By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Sunday 07 August 2016
St Ninians & St Chads Church, Maylands
How often have you heard someone say, “You need to have more faith” It may be said to someone trying a new medication that doesn’t seem to be working. It may be a footy supporter encouraging others when their team is near the bottom of the ladder. Or worse still, it may be said about someone who has not been cured at a Healing Rally.
When people speak of faith in this way, they make it sound as if faith is something we possess in large bundles or small doses. If faith is something we possess that can be measured, then we can lose it. How often have you heard people say, “I’ve lost my faith,” which can also mean they think that God doesn’t exist. They also say, “I’ve lost my glasses case, but that doesn’t mean it ceases to exist.”
Faith is also described as trust. Like the man dangling over a mountainside holding on to a small branch of a tree who shouts out, “Is anyone there?” “Yes, I am God, I am here” came the reply. “Will you save me?” cries the man. “Yes,” says God, “let go of the branch.” “Is there anyone else there?” shouts the man. Trusting God does not mean that faith is making stupid decisions or to doing something that our minds tell us is an unacceptable risk.
Faith is choosing to trust what we already know and whom we have already experienced. Today’s readings highlight the truth that a life of faith in God may contain a strong element of risk, but it is not a life of utter stupidity.
The first reading from Wisdom points out the encouragement we gain from knowing who is trusted. This is precisely the point made in the epistle to the Hebrews using Abraham and Sarah as examples. Abraham’s journey of faith begins with a conversation with God. Abraham is a descendent of Noah so he already knows something of God. As the story develops, Abraham’s knowledge about God is turned into a personal experience of him. Abraham chooses to respond to God’s promptings by leaving his home and people and travelling south to an unknown destination, but he does so because he believes God’s promise that he will become the father of a great nation.
Yet how could he become a great nation when he had no male heir and Sarah was past the age of child bearing? Despite any questions he may have, Abraham believes God’s promise. Knowing what God had done in the past was enough for Abraham to trust him about what would happen in the future. This is a picture of faith. It is not blind trust but one of knowing the past and looking forward to God’s future. St Paul tells us that faith is linked with hope and love. We trust God’s promises for which we wait and hope, and as we wait, we minister in love as if they were already here and often find that they are here.
The Epistle to the Hebrews also asks us to understand that God holds a continuing conversation with his people. Abraham believed God’s promise that he would be the father of a great nation, but he did not live to see it. God continues that same conversation with someone else who also knows what God has done and responds to God through faith so that the promised future moves closer to being realised. The Israelites went into Egypt at Joseph’s invitation; Moses led them out, but they entered the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership.
As each generation trusts God’s conversation, his will is done. No one has seen its completion, but they see enough to be excited by it. They understand enough to live their lives in such a way that the next generation can continue the conversation. This is how we must understand our journey in the Ordinariate.
Each generation lives with a mixture of knowing what God has done and longing for what is yet to be. It means handing on to the next generation a restless discontent that what we know of God is never enough. Desire and discontent are strange bedfellows but they are what make God willing to identify with us and ‘not be ashamed’ to be our God as the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it.
For Christians the greatest conversation God has had with us is in and through Jesus of Nazareth. He shows us what it means to be a true human being, and he has promised us that he will return when God’s Kingdom comes in its fulness.
We can have faith because of what we already know of God and what he has done through the Church against which the gates of hell cannot prevail, as well as what he has done in our own lives. He invites us to help create the future because his conversation with us is not yet over. We are unlikely to see its completion, but there will be no future unless we respond to God’s promise with enthusiasm and excitement.
This is the attitude the gospel stories ask us to adopt. The servants in the stories know their master is full of surprises, and that doesn’t make him easy to work for. Just scraping by is not enough. The servants have to be alert for the unexpected or even the outrageous. What group of servants would expect their master to turn up in the middle of the night, ask them to sit at table, then prepare a lavish feast for them.
God constantly surprises us, so we have to learn how to discern what is God’s will and what isn’t. God may surprise us, but he is consistent. He develops our understanding of what he has shown us but does not expect us to change what he has revealed in his conversations with his people because the world doesn’t like it. What is worse, some Christians justify making changes to God’s conversation with us by announcing that God is doing something new. Are they suggesting that God finally realises that he has been wrong in the past?
What we must do in these challenging times is remain faithful to the teaching of the Church that Jesus gathered together. We must learn what God has done by reading and reflecting on Scripture, by knowing him at a deeper level through prayer and by basking in his love through receiving the nourishment of the sacraments.
I don’t know where God’s conversation with us will lead. It is not ours to know. What I do know is that unless we engage with it seriously, there will be no one to pick it up in the future.