Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 14)

Text: Hebrews 11:1
To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.

Being certain

The story goes that a manís car had broken down in the desert.  Days had gone by and there was no help in sight. He was hungry and thirsty. He decided to leave his car and walk along the road and came upon an old farm house. It was clear no one lived there. The house had only part of a roof and the doors were hanging sideways. He walked in and sat down to rest and as he sat there looking around he saw an old hand water pump in one corner of the house. He went over and starting pumping as hard as he could. All he got was a lot of squeaking and dust.

Almost to the point of despair the man was about to walk away when saw a bottle with a note attached to it. The note read, "Use this water to prime the pump. Trust me this well has never run dry". Signed, "Desert Pete".

The man was faced with a decision. Should he drink the water in the bottle to quench his raging thirst and possibly live another day or so or should he take the more risky option and do as the note asked? He decided he would do as the note read but use only part of the water. He poured in some of the water and began to pump. All he got was more squeaking from the pump and not one drop of water.

Again he was faced with a choice. Should he risk the rest of the water or drink it. He decided that someone with a name like ĎDesert Peteí must know what heís talking about so he poured in the rest of the water from the bottle into the pump. He began pumping again and soon there was all the water he could drink.

We heard today from the Letter to the Hebrews about Abraham and how he was called on to trust God in situations where it seemed illogical and risky.

Sometimes our journey through life can have twists and turns we didnít expect;
take us on paths that we had never planned to take.

It was like that for Abraham. He was very settled. He had done very well for himself in Haran and was a wealthy man. He and his wife Sarah were very comfortable. Then out of the blue God came to Abraham and told him to pack up everything and move.

Even though he doesnít know where he is going 75 year old Abraham packs up and heads off south. 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 we donít hear Abraham doing any of this. We are simply told, "He left his own country without knowing where he was going" (Hebrews 11:8).

When Abraham got to where God had led him, there was nothing there. He had to keep on moving around so that his flocks and herds would have enough grass and water. Even though God had promised Abraham a land of his own, he never saw it. He had given up the good life in Haran to become a nomad.

God told Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation. We read in Genesis, "The Lord took him outside and said, "Look at the sky and try to count the stars; you will have as many descendants as that." Thatís a fine promise but Abraham didnít have any children and he and Sarah were getting up in years.  What was Abrahamís response to God's promise? We read, "Abram put his trust in the Lord" (Gen 15:5). 

Was Abraham just plain gullible and stupid?
Pack up and go to an unknown destination;
believe that he would be a father even though it was humanly impossible;
believe that he would have more descendants than stars in the sky;
and accept that this piece of land that was a shadow of what he had left behind was a gift from God;
this is just plain crazy.

Iím sure Abrahamís friends back in Haran must have thought that he had finally lost the plot. Maybe he had a nervous breakdown or was suffering from a late onset of a mid-life crisis.

Genesis and the Letter to the Hebrews state simply, "It was faith that made Abraham obey God" when he was called to pack up and leave Haran.
"By faith he lived as a foreigner" in a strange land.
And when it came to becoming a father, "He trusted God to keep his promise".

Iím sure everyone at some time has wondered, "Where on earth is life leading me?" It seems that nothing has turned out the way you thought it would.
Your best effort to get things right goes all haywire.
You think you are in control of where life is taking you but there are so many unexpected twists and turns and side-tracks that you despair and wonder where on earth this will take you.
Sudden illness, the unexpected death of someone in the family or a friend leave you feeling helpless and vulnerable.
You are forced to make decisions and choices that arenít easy to make
and then wonder if things might have turned out differently if you had chosen differently.

With empty hands we turn to God and with complete trust in him and his love for us we look to him to help us, strengthen us, give us the courage and the wisdom we need to see our way around whatever it is that is standing in our way.

We rely on Jesus and his love for us Ė there is no one else who can help us. Our faith looks to Jesus to provide a way through the stress and trouble that comes your way. Have faith - what does it mean to have faith?

Faith believes that even though we canít make sense of the things that are happening in our lives, we know that we are held in the palm of God's loving hand and he will not let us go.
Faith knows that even though we canít live the kind of life that God wants us to it trusts God's promise in his Word 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 made at our baptism and renewed every time we receive Holy Communion 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 trusts that even though the future looks bleak and often dark, Jesus is the ray of light that gives us hope, and joy and peace.
Faith simply focuses on Jesus our loving friend when everyone else has given up and it believes that Jesusí love for us will never leave us to fend for ourselves.
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."

The question might well be asked when we find ourselves doubting Jesusí love for us or sinking under the turbulent waves of anxiety and stress, "How do I get that kind of faith?"

The faith that the Bible talks about is offered to everyone through the Holy Spirit. He is available to one and all and offers every person the opportunity to believe and trust in Jesus to walk with us and guide us through everything that comes our way. No one is left out. Jesus said, "When the Spirit comes, who reveals the truth about God, he will lead you into all the truth" (John 16:13).

As we listen to God's Word, learn from it, and apply it to our lives so that God's will and his love for us become so ingrained in our hearts and souls that every step of the way in life is done knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus; nothing stops Jesus being right here in our lives even along the deepest and darkest paths when we believe that we are all alone.

As we get to know God through his Word, his promises are firmly secured in us that even when we find it the hardest to believe, deep down we know that he is still holding on to us even though our grip on him is so weak and feeble.

The Spirit plants faith in our hearts at our baptism. God makes a promise to each of us individually in the water of baptism that he will be with us always. Even though it is possible humanly speaking for a parent to forget a child, our heavenly parent will never forget us. Our names are indelibly inscribed on the palm of his hand. That baptismal faith in us grows through the power of the Holy Spirit to the point that even though nothing is turning out the way we would like it to, we know God will not let go of our hand and will walk with us even through the dark shadowy valley of death.

The Spirit guides us into all truth when we receive the body and blood of Jesus to eat and drink in Holy Communion. There we see in our hands the unquenchable love of God the Father who gave the ultimate sacrifice for us. His love for his Son was no different to that of a parent and a child today and would do anything to spare him from danger and pain. Because of his love for us he was prepared to go even further and allow his own Son to die in our place in such a horrible way. Thatís how personal our God is. Thatís how loving he is. Thatís why we can trust his love for us even when we believe God doesnít care anymore.

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)

Even a giant of faith like Abraham had times when he couldnít fathom God's ways and wondered why God hadnít acted on his promise to give him a son. Likewise there are times when the situation we find ourselves is all too overwhelming and become angry with God for letting things get out of hand or we are simply left with so many question and too many doubts.

Itís precisely when this happens that Jesus comes even closer and holds us even tighter. We may not feel close to Jesus when things are tough but be assured he is closer than you think. There are times when life may not be easy but Jesusí love for us and his forgiveness is as strong as ever. Of that you can be sure.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
8th August 2010

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