Genesis 12: 1-9; Hebrews 11: 1-16
Every day, you and I will have countless situations that call for faith. Some times in life others betray us, let us down, or neglect to do what is right. That daily betrayal, or neglect, or sinfulness is what keeps moving our boats farther and farther from the shoreline of our original childlike faith. What do I mean by that? When my family went to the beach for vacations when I was growing up- Virginia Beach, Nag’s Head, Myrtle Beach, and now Daytona Beach- we used to ride waves on blow-up rafts. I know it’s not as exotic as surfing, but we could spend hours out there doing that. Now on some days during a week’s vacation, we could paddle out from the shoreline, and waves would push us back into shore just where we started. On other days, or even other times in the same day, we would find waves bringing us in so far from our starting point that we would have to walk our way back after almost every ride in. On rare occasions the waves would even push us in the opposite direction and we would have to walk the other way to get where our family umbrella was jammed into the sand. Think with me about faith for a moment. If we experienced faith, which, for Christians, is unwavering trust in and belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior, then in a perfect world, or in a vacuum, it would be like the days the waves drove us directly into the shore from where we started: we would walk out into the water until it was above our waists, wait for a wave, and invariably let it take us in to the shoreline, ready to go again, or ready to rest, or ready for lunch. But, of course, we do not live in a vacuum; we do not live in a perfect world; and unlike Jesus, people around us let us down. We have to trust human beings all the time, don’t we? When we give a restaurant server our credit card after a meal, we trust that he or she is not copying our numbers and security code down while it is out of our sight. When we leave our vehicles in a repair shop where, for insurance purposes we cannot stand and watch, we have faith that the oil is changed correctly, that the mechanic does not tell us something is wrong that really isn’t, and that all work is done honestly and properly. When our children compete in Cub or Girl Scout competitions, or in a swim or gymnastics meet, or in a cheerleading competition, we trust that the judges are honest and not swayed by the presence of special friends also competing, that the other contestants are truthful about their work, and that those around us have the same values as we do. That is a big assumption. Now I am a man of faith; I have faith in God and seek to exhibit such faithfulness in all that I do, so that the girls who fell back into my arms during my children’s sermon trusted that I would not drop them. There are also people in this world who I trust implicitly: anyone who works with me here I trust completely. But, like the times the waves sent me into shore far away from my starting point, I have had quite a list of times over the years when work said to be done on my car was not done; when a Scout leader looked at cheating with a nod and a wink; when a judge at a college level competition chose his girlfriend over our daughter; when medical bills were over charged in intentional fashion, and when friends who I supported with undying devotion betrayed me. I’d imagine that I am not alone in feeling burned by others. I see especially senior citizens not trusting banks, or clerks, or service technicians, or even churches, and I suspect that iceberg goes deeply below the waterline of their psyches. We all have wanted to have faith in others, have placed faith in some, and have been hurt by misplaced faith over the years. It makes me, and maybe you, get jaded, but hopefully jadedness does not turn to bitterness. Sometimes we just learn that people will not keep their promises: I can’t remember every having a stranger who came to church who asked for help for food, gas, or bus tickets ever returning the gift as they promised, or even writing to thank me for it; now I just know that when they swear with their hand raised high, it has no more clout than the vaporous cloud of desperation that accompanies their need. How can we possibly be asked to trust in a Lord we cannot see, who came to earth at a time long before we were born, and who promises to forgive our sins with all the assurance of paper and ink in a book we call the Bible? It is surely a stretch for any one of us to have faith at all, let alone to muster up enough real faith to fall backwards into the everlasting arms of the risen Christ and trust that he will never drop us. How difficult is that when we grow up in the world of Charles Schulze’ PEANUTS, where as long as I have been alive, even with every new promise that came from Lucy’s lips, she never actually held the football for Charlie Brown to kick!
That’s our world; a world of teasing, and laughing at, and taking advantage of others. Perhaps when Jesus said, “If you want to enter the Kingdom of God, you must enter it as a child, or not at all,” he was not thinking of Lucy in the PEANUTS comic strip, but of Brooke and Reagan and others like them. The two girls I got to do the faith fall did it perfectly for me the first time; all my own children did it perfectly with me; they all knew I would not drop them. Well placed faith in me, or well placed faith in you, will make it easier to trust in Jesus if we do not break the trust others put in us. Children have not been in this world as long as we grown ups. And yet, we are called to have faith in Jesus as in a “faith fall,” and to have character in which others can believe. What a tall order. Can a human being actually do that?
Actually, yes! If Mary had not had faith in an angel with the request to bear the son of God, God would have chosen another way. If Joseph had not agreed to stay with Mary, the Bethlehem story and Jesus’ upbringing would have changed radically. Early on there was a lack of faith from with Adam and Eve, but human nature took a turn back toward faith with Noah. Then the pinnacle of faith for Jews, Muslims, and Christians was described: a wandering Aramean named Abram in Genesis 15. Notice he is not the picture of perfection, lest any of us think that faith is an impossible dream. No, even he got ahead of God’s plan by having Ishmael through a servant Hagar, thinking his wife was too old to have children. Fortunately, God took Abram’s and Sarai’s lack of trust and turned it in to a teachable moment. “Abraham, Abraham, Sarah, Sarah,” God later said “Have faith.” And with that, Sarah became great with a child who would be named Isaac, and Abraham’s lineage continued from a tree with two branches.”
As I discussed next year’s Holy Land trip with people last week, I reminded them that the place where the Temple was built was called Mount Moriah ages before, the very spot where Abraham trusted God beyond what most parents would do. Like a girl falling backwards, (only with much more critical consequences if God failed to provide) Abraham raised a sacrificial knife to his son Isaac; just before he was to faithfully plunge it deep into his son’s chest, God spoke, and told Abraham that he passed the test, and gave him a goat to sacrifice instead. Faith is not easy when the world keeps eating at our innocence like vultures at a road kill. Sometimes we think we can trust no one any more. And then there is that special mate, or parent, or teacher or pastor or mechanic or financial advisor or … you fill in the blank if you can … who restores a shred of faith to your soul. And then you think that maybe, just maybe, you can, like Punxatauny Phil, put your head out of your protective burrow and see in the shadows of morning that there are still people, a few bright shining rays of people, who can be trusted in our world. Those in our world who are trustworthy carry the sacred light of heaven; it flickers through the darkness of each new dawn, exposing opportunists and charlatans. You, my friends, and I have a sacred trust to carry to the world: to be as good as our word; to live faithful lives; and to give honest confession when we fail. Early childhood specialists tell us that children who experience a safe home believe that the world is safe; conversely, those whose homes are filled with broken promises and anger cannot trust the world when they grow up. Let us show one another that there are those in whom we can have faith; and when we need human yet holy examples, we can look to Abraham and Sarah; and to Mary and Joseph.
Thanks be to God for enough examples of faith around us that we can risk putting faith in a Savior we cannot see, and trust in everlasting arms that never fail.
Jeffrey A. Sumner February 15, 2008