Who Do You Believe? Faith and Promise.
I don't know if you've noticed, but there's an election going on in the US. And of the millions, maybe billions of people who have noticed, many of them have been drawing comparisons between the conventions that took place recently, the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention. But there is an even greater contrast and that is the contrast between the things said at the Republican National Convention and the things said in today’s gospel.
Donald Trump told us to be afraid, to be very afraid. Jesus begins today’s gospel by saying “Be not afraid.” And believe me, believe me, it matters immensely which one of these two you’re going to believe.
Jesus says “Be not afraid”, and then he follows it up with a promise. “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Our God is a God of promise. Our scriptures tell us that God makes promises, and that God is faithful to his word.
So what exactly is being promised here? God promises to “give us the kingdom.” What does that mean? Well we know from what has already been said in the 12th chapter of Luke, from the gospel reading we heard last Sunday, we know what it doesn’t mean. Giving us the kingdom doesn’t mean that we will have an abundance of possessions. It doesn’t mean that we can guarantee our own security by hoarding more than we need and building walls to protect it. It does mean that God will provide our daily needs, our food and clothing, just as God feeds the ravens of the air and clothes with beauty the lilies of the field. But “giving us the kingdom” means so much, so much more than this.
The promise is that God, the God who made us and knows us intimately, who has known us from our mother’s womb, God will give us everything we truly need. And what is it that we as humans truly need to become the people we were created to be?
We need the gift of identity, of knowing who we truly are. God gives us our identity: we are children of God.
We need dignity and respect, we need to know that we are loved. This too, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us. We are made in the image of God, honoured by God, and loved by God. Each one of us has inherent dignity and worth and is deserving of love and respect.
We as humans need meaning and purpose in life. We have been called by name and made for a purpose, we will be given all that we need to live out our unique God-given purpose in life, and we are called to live in right relationship with God and with each other.
In order to thrive, we as humans need good, loving relationships. God has promised to be with us always, and has restored us to right relationship with him. God has got our backs, and it is by experiencing love and finding our security in our relationship with God that we are able to enter into and nourish good relationships with each other.
And yes, we need our daily bread.
This is the promise that God makes through Jesus to us. To give us the kingdom. To give us identity, dignity, love, meaning and purpose, good relationships, our daily bread, and God’s presence and redeeming power in our lives.
Do you believe this promise? Do you have faith that God will keep this promise? Do you believe that this promise is enough, that these things that God has promised are indeed the very things that we should be seeking in our lives?
The answer, I suspect, is no. No, we don’t believe it, no we don’t have this faith, no this isn’t what our world and our society is seeking. Just look around. I don’t have to look far, I just need to look at my own life. What I see is a striving for an abundance of possessions. What I see is people seeking security by hoarding and building walls.
Why? Why do we live like this?
Because we are afraid.
Donald Trump looks at the world around him, and he says we are right to be afraid. He says that we need to have more possessions. He says we need to build walls. He says we need to focus on protecting ourselves. And though we may dismiss his views as extreme, and think that it couldn’t happen here, it does happen, all around us, every day.
But Jesus says “Be not afraid.” And he makes us a promise: “it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Whenever Jesus talks about the kingdom, it poses a challenge for us, and that is the challenge of the “now” and the “not yet”.
The kingdom is near to us. The kingdom is in our midst. The kingdom calls us and beckons to us, we can reach out and grasp it. And yet, it is not fully realized. There are obstacles, there are challenges, there is pain, there is suffering. We acknowledge that the kingdom is not fully realized in our midst every time we pray “your kingdom come, your will be done.” God’s promise is real, it is in our midst, it is something we can glimpse and yet it is far from being fully realized. That’s what makes it a promise.
And when we see the pain and suffering of this world, when we experience that pain and suffering, it is easy to be afraid, it’s easy to fear that God’s promise will never be realized and to turn to alternatives, maybe even the alternative of a Donald Trump.
But Jesus says “Do not be afraid.” And the opposite of fear is faith. Fear limits our vision. Faith opens us up to new and exciting possibilities. Fear paralyzes. Faith allows us to act boldly. Fear takes us prisoner. Faith gives us our freedom. Even the freedom to sell our possessions and give to the poor.
Faith, as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews puts it, faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. Assurance and conviction. If we have faith in God’s promise, we are freed to live with assurance and conviction.
Now, God never promised us an easy life. The two greatest examples of faith in the Bible are Abraham in the Hebrew Scriptures, and Jesus in the New Testament. God made a promise to Abraham, often called a covenant in our scriptures. God promised Abraham that he would possess a new land, that he would have descendants as countless as the grains of sand on the seashore, and that through his offspring all the nations of the world would be blessed. Now Abraham did not have an easy life, you can read about it in the book of Genesis. But he did have faith that God would be true to his promises. And so when God called him to leave his home and country, he set out on that journey by faith. Abraham was never able to see all that was promised in his lifetime. But he did not fear, he did not despair; he lived by faith, he had the assurance and the conviction that God would be true to his word. And God has been true to the promises made to Abraham.
Jesus also is a model of faith, in fact he is a dual model, an example both of what it means to be a faithful human, and a revelation of what God’s faithfulness towards us looks like. Jesus lived by faith. He understood that God had called him to be with the people, to love them, to proclaim God’s kingdom to them, to proclaim God’s forgiveness and to reconcile and restore us to right relationship with God. He lived by faith, even though it cost him his life. But by God’s power even death was overcome, and Jesus was raised from the dead. And in all this he revealed to us the faithfulness of God: God’s power and determination to be true to God’s promises, in this life and beyond, God’s unrelenting presence with us and God’s power to redeem the challenges and suffering that we face.
God has promised to give us the kingdom. We are called to have faith in the midst of the now and not yet challenge of that promise. It’s not easy to have faith. But it helps to remember how far God is willing to go on our behalf – that is, the cross. And it helps to remember God’s power of redemption – as seen in the resurrection. We will remember Jesus’ death and resurrection again this morning, in our Eucharist, as we do each week, for the very purpose of reminding ourselves to have faith, and to not be afraid.
And so, we are left with a choice. We can believe the Trumps of this world, and be afraid, and strive for possessions and security. Or, we can have faith in God’s promise to give us the kingdom, and strive for that kingdom.
The choice is yours. And believe me, believe me. This is the most important choice you will ever make. Because if you have faith that God will give you everything you truly need, identity, dignity, love, meaning & purpose, good relationships, and your daily bread, and if you have faith that whenever anything gets in the way of this, God is right there with you, working with you to redeem your suffering and bring you through any obstacle, even when that means raising you from the dead:
Then, you can really live. Truly. Fully. Abundantly. Passionately. Joyfully. Justly. Generously. Boldly.
God has your back. So go out and live.
Homily: Yr C Proper 19, August 7 2016, St. Albans
Readings: Isaiah 1.1,10-20; Ps 50.1-8, 23-24; Heb 11.1-3,8-16; Luke 12.32-40
Image by Michael Vadon, Creative Commons