August 7, 2016
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20, Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Luke 12:32-40
In Through the Looking Glass the Queen says to Alice:
“I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.”
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Somewhere along the way I got trapped by the belief that faith was about believing impossible things, but I certainly didn’t get that from the Bible.
Abraham was not asked to believe impossible things, but to follow a call he heard in the center of his being. Millions before and after him hear a call to go to an unknown place where there will be blessings from God.
Isn’t that why the Pilgrims risked everything to come here?
So when God calls Abraham “he obeys and sets out not knowing where he is going” Hebrews 11:8
Abraham’s story is not primarily about Abraham, but the God who calls him. You can read the rest of the story starting in Genesis 12.
What if God says something to you—says that you are going to win the lottery? What’s the first thing you should do? Sell your car and buy a $100,000 Rolls Royce as proof of your trust in God’s promise?
No, the first thing you must do is buy a lottery ticket. (I hesitate using this as an example since I believe the lottery is a game created for those who failed math in high school.)
When Abraham hears God’s promise he packs up his stuff and heads out toward the Promised Land.
He gets there and has various adventures, not all of which make Abraham look good, but he and Sarah are frustrated because they can’t have kids. How can they have a multitude of descendants if they can’t have at least one child?
But they tell God, “We’ve got this covered, God”, so Abraham takes Sarah’s slave Hagar and has a child by her, but God says, “nice try, but that’s not what I had in mind. No, you and Sarah will have a child of your own.” When Sarah hears this she bursts out laughing, since she is in her nineties and her husband is a hundred.
But this time they decide to put their faith in God by acting on what God says. So it’s midnight at the oasis when they fire up the candles and music, have a romantic dinner, and see what happens.
This proved to be more successful than buying a lottery ticket, not to mention more fun.
And Sarah conceives and gives birth to a boy whom they name Isaac which is Hebrew for “laughter”, because Sarah had laughed at God.
Faith always begins with God’s call, and that call conceives in us a new way of being in the world and in God’s time, in ways known to us and unknown, something healing is birthed through us.
So you see we get no room to boast because our faith is created by God. Faith is a sign of grace.
As Paul writes in Ephesians, “We are saved by grace, through faith.”
“Faith”, according to N. T. Wright, “is looking at God and trusting God for everything”, which is very different from our default setting of looking at ourselves and trust ourselves for everything.
Consider Mary Clarke, born in Los Angeles in 1926. Her father had a successful office supply business, and the family lived among the Hollywood stars. Mary married and raised four daughters and three sons, all the while doing charity work, but her first marriage and then her second marriage ended in divorce.
Our view of discipleship usually doesn’t include the idea of God using a woman like this, but our view would be wrong.
In 1977, at the age of 50 Mary gave away her expensive clothes, left her Ventura home and moved to La Mesa penitentiary in Tijuana, Mexico, where she had delivered donations in the past. http://articles.latimes.com/2013/oct/17/local/la-me-sister-antonia-brenner-20131018
She lived in her own cell inside the prison and offered the saving love of Jesus in that hot place filled with hard, desperate men. She became a Catholic nun, and the inmates called her Madre Antonia. She lived in the prison for 36 years until her death in 2008.
In a book about Mother Antonia called The Prison Angel written by two Washington Post reporters, we learn of a gay Catholic man who wrote to her saying his faith had been renewed by the story of how a divorced woman had not let the church’s rules diminish her faith.” The Prison Angel by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan.
This woman hears God’s call, or as we might put it, she follows her dream and at 50 trades in suburban Los Angeles for La Mesa Prison.
The authors write that she is “the happiest person they have ever met.”
I first heard of Mother Antonia this past Thursday from a youngish single woman who is a devout Roman Catholic. She said last year at her church she watched a 30 minute documentary called Madre Antonia, narrated by Susan Sarandon.
Through that experience she believes God called her to do prison ministry too, so for the past year she’s been leading a weekly evening Bible study by herself, with 12 male inmates at MCI-Concord.
Faith is created by God’s call and slowly grows into a desire to let Christ do through us whatever God wants to do.
You may be saying you haven’t heard God’s call lately, if ever. Well, if you have children then God is calling you to be a loving parent who lets Christ love children through you. If you have a sick parent, God is calling you to be a loving caretaker who lets Christ love the sick through you. If you have a job, God is calling you to let Christ through you be the best worker you can be.
We all have individual vocations, yet we also share a universal call from God to be a part of a community of sinners that is formed by the death and resurrection of Messiah Jesus. In this community everyone has the same worth.
Human societies, ancient and modern, are built on a system of competition and comparison. We compete to win and not lose, and we organize everything around the levels of worth we attribute to different people: the rich have more worth than the poor, men have more worth than women, heterosexuals have more worth than gays and lesbians, and masters have more worth than slaves—which is why in the Constitution for a time slaves were counted as only 3/5 of a person.
In Christ the old community of competition and arrogance no longer exists.
The Rule of Saint Benedict which has formed western monastic life for 1500 years says: “Let all guests be received as Christ.”
If you put a rich guest in a warm room but put a poor guest in the barn, you are no longer enacting your faith in Christ.
In the new creation Jesus says the master will put on an apron and serve supper to the servants.
Having faith does not mean believing 6 impossible things before breakfast. Faith is a gift from God given to utterly ordinary people like us, to call us to enact the kingdom wherever we are.
Or as Jesus says today in the gospel, “Do not be afraid little flock, for it is the Father’s will to give you the Kingdom.”