of things hoped for” sub stance a good way to understand the meaning of “sub- stance” is to think of a sub-floor, it is what is holding up what is above it, it is the unseen support.

The passage that Andy read to us today tells of two groups of people – those who had faith and were able to achieve, faith with positive outcomes – Moses – parting the red sea, Joshua leading to enter Jerico, Rahab was a prostitute - taking in angels unaware, Gideon a mighty warrior and a diplomat, Barak – ruler and leader of the Army – our first daughter is named after Deborah the woman whose faith and trust in God enabled Barak to lead his army to victory, Samson with his huge strength, Jephthah whose story is of victory but is tragic because of a vow made to God, of David – the shepherd boy who became the greatest king and Samuel whom God called in the night…

And then those whose faith did not lead their names to be written in the book – whose faith led to danger, hurt and damage – it is thought that these verses relate to other prophets in scripture - those whose faith did not seem to bring a positive outcome but was more about bringing the whole community to God – I think these verses are a particularly difficult to understand… but

I do think that it may be helpful to our understanding that having faith in God does not mean we are perfect people or that we will always be successful or that we will have positive outcomes in worldly terms. Having confidence in Jesus does not mean we will always feel safe, we may still feel afraid, we may fall (literally and metaphorically) and be hurt because life happens with and around us, faith does not give us an assurance that we will be successful in terms of the world and society, what faith does is assure us of the deep and all-encompassing love of God – which is for everyone. We have faith that nothing in heaven or on earth can separate us from God’s love.

Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of faith…

It is tempting when life is smooth, we are happy and successful to go on without listening paying attention or recognising God’s love and presence in ourselves or in community – it is sometimes only when the road gets tough or things are not going well that we turn and lean on God’s love. A bit like my walk in the Pyrenees, I can happily progress quickly on my own on the way up and where there is a wide comfortable path but when the way gets rocky and steep and even the flimsiest edge falls away I need a shoulder to lean on – someone to walk in front of me so that I can put my feet in their footsteps.

Faith and Jesus

The passage that Andy read from Lukes gospel tells that Jesus came not to make life easy – not to gloss over inequalities and injustice no Jesus came as a light to Israel and to the rest of the world, to reveal these things and showed his followers that faith is costly, it cost Jesus his life but we know that his death was not the end of the story. Jesus is an example to us of how to live – God came in the person of Jesus and met humanity with pure love.

Matthew Paris – a confirmed atheist is quoted by John Pritchard in his book Living Jesus p 48. He had been observing people coming to faith in African communities – he says, “Christians – followers of Jesus are different – their faith appears to have liberated and relaxed them, there is a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world – a directness in their dealings with others – that seemed to be missing in traditional African life --- they stood tall.”

Having faith in, following Jesus is not always an easy path – and it is harder for those that have much to lose…

I have been reading/ enjoying the book ‘Phoebe’ by the theologian Paula Gooder. Part of the book is the story of Phoebe, written about the time Paul was writing his letters to the churches – It is an imaginative use of the writings and texts that are available from the time. Phoebe is a real person, a slave whose freedom was bought by her future husband after she suffered dreadful abuse at the hand of one of the elites in Rome. The book imagines her life shaped by what is known of the time and culture in which she lived, alongside biblical and other texts. The story incorporates the reality of life for the ordinary people of Rome, artisan’s, servants and slaves alongside the oppression from Rome and the Elite and powerful in the community, and how faith in Jesus impacts on lives and situations.

I was struck by the character of Titus – one of the elites, he is compassionate, just, fair and well liked. When he comes to faith he is challenged by Peter (in the book) to be baptised publicly. Titus knows that this will impact hugely on his life and work. He has a lot to lose and it takes time for him to agree to such a public acknowledgement. He say’s my reputation will be ruined, he says, “I will be a laughing-stock of the finest families and most likely be cast out from society”. But Titus was able to turn his thinking around to what he would gain rather than what he would lose… so instead of hiding away he decides to throw a big party for everyone to celebrate. The story which is faction – goes on that Titus public baptism had circulated quickly and people began to distance themselves, refusing to trade with him and withdrawing from any relationship with him. But as the book goes on Titus is not put off, he is persistent and does not give up on his contemporaries – he continues to visit them, to go where they are and engage in dialogue sharing his faith meeting abuse and rejection with love and compassion and slowly, slowly some relationships are reborn.

The strength of faith is to shed light on injustice and inequality loving people with grace and mercy. These attributes are what Paula Gooder brings out in the story of Titus.

So, two stories today – illustrating faith and what it means to follow Jesus – my daily prayer time yesterday incorporated the story of the boy with two loaves and fishes – the faith that is required to just do what Jesus would do. Share what we have, do what we can, God will do the rest… we can make a difference but it is Gods love that transforms people and situations. Our actions and reactions are part of that and we are supported invisibly able to lean on God who is infinitely more gracious and forgiving, bigger and more complex than we can ever imagine. AMEN