Reverend Felicity O’Brien August 11 2019 St Chad’s Linwood
Faith is a strange thing isn’t it? In our times, everything needs to be proved to be believed. That’s the empirical method, which became popular during the Enlightenment. People started to understand more about the natural world, more about science – forces, biology, chemistry, weather, what is natural even though it seems supernatural. People don’t believe something they can’t see in front of their eyes.
Or do they? Do you know how electricity works? Do you truly understand how the exchange of ions causes an electrical charge to move through a wire? I don’t. I think electricity is weird. But that doesn’t stop me trusting in it. I know that when I turn on a light switch something happens to make the room brighter. I trust in the power of electricity. Even the unharnessed power of electricity can be understood or at least expected – I know that when I am wearing my red acrylic jersey and I get out of the car, I am likely to get an electric shock. Doesn’t stop me from being surprised by it though. I understand that it exists even if I don’t know exactly how it works.
Faith is a bit like that. We can see the results of faith, and hear stories from the Bible and from testimonies about how faith has worked in people’s lives. Our reading from Hebrews reminds us that it was because of faith that Abraham set out away from his homeland, seeking a new place to set down roots. He trusted God, even though he didn’t have many stories from the past to encourage him.
He is a great example to us. Come to 4 thousand years later, and then some, and we have so many stories of times when people have had faith in God, and it has worked out for the better, that there can be no doubt that God is real and we can trust God. Even in a world where people demand proof for everything there is plenty of evidence.
Abraham was told to have faith in God for his family line too – trusting that God will give you a child when your earthly experience tells you that the time has past is a real test of faith. Even Abraham’s faith faltered when he listened to his wife’s idea of having a child with the slave Hagar instead of with her, because she knew that according to the ways of menopause, she was not going to bear him a child. But when God sent angels to remind them, they were back on track and had faith in God to provide for their child and their future line.
Do you trust God to provide what you need? What are the desires of your hearts? Do you cry out to God in prayer and ask repeatedly? Faith means trusting in the power of prayer.
When Rachel was a little girl, Kevin and I were hoping that we would have anther baby. But it didn’t seem to be happening. I had prayed many times for another child, and prophecy had been spoken over me that God would give me the desires of my heart. But there came a time when I had to trust God and move on. I put the maternity clothes in a charity bin. That night, my son Rowan, who was about 5 at the time, asked my why we weren’t having any more babies-(his dad and step mum seemed to be very productive in that department). I told him I didn’t know and why didn’t he pray about it. He folded his hands, bowed his head there and then at the dinner table and said, dear Lord, please give Mummy another baby. Guess what happened the next week? I found out that I was pregnant, after three years of barrenness.
Rowan discovered the power of prayer, though when his brother Josiah is particularly noisy on his electric guitar I think he regrets it a bit! I was taught a lesson by the faith of a young child.
But how about faith when life is going badly? Where is faith when there is bad news, when the test results are not good, when relationships fail? It is when life is really hard that having faith gives us an anchor to stabilise us, a rudder to steer us though, wind in our sails to give us power, to continue a nautical metaphor. Faith is a bedrock beneath the ocean floor.
What is the most basic idea of Christian faith? let’s look at the first line of the Apostles’ Creed.
I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth.
This belief in the creator God is something many peoples have in common, over many different religions. The idea that all this world got here somehow and that Someone, a creator, an intelligent mind, made it, and made us. Often people who have no understanding of the finer points of religion have this idea that there is something out there, or up there, that there is a higher power and that we are not alone in the world.
Stripping back our faith to the basics can be refreshing too. In our reading from Isaiah, God chastises the Jews for putting too much emphasis on outward forms of show, outward religious practices and rituals. He doesn’t desire sacrifices, or fancy buildings, or particular songs or prayers to show our belief in God and our love for God. Instead God desires that we care for the widow and the orphan, the vulnerable, that we love as he loves us. The details of worship practices are not forbidden, otherwise we wouldn’t be here in this nice building, and I wouldn’t be wearing this nice green chasuble. But God desires that these things do not become the be-all and end-all of worship.
Where I used to live in Tawa, Wellington, there were 19 churches along the Main Rd at one point. It was famous as having the highest number of churches per head of population in the southern hemisphere.
But what does this really say? Does it say that the people of that community were particularly religious? Or rather, that they couldn’t agree with one another about how to worship the God they all professed to love, and instead of acting in unity, as we are encouraged to do in the psalms, they would separate themselves from each other, and pridefully decide that their own way of worshipping was the best and that they didn’t want to work together with fellow Christians. Is this true Christianity? I don’t think so. Imagine how much more impact they would have had on their community if they pooled their resources and worked together?
‘By this shall all know you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
Going forward in the 21st century the church is going through many challenges. So many people in our society don’t know about God, and don’t have any idea that coming to church and worshipping with other people is a good thing to do. But actually when you get to know people and scratch the surface of belief, you discover that they do have an awareness of God, but a distrust of organised religion. How Christians have behaved through the ages has put them off church.
My friends, we have a huge challenge, and if we have the faith to trust God hold our future, as individuals and as the church, we must pray, and listen to God, and we seek to grow God’s kingdom in the world, and beyond.