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Sermon preached by Canon Andy Williams

Sermon preached by Canon Andy Williams on 11.08.13 at 10.15am Sung Eucharist.

Faith vs Fear. Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 and Luke 12:32-40.

When you are the youngest of 4 children, getting your voice heard can be something of a challenge. Our youngest found a pretty effective way. Sitting around the meal table he would cut in with a question which began, ‘What if…’ E.g. if we were planning our next family holiday, maybe camping in France he might come out with ‘What if it rains? What if the car breaks down? What if we get lost? (Can’t think where that idea came from). It got him the attention. But some of the questions got a bit irritating. What if the ferry capsizes? What if we never come back and I missed school? So we would explain patiently that there was no point worrying about what might never happen. And sometimes our patience ran out: ‘Stephen, that’s a what-if question, I’m not answering it.’ But he had a point. Much of the time we live with ‘What if…’

We plan, we try to anticipate the difficulties and dangers ahead; and we try to make sure that what we are afraid of doesn’t happen. In fact, much of the way we live is out of fear. We all have a deep seated fear of going without, of being poor. So we organise our personal finances so that we have our needs met, not just today but in the future. We take out insurance to avoid being hit with crippling and unexpected bills. We have a deep seated fear of being lonely so we organise our lives to avoid that. These are natural drives for survival, but fear can drive us unhelpfully and in ways we are not aware of. This week we have had Jennie’s brother staying with us. He is visiting from India where he lives and made an interesting observation. He said that in the UK he notices that a lot of energy is spent in protecting ourselves from harm and in making life comfortable. In India it is not so. E.g. traffic management in India is much more organic; drivers find a way of avoiding each other rather than being controlled by lanes or signs. My first experience of this took me beyond fear; it was SO different that I had to give myself to it otherwise I’d have been driven mad. Some sort of faith needed to be exercised.

The difference between the Eastern and Western approaches to living is illustrated brilliantly in the film: ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’. It’s a brilliant comedy about 7 retired Brits who take a risk by re-locating to India for their retirement, to stay in what they were expecting to be a luxury hotel. Before they fly out we are given a snapshot of their life in Britain. One couple, played by Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy, are in good health but are planning ahead. They are shown round an apartment in a sheltered housing complex. The agent is keen to sell all the safety features to them. ‘There is an alarm button in every room, so if you fall, help will arrive.’ ‘But the button is on this wall, says Bill Nighy, what if I fall over there and can’t reach it?’ He is being sarcastic; a great illustration that not every risk can be eliminated. It is fear that gives rise to ‘What if?’ But there are always too many ‘What ifs?’ So the couple take a big risk, dismiss this safe sheltered environment and take off for India; The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is their destination. Only one of the 7 had lived in India before, the character played by Tom Wilkinson. On the flight over, the character played by Judi Dench asks him fearfully: ‘I’ve never been to India. Are we going to be alright?’ His answer is honest: ‘It’s going to extraordinary.’ And so it proves.

Archbishop Justin Welby said recently that faith in Christ offers total security, but not necessarily total safety. It has often been said that the opposite of faith is not doubt but fear. It is our fear which weakens our trust and can make us doubt. But the big question is this: What is faith? And more specifically, what is faith in Christ?

The writer of Hebrews offers us a definition. (Have another look). ‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ What does that mean? (We have now reached the roughest terrain in our journey; please try and stay with me). The first half of the verse: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for. Faith gives substance to our hope. E.g. We may hope for a life beyond death but without substance it remains hope. The substance is the belief in Christ’s Resurrection. If we have faith that Christ is raised, so will we be. The word translated ‘substance’ is ‘hypostasis’. The author has already used it in this letter. In chapter 1 the Son was said to be the very image of God’s hypostasis. I.e. Jesus was the image of the Father’s substance. So to hope in Christ is to have faith in something substantial! Now the second part of the verse: ‘the conviction of things not seen.’ How can you be convinced by things you can’t see? Ah, says the author, look at how the world itself came into being. In vs. 3 he says ‘the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.’ The common belief in the first century was that the world was made from pre-existent matter. The writer of Hebrews appears to be saying, ‘No, God brought into being things that were not visible; everything in the cosmos came into being through God’s word, that is, by God’s will and purpose. So if God can do that, then He can bring into being things that we do not yet see. Abraham believed that. He left the security of his homeland not knowing where he was going. He believed that God was faithful so that he would have descendants as innumerable as grains of sand even though having one child seemed unlikely. Abraham believed that God could bring into being something he couldn’t see and which seemed unlikely. The author of Hebrews goes on to commend other men and women of faith, who died without seeing the promise fulfilled. Vs 13 says: ‘All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth.’

And here lies the challenge for people of faith. It’s a challenge not to get too rooted in this world, not to get so comfortable that we trust our comforts more than what God has prepared for us. Riches can be taken away, but the heavenly country cannot. Faith is the assurance, the substance of things hoped for. Those 7 retired Brits took a risk, hoping for a better country, a better life. The substance to their hope was a rather misleading website which made the Marigold hotel look better and more exotic than it was. The basis of our hope is more substantial. No wonder Jesus says ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.’ But to take hold of heavenly treasure means sitting light to earthly treasure. ‘Sell your possessions and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven.’

Recently I have been impressed by the decision of 2 young men, independently to take a risk. Both in their 30’s with young families. Both had been over-working to keep up a lifestyle; the cost of a frenetic lifestyle had been poor health and marriages at risk. They had given up their jobs, one to become a house-husband and one to pursue a risky but more fulfilling career as a musician.

Abraham went out not knowing where he was going. He didn’t let his ‘what ifs’ overshadow his faith.

I know what the challenge of faith means for me and I’m working on it. I don’t know what it means for you; each of us has to address that ourselves. And it may be that our faith is tiny, just a flickering flame inside which threatens to go out. Let’s hear Jesus speaking to us: ‘Do not be afraid, little flock. Fear not, child of the One who brought the world into being.’ I finish with the words of a Taizé chant which form a prayer:

“Lord Jesus Christ, your light shines within us. Let not my doubts and my darkness speak to me. Lord Jesus Christ, your light shines within us. Let my heart always welcome your love.” Amen

 

 

 

 


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