Sermon by Liz Warren
25th February 2018
Genesis 12.1-9; Hebrews 11.1-16
May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
First of all I just want to take this opportunity to thank you for the very warm welcome you’ve all given me here at St Michael’s. On my first visit here when asked I told Kenneth I was a wandering disciple, and he said: Well, thank you for wandering in here! As you see I’ve just sort of stayed and it’s wonderful to give up the wandering and be part of a church family again. Thank you.
So to tonight’s thoughts – When God calls us, do we have the faith to say yes?
I wonder how Noah felt when God told him to build an enormous boat to keep him and his family, not to mention vast amounts of livestock, safe from the floods! It was a dry land, miles from the sea, rain was uncommon and floods unheard of! If you started building some enormous structure in St Albans without planning permission, and your only answer is that God told you to – well you’d probably be sectioned, certainly arrested and taken to court!
But Noah listened to God and got on with his boat building and as a result he and his family survived the flood which did come, God’s plan for his creation was achieved, and God made his first covenant, or promise, with Noah and with following generations, saying that that sort of calamity would never happen again. So next time you see a rainbow, just think of the enormity of what Noah did – because God asked him to. He took a huge leap of faith – and was richly rewarded for saying yes to God
We talk a lot about faith don’t we, but when it comes to defining what it actually is we go a bit quieter! Well I do anyway!
I remember years ago being part of a young mums Bible study group. On one occasion the discussion got quite deep and a bit heated. I don’t remember what about but I do remember one of the girls getting fed up with the debate and saying very loudly – well it doesn’t matter anyway, all you need is faith!!!! That of course put an end to further discussion! But that was blind faith – not really trying to understand, or even knowing what or whom you have faith in, or what faith really is.
Hebrews tells us that “faith is confidence in what we hope for, and assurance about what we do not see.”
Google I think makes a lot of sense when it tells us that faith in a religious sense is “a strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof.” Spiritual conviction seems to me to explain faith rather well and in a way that perhaps makes more sense in today’s world.
As does the definition offered by a theologian called Moreland, who says faith is: “a trust in, and commitment to, what we have reason to believe is true.” What it certainly isn’t is a trust in something or someone we know absolutely nothing about, but in what we have reason to believe is true, backed up the Bible, the church, tradition and experience.
Faith of course is worthy of several sermon series on its own – so I do have to leave it there for now!
Suffice it to say that we need to really know and believe in the God we’re trusting, so that we can have confidence in him when he calls us to do something or go somewhere for him.
Noah had that faith and said yes to God – and so did Abraham.
Abraham lived in Ur, which was an important city in the ancient world; archeologists have discovered evidence of a thriving civilisation there in Abrahams day, which traded extensively with its neighbours and also apparently had a vast library!
But God wasn’t happy with Ur, as most of it’s people had forgotten him or ignored him – so he broke into Abraham’s life in some way and said to him. “I want you to leave Ur and everything you have there, and go and live in another country miles away which you don’t know anything about. It’s because I want to use you to start another nation –but don’t forget – I’ll look after you and bless you if you go – it will be worth it!” Abraham amazingly took a huge leap of faith and said yes to God.
Now I’ve moved recently – but only myself (and of course Pumpkin the cat) from one house to another house, not too far away. That was bad enough – but Abraham had to take all he possessed on donkeys or camels or on carts, and all the animals and folk who formed his extended family. And it was a very long walk to Canaan, skirting the edge of 2 deserts. But he knew his God, he had faith in him and he said yes.
He might have been forgiven for wondering how he could father a nation when he and Sarah couldn’t have children and were now too old. If he had refused, the whole course of history would have been changed, because as we now know he became the founding father of the Jewish nation – and he and Sarah were blessed with their much longed for baby boy, even as Sarah was well past childbearing age and Abraham was, as the writer of Hebrews rather rudely puts it I think, half dead!!! And if you look at the genealogy of Jesus at the start of Matthew’s gospel, Abraham is at the top of it.
Canaan was a fertile country and would be the home of God’s special people the Jews, and the home of Jerusalem and the Temple. It would have an enormous impact on history, then and to this day, particularly on Judaism and then Christianity, also Islam.
Noah said yes to God although what God asked must have been completely incomprehensible to him. Without faith he would have said no, but with faith he said yes, as he trusted God to be with him.
Abraham said yes to God, although God asked him to leave all that was familiar, all that was home, to live as a nomad and travel miles and miles to some unknown country. I like the fact that he built several altars along the way, to honour God but also to pray at and to keep in touch with God. And look what came out of his obedience eventually! A new nation in a new land, the beginning of Jesus’ genealogy from apparently barren and elderly parents, and Jerusalem and the Temple.
So what about our faith? How easy do we find it to say yes to God?
I know someone who at college became very interested in the Christian faith, went to lots of Bible studies, had lots of discussions, but couldn’t quite bring himself to commit to it or to God. He couldn’t quite take a step of faith. Then he discovered Psalm 34:8 “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” and decided it couldn’t hurt to give it a go. He said yes to God. It worked for him, of course it did, God always listens when we come to him. Many years on he’s still a Christian – and a priest to boot.
Have we tried it? Have we said yes to God? And are we listening for his voice – maybe through reading the Bible, through what other people say, through worship in services – and of course now we have the Holy Spirit today who helps us to hear God and have a relationship with him through Jesus.
Has God asked us to do something, go somewhere for him? He will never ask us to do something impossible – as with Abraham and Noah it may seem impossible but it won’t be with God to help.
In summary – as you take a leap of faith with God, look at the rainbow and remember that Noah said yes; when you see Jerusalem or Israel on the news, remember that Abraham said yes. And I pray that we’ll be ready to say yes to God ourselves…..
Turn to prayer, starting with a prayer by Nick Fawcett.
Lord, you don’t call us to a destination but a journey – a journey of continual new discoveries and new and exciting experiences of your love. Save us from ever thinking we’ve arrived: from imagining we know all there is to know or that we have exhausted the riches of everything you would reveal to us
Open our eyes to the great adventure of life and to the unfathomable mysteries of your purpose, and so help us to be pilgrims, traveling in faith as Abraham travelled, until we reach at last the kingdom that is ready for all your people. Amen
We pray this evening for all who want to come to you, to answer your call and say yes, maybe to take a leap of faith like Noah and Abraham, or the person who decided to taste and see and found faith in God for the first time. Help us to encourage each other in whatever stage of our Christian journey we are, and to welcome those who have not found you at all. Abraham started a whole new nation, into which we are now adopted. Send us out in your name to further your nation, the Kingdom of God. Amen
As we’ve thought about Abraham and the promised land we pray for peace in the Jerusalem of today; we pray for peace between nations and for the many who suffer in so many ways because of fighting and unrest. Bring harmony to those of different religions who live in the city, pilgrims who visit it, and all who consider it holy. Make it once more your holy and peaceful city. Amen
We finish with St Augustine of Hippo’s night prayer.
Watch, oh Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ.
Rest your weary ones.
Bless your dying ones.
Soothe your suffering ones.
Pity your afflicted ones.
Shield your joyous ones.
And all for your loves sake. Amen