Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 14)

Text: Hebrews 11:8-9a
It was faith that made Abraham obey when God called him to go out to a country which God had promised to give him. He left his own country without knowing where he was going.  By faith he lived as a foreigner in the country that God had promised him.

 Journeying with faith

Itís good to get out an old photo album and recall some of those special times in life. Often we forget some of those occasions and it is a photo that suddenly brings memories flooding back of a special holiday, Christmases with family members, maybe some of whom are no longer with us, birthday parties, fun times that you have had with family and friends.

As I pour over old photos I have felt the tremendous blessings that have filled my life. As I look at the pictures of our children when they were babies and then recall the fun times we had as they were growing up I feel really blessed from having those four people as part of my life. I canít help but notice that those times are now in the past; never to be repeated. Life is like going on a journey Ė we never stop long at any one place, we keep on moving Ė seeing and doing new things. All the time getting a little older and closer to the day we leave this life and enter the place God has prepared for us in heaven.

Sometimes our journey through life can
have twists and turns we didnít expect,
take us on paths that we had never planned to take,
cause us to despair and wonder where on earth this will take us,
force us to make decisions that are not easy to make
and then wonder if things might have turned out differently if we had chosen differently.

Abrahamís life was a bit like that. He was very settled and had done very well for himself in Haran Ė he had considerable livestock, servants and wealth. He and his wife Sarah were, to say the least, comfortable. Then out of the blue God came to Abraham and told him to pack up everything and move. But God doesnít tell him where their new place is going to be.

So 75 year old Abraham packs up and heads off south to an unknown destination. I donít know about you but when I shift from one place to another a good deal of research takes place, a listing of the pros and cons, and a lot of wondering whether this is the right decision or not. But none of this for Abraham. We are simply told, "He left his own country without knowing where he was going" (Heb 11:8).

And what happened when Abraham got there Ė "there" being the land of Canaan Ė there was no place for him to live Ė no house, no farm where he could put his sheep and cattle, nowhere he could grow crops and have a garden to grow his own potatoes, onions and tomatoes. In fact, Abraham and Sarah had to keep on moving, finding new pastures for their sheep and cattle. It hardly seemed fair that God had uprooted them from their home in Haran and now were nomads living in a tent.

God had promised that he would give them a land. But it never happened (not in Abraham's lifetime). The only land he ever owned was burial plot for his wife Sarah.

Abrahamís life took twists and turns that he would never have dreamt of in his wildest nightmare. And I havenít mentioned the fact that God told Abraham that he would have many descendants. But how could he since he didnít have any children? And he didnít look like having any because he and Sarah were very old and by the time Sarah actually became pregnant, they were both really old.

What enabled Abraham to take off to an unknown place?
What prevented him from returning to Haran where life had been so good? Simply put - faith.
We are told, "It was faith that made Abraham obey when God" when he was called to pack up and leave. "By faith he lived as a foreigner" in that strange land, always on the move. "He trusted God to keep his promise" to make him a father.

When our life takes all kinds of unexpected twists and turns, it is this same kind of faith that enables us to view everything differently. What is meant by faith?

Faith is trusting in the promises of God. When God makes a promise and it doesnít matter how weird that promise might be (like a couple of geriatrics becoming parents for the first time), he intends to keep it. A promise is a promise. When God promised Abraham, "Do not be afraid, I will protect you" (Gen 15:1) he trusted God to keep his word.
When God promised that he would give Abraham and his descendants a new home, Abraham trusted him, even though he never saw this happen in his lifetime.
When God promised that Abraham would have many descendants, the old man believed him even though he couldnít see how this was possible since he didnít have any children of his own.
Faith trusts that Word from God that says that Jesus has forgiven all of our sin; that he has made it possible for us to enter eternal life.
Faith simply takes God at his word even though we donít understand why life has taken so many twists and turns.
Faith believes the promise that we are his dear children and that he will always be watching over us as we travel the ups and downs of lifeís journey.
Faith in our loving heavenly Father leads us to obedience even though we canít see where God will lead us. We are told, "
It was faith that made Abraham obey when God called him to go out to a country which God had promised to give him."

