what FAITH is — from Lectionary Reflections by Jane Williams

| HOME | Common Worship—Proper 14 year C | Genesis 15.1-6 | Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16 | Luke 12.32-40 |

Last Thursday was my only evening at home, with a week filled with going out to a meeting and three choir practices.
So while I was still thinking about which way to go for today's sermon, we chose to watch a re-run of a 1991 film we'd recorded.
REGARDING HENRY was the title with Harrison Ford and Annette Bening.

An unscrupulous corporate lawyer, Henry Turner will do whatever it takes to win a case,
and treats his family with the same degree of ruthlessness.
After Henry gets caught in the middle of a robbery and is shot in the head,
he wakes from a coma to find that he has amnesia and can't even remember how to do the simplest of tasks.
As he recovers and relearns how to function,
Henry reveals a much kinder and more thoughtful personality,
much to the surprise of his family and friends.

Placing your complete trust in someone or something!
In a word, that's what FAITH is.
And the whole point of the film is about who he learns to trust as he tries to re-learn how to fully function again.
The process begins with his physiotherapist, who teaches him to speak and walk.
It then passes on to his wife Sarah, and his 11 year old daughter Rachel who are both now strangers to him.

And the most poignant part of the film for me was when he accompanies his daughter, hand in hand, to the library.
She gives him some magazines to read through while she catches up on her homework,
but he keeps playfully interrupting her, and then comes the admission,
"I can't read," he says.
"I'll teach you, Dad", replies Rachel.
The lessons begin.
As he gradually picks things up, he asks her, "Rachel, who taught you all of this?"
She gives him a hug and replies, "You did, Dad!"

FAITH is sometimes presented as necessarily divorced from evidence.
If you can prove something, then you don't need to have faith to believe it.

But that doesn't seem to be quite what our readings today are saying.
They seem to suggest that faith is not an irrational decision to step out into the darkness,
but something chosen and calculated on the basis of what is already known and experienced.

Faith still has a strong element of risk and uncertainty, but it isn't just plain stupidity.

Abram's venture of faith starts in conversation with God.
Those of us who have read Genesis have already had the chance to get to know God a little.
We have seen him creating the world, saving Noah and so on.
So when, in Genesis 12, the Lord comes to Abram, Abram is already embedded in a story.
We are not told about Abram's upbringing, but we are given the list of his ancestors, and his descent from Noah,
so we are to understand that the Lord is already known to Abram, at least as part of his heritage.
By today's reading in Genesis 15, Abram has tested that initial rather impersonal knowledge a good deal.
He has left his land and followed God's promise.
So the conversation we overhear has a history to it.

But although things have worked out quite well for Abram so far in his dealings with God,
that does not make his faith blind.
This central thing that God has promised, which is so dear to Abram's heart,
but which is also an integral part of the plan that God has outlined to Abram, has yet to happen.
Abram still has no heir.
But a son is what Abram is really interested in.
That was what made it worth taking the risk.
The flocks and the wealth are nice, but they are not what he is here for.
He doesn't know quite why his son should be vital to God's purposes, too,
but he knows that it is so, and that is what binds him to God
— they both want and need this one thing.

So when Abram stands talking to God under the starry night sky,
his faith is a complex mixture of what has already gone before and what he longs for.
And we are told that God reckons this to him as righteousness (v. 6).
This curious combination of knowing and longing is to be the saving of Abram.

The Hebrews commentary on the story of Abram makes faith the air that Christians must breathe to live.
Like Abram, Christians are part of an ongoing story.
They come in on a conversation that is already taking place,
in which something of the character of the main speaker is already evident.
So they are not starting from nothing.
And, like Abraham, they are aware that their story, too, will have consequences for those who follow.
Hebrews writes that the patriarchs do not see the completion of God's plan,
though they see enough to be able to guess, and be excited (v. 13).
And they understand enough to be able to live their lives in such a way that they can help generations to come to play their part in their turn.
They, like Abraham, live with this mixture of knowing God through what he has already done, and longing to see what is still unknown.
Part of what they bequeath to generations to come is that discontent,
that restless certainty that what you already know about God and his ways is never enough.
Desire and discontent are strange qualities to value,
but apparently they are what make God willing to be identified with us,
'not ashamed' to be our God,
Hebrews says (v. 16).

So we are beginning to build up a picture of faith.
It is based in a knowledge of God, but it is fuelled by longing to know him better, and to see more of what our faithful but enthralling God is up to.
What we know for sure is that we have not yet got to the end of what he has in store for us.

So faith is about excitement, based on what we have already experienced, not dogged persistence against all evidence.

Continuing with the film, this was exactly the excitement of Henry when he realised that he could finally read,
when, much to his daughter's embarrassment,
he exclaimed to everyone he passed on the street,
"I can read! I can read!"

We ourselves are never required to exercise an unreasonable faith, or to stifle the questioning of our minds.
Our faith, if it is strong, will never cease from seeking understanding,
and we may discover that,
as we go forward in trust,
we shall grow in the knowledge of God and in certitude.