Sunday, August 07, 2016

Waiting in Faith

preached 7 August 2016, after weeks of doing Track 1 with its long run of OT prophet readings

This week we are taking a break from the denunciations of the prophets, but don't you worry: there will be more next week. But today, we take up the subject of faith.

So then: what is faith? Shortly we will all stand and say together the Creed, which in ancient times was called the “Symbol of Faith”, “symbol” in this case signifying a token: standing, in this case, for The Faith. And note carefully the words: we do not believe only of God, but in God. Yes, we do say that we believe God created the world, and that Jesus is His Son incarnate, and that he died and was resurrected. We believe that God is three in one, and that there is one church, and that Christ will sit in judgement in the last days. And in the large, we believe that Scripture tells us the story of salvation, which story we believe, and we believe that our priests and other ministers manifest God through word and sacrament. All these ideas and propositions we are called to believe, and I hope we do believe them; but believing these notions is not all there is to faith.

No, the Creed says that we believe in God, that He is not just something we know various things about (the chief being, of course, that He exists), but someone in whom we place our trust and reliance. Last week we heard Jesus tell a parable of a man of wealth, who put his faith in the storehouses of his ample goods. He trusted in what was perishable, and it failed him, but we who trust in God place our reliance upon what is imperishable: this we do believe.

But we believe; we do not see. The LORD first spoke to Abram in chapter 12 of Genesis, saying, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation.” Abram obeyed, and at the end of the next chapter the promise is repeated; and then two chapters on, we hear the promise repeated this morning, and by this time Abram is getting a bit concerned about this descendants thing, seeing as how he has none of yet. Another chapter passes, and Sarai, losing patience, gives her maid Hagar over to her husband so that he has at least some son. Two more chapters pass, and while the God of Hosts establishes his covenant with Abraham and visits him in the form of three men, still there is no heir. Sodom and Gomorrah are razed, Sarah has a run-in with Abimelech, and it is not until we get to Chapter 21 that Sarah finally is pregnant with Isaac—and in the very next chapter, God demands this only son as a sacrifice. Long the promise made to Abram went unfulfilled, and long was he tested, but he believed it, and scripture tells us, it was reckoned as righteousness.

And as we are told in the Letter to the Hebrews, Abraham “died in faith, not having received what was promised.” And likewise, we who are faithful await what is unseen: the final triumph of the kingdom of God. Almost two thousand years have passed since the day of glorious resurrection, and yet we wait. But in that waiting, we show our faith.

So how do we wait? First, we come together in worship, assembling as a people who watch and wait together, their whole unity made from that faith. Second, we read and repeat the ancient promises as they are told in scripture. Week after week we hear the story of salvation—not myths and fictions, but the account of the acts of God across time. Thus the gospel, the good news, is spoken in story, the story of Jesus' teaching and life and death and resurrection. Third, we respond in reaffirmation of our commitment to this faithfulness: singing, praying, hearing, and stating again the principal points of our belief. Fourth, we enter into communion through the Eucharist, which we carry out in faithfulness to Christ's command. And fifth, we go out into the world as witnesses to this faith, that others might become faithful, and that our own faithfulness be shown in acts of love.

So last week, this week, next week, the week after that, the year after that, over and over, we come together in faith. And if our faithfulness is not dulled, well, others are claimed by despair, by loss of hope, by sins of all kinds—pride, greed, lust, and the rest—sins which prey upon us as well. But for us, as for Abraham, our faith may be counted as righteousness. So be assured, that which we await will one day arrive. None but the Father knows whether this world will end tomorrow, or in our lifetime, but if we remain faithful, then we shall be ready for the glorious fulfillment of the promise of salvation given in our Lord Jesus Christ.

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