Sermon for Sunday 8th March 2020.
Genesis 12. 1-4a, Romans 4. 1-5 and 13-17 and John 3. 1-17
May I speak in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Sprit. Amen.
These readings today are very much about faith or belief, (the same word in Greek); faith in God, belief in His Son, Jesus Christ. Both are gifts which we must cherish, as they are given to us by grace.
We see different types of faith today and it is really interesting to look at these and apply them to our way of understanding our gift of faith and how we can best use it.
In our reading in Genesis we see how Abram and his very intermarried family end up in Haran with his father. Looking at his family we can see that Abram was really quite a spring chicken at the age of 75! His father died at 205. Sarai was his wife and half sister and was barren but God promised to make Abram the father of a great nation and that all the peoples of the world would be blessed through him. It was quite a promise for he and Sarai to take in but Abram was a man of faith, he believed God, he upped sticks and set off with his huge entourage to where God would place him and his family. Tremendous faith! And his reward was great and we too are beneficiaries of that faith. You could say this was faith in action. He heard God’s voice, believed the promise and command and set out. He acted on his faith and what a transformation to not only his life, but to countless millions of others. Faith in action.
In Romans we get an expounding of Paul’s theology. He was on his way to Rome and because of challenges to his teachings, he was trying to get the Roman church “on side” so was very thorough in his writings. There could be no room for misunderstanding.
Here we see faith as the grounds for hope. It isn’t about what we do but what God has done in Jesus for us. This is faith in salvation not because of anything we do or any goodness we think we have, but solely on the basis of God’s grace, love and mercy in Jesus. It is a receiving faith, a belief which lifts us to a heavenly expectation. The only action required is acceptance. And this belief will strengthen us as we grow in it to help us to overcome life’s problems and difficulties and make us more patient and Christ like.
In the Gospel we see Jesus and Nicodemus, the Man from below, who comes in darkness, not understanding or accepting and the Man from Heaven, speaking of what He knows and what, through faith, will be revealed. Nicodemus sees Jesus as God because of miracles and wonders, physical stuff to hang your hat on! But Jesus speaks of spiritual truths, of His Kingdom and what we must do to enter that Kingdom. Belief in miracles is of this earth, it deals with seeing physical changes but Jesus is speaking of spiritual birth and growth and the work of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t about seeing with our eyes and being moved by material changes which can then change again. Jesus came from heaven and spoke of things only He could know but He spoke of the new life, here on earth and in heaven too, life given by the Holy Spirit. Spiritual birth. As I write this, the winds are howling round my study and I can see where it is coming from and from the movement of everything in my garden, where it is going! It is noisy and powerful and causes damage. The Holy Spirit moves like an unseen wind in Jesus’ teaching, He gives life to whom He chooses and we never know when He will come. So this faith, is a faith of readiness, a faith of waiting on God, believing that, if we are open, and surrender our will to His, the Spirit will move into our lives and guide us, teach us and equip us. He gives gifts and makes the fruit of the character of Jesus apparent in our own character. This faith is active but waiting on God, being open and being ready.
I have a little story, maybe quite relevant given the terrible storms and floods, but not related to any known person.
A man was in his home when a terrible storm came and the river began to overflow its banks. The level rose and emergency services brought a small dinghy to his flooded front door. “Come with us, the waters are rising.” But the man said, “No this is my home, I know God will save me. I am staying put”.
The waters continued to rise and the man was now in his upstairs bedroom looking out, praying to be saved. A boat came round the corner and stopped at his home, “come quickly” said the rescuer, “the waters are rising and you will drown.”
“No”, said the man, “This is my home, I know God will save me. I am staying put.”
The waters continued to rise and the man was now clinging to his roof, praying God would save him. A helicopter flew down low looking for stranded people, “Quickly,” shouted the soldiers, “the waters are rising, grab the line we throw down and we will hoist you to safety.”
“No” said the man, “this is my home, I know God will save me, I am staying put” and he ignored the life line hanging in front of him and the pleas of the men in the helicopter. Eventually, for their own safety they had to leave.
The man felt smug on his roof top, he had prayed to God, God would surely save him. But the waters rose, and the man........drowned,
He went to heaven and angrily scolded God,” I prayed, I had amazing faith for all to see and you let me drown. Why, when I was so true to you”. “My dear child, I heard your prayers and sent a dinghy, a boat and a helicopter”.
This man had faith for sure, but he acted in a way which expected a miracle, some amazing sign which would show to others how close he was to God, how strong his faith and how he depended on God alone. No one doubted his faith but his stubborn pride led to his ultimate downfall.
We must always be open to the Spirit in us to understand what type of faith God requires from us. Is it a passive, accepting faith, a faith which makes us yearn to grow more like Jesus and feel at home in His kingdom or a faith in action. Moving forward shows just as much faith and sitting waiting for what we believe might be God’s will. He speaks through the scriptures so we know His will, if what we are doing is consistent with His character and purpose, we can trust the Spirit to lead us forward. If it is something which God would turn away from, it is not for us. So much is done in God’s name which He would never own, and it is only our openness and acceptance of His Holy Spirit in our lives which can guide us through the often confusing and competing demands of life. Do we sit and listen to unpleasant jokes or move away, do we see injustice and do nothing or step out and act, do we watch films or games which pollute our minds or do we become more selective in the things we expose our minds to. It is faith which helps us. Faith to act, or sometimes faith to wait and just “be” in His presence until we know what to do or say. Abram never doubted, he didn’t go to a family committee meeting; he just up and went with his family. He had faith to act. Paul had a deep faith in salvation by grace alone and he came up against so much opposition from those who felt they must earn that which is given free even when we least deserve it. And Jesus, Jesus wants us to believe in His power and be people of above, people of the Spirit and His Kingdom, not people of below, of darkness or the pull of the material things of this world.
Faith is a gift, a most precious gift which none of us deserve, and yet it is ours and we can use it for God’s glory, bringing His Love and action into the world, reaching out, His hands, feet, voice and body, moving the Church of Christ forward, or we can use it to show others how pious we are, and depend on our goodness rather than God. Because he sends help in the most unlikely ways, our faith must be open and accepting to any answer to prayer, even if it not what we expected.
Let’s pray that this gift of faith in God and belief in Jesus empowers our life to be like Him and to trust Him utterly, whatever His response and whatever His will.