One day, Zac and his father were climbing on some rocks that lined the seashore. Suddenly Zacís father hears a voice from the top of a big rock, "Hey Dad! Catch me!" Zac had jumped and then yelled and was sailing through the air straight at his father. They both fell to the ground.

When Zacís father realised what had happened he gasped, "Zac! Can you give me one good reason why you did that?"

He responded with remarkable calmness and simplicity, "Sure, because you're my Dad."

Isnít that a story about the faith of a Christian? Whatever life might throw at us and whenever the sharp bends and unexpected corners catch us unprepared, we can throw ourselves into the loving arms of our heavenly Father with complete confidence knowing that he will always be there to catch us.

Faith is an unshakeable trust in God and willing obedience to his Word. Faith is not sitting still but itís busy and active as it responds to Godís Word. Abraham trusted God and so when he was told to go to another country, Abraham responded by immediately starting to pack.

Someone once called faith a muscle given to us by the Holy Spirit. Itís a gift from God. And like any muscle it must be exercised otherwise it becomes weak and useless. And the more it is exercised the stronger it becomes. Faith responds to Godís Word with action.

I like Soren Kirkegaardís little parable about a place called "Duckland":

It was Sunday morning in Duckland, and all the ducks dutifully came to church, waddling through the doors and down the aisle into their pews where they comfortably squatted.

When all were well-settled, and the hymns were sung, the duck minister waddled to his pulpit, opened the Duck Bible and read: "Ducks! You have wings, and with wings you can fly like eagles. You can soar into the sky! Use your wings!"

It was a marvellous, elevating duck reading from the Duck Bible, and thus all the ducks quacked their assent with a hearty "Amen!" . . . and then they plopped down from their pews and waddled home.

Every Sunday you come here and hear Godís Word and during the week you read your Bible and have a quiet time with God. The question that this story about "Duckland" presents is Ė how have you responded to that Word?
Has your faith been a busy thing, active thing because of what God has said to you?
How has your life been changed? Or has it been business as usual.

James asks the question, Dear brothers and sisters, whatís the use of saying that you have faith if you donít prove it by your actions? That kind of faith canít save anyone. Ö Faith that doesnít show itself by good deeds is no faith at all Ė it is dead and useless (2:14, 17 NLT).

Faith summons us to respond to Godís Word.
Faith calls us to trust God, even when it is illogical to do so.
Faith is persistent, even when it doesnít make any sense.
Faith believes, even when there is no proof.
Faith calls us to obedience, even when we donít feel like it.

Why would two people give up a safe, secure life in Australia to go to a Moslem country to work and to share the Gospel of Jesus? They will not be known as missionaries because that would immediately put their lives at risk. They are following Godís call to a country where they will probably work for decades without seeing much fruit Ė no church building, no big worship services, just time-consuming, one-on-one sharing of their faith when the opportunity arises. They may never see any results of their work. So why are they doing this? Itís seems so pointless and illogical. To answer we could use the words of our text, "It was faith that made these two people obey when God called them to go out to another country." Faith believes and trusts God, even when it seems foolish to do so. Faith responds to Godís call with obedience.

In Jesus, we see the perfect example of what it means to have faith. He was faithful to the point of death. He faithfully carried out his work as Saviour of the world, opening the path for each of us to have eternal life. When we are weighed down with worry and our sinfulness and we feel like giving up, we have a Saviour. We believe firmly that Jesus has not let go of his grip on us. Life may not be easy but Jesusí love for us and his forgiveness is as strong as ever. In fact, faith looks forward to a time when we will be welcomed into the promised land of heaven.

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot see (Heb 11:1 NLT)

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
12th August 2007

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, revised Australian edition 1994.
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