“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go”
“So Abram went.”
An encounter as simple, as challenging, as powerful as that.
For thousands of years, Abram, later renamed Abraham, has been held up for us as the great example of faith. We too are people of faith, or so we call ourselves. So what do we mean by that? What is faith? Maybe that’s worth thinking about a little bit this morning. What do we mean when we say that someone has faith?
Abraham isn’t the only example of faith in today’s scripture readings. In fact, the unifying theme in all of our readings today is that these are stories of faith. The synagogue leader who throws himself at Jesus’ feet and begs him to come and raise his daughter. The woman suffering from haemorrhages who touches the fringe of Jesus’ cloak. Matthew, who gets up, leaves his tax booth, and follows Jesus. Stories of faith.
I think the first thing I notice in all of these examples is that the faith that we’re talking about is something that can be seen in concrete actions. It’s not simply a belief, it’s not just a thought or an idea. It’s visible, it’s something we can actually see. In these encounters, faith is something that we can point to: Abram goes, Matthew gets up, the synagogue leader kneels, the woman touches. Concrete actions. And in each case, these are concrete actions which carry with them a high degree of risk.
Consider Abram. I think we have our own sense of the risk associated with going on a long journey to a foreign land. But Abram lived thousands of years ago and the risks were so much higher than we can imagine. There’s a reason why kinship and tribalism were important in the ancient world - that’s how your survived! Without the security of family and kin, your life expectancy would be pretty short. The world beyond your tribe was a hostile place. But God says to Abram go, go from your country, and your kindred and your father’s house. So Abram went.
Consider Matthew. A tax collector, sitting at a tax booth strategically located on a commercial route, where he could collect taxes for the Roman Empire, and usually a bit extra for himself, from the fishermen and merchants and ordinary peasant farmers that travelled the road. Tax collectors were despised. They were collaborators with the Roman occupation forces, they oppressed their own people. Having lost his place in respectable society, at least Matthew had three things: his job at the tax booth, his income from collecting taxes, and his relationships with all the other despised people, the tax collectors and sinners as they were called. But when Jesus said to him “follow me”, Matthew got up, and let go of his former life. He left his booth and followed Jesus, leaving behind his job and his income, and putting his relationships with all the other outsiders at risk too.
Consider the woman suffering from haemorrhages. She too was an outsider, though for a very different reason. There were laws about woman menstruating, laws that limited their movements and separated them from others. This woman was deemed unclean, and wasn’t supposed to touch or be touched. She certainly wasn’t supposed to reach out, touch a visiting rabbi and make him unclean. Wouldn’t he be furious if that happened? What would be the consequences?
Consider the synagogue leader. His risk was more reputational. What would people think when he, a man of great importance, threw himself on the ground in front of Jesus? What would they think when he begged Jesus to bring his dead daughter back to life? Would they laugh at him? As it turns out, yes, that’s exactly what people did.
And yet, each of these four people was willing to take the risk. Why? Because they had faith.
And what is faith? Faith is trust, but it’s more than that. The faith that we see in these examples is audacious. It’s bold, it takes action, it takes risks. This is faith as audacious trust. Let’s break that down a bit.
In what do we trust? All four, Abram, Matthew, the woman, the leader, all of them trusted in God. In the God that is revealed to us in the person of Jesus. As people of faith, we too trust in God.
We trust that God does indeed call us. That God created us for a purpose, that God is active and present in our lives and will reach out to us and call us to that purpose. Of course that raises all sorts of questions for us, about how we hear that call, about the ways in which God calls us, about prayer and scripture, about our relationship with the Spirit, about how we figure all this out. But underlying these questions of discernment is a fundamental trust that God is our creator, God created us for a purpose and God will call us to that purpose. And that we are to model ourselves on people like Abraham and Matthew who trusted God and responded to that call.
We trust that the God revealed in Jesus is the one that we are to follow. That looks different for different people. The way that the woman followed Jesus and the way that Matthew followed Jesus don’t look the same at all. But at the root of these different ways of following is the fundamental trust that Jesus is the one we are to follow.
We trust that the God revealed in Jesus is the one who gives life. Abram believed that God could give life in the form of children despite his and Sarah’s advanced age. He trusted, to use the words of St. Paul, that “God gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”
We trust that Jesus is the one who can raise us up. Certainly, the synagogue leader’s daughter is raised up in today’s scriptures - but so is the woman who touches Jesus. Not only is Jesus not angry with her socially outrageous behaviour, he praises her for it, calling her “daughter”, telling her to take heart, praising her for her faith. Matthew too is raised up, as are all his outrageous friends, when against all expectations, Jesus goes to them and shares a meal at their table.
We trust that the God who is revealed in Jesus will make us well. That’s the explicit trust of the woman who comes up behind Jesus. “If only I touch his cloak I will be made well.” And she is. And Jesus affirms her trust, saying, “your faith has made you well.” For this woman, being made well means that her bleeding was stopped. But being made well can mean so many things, maybe something different to each one of us. We trust that God can make us well, even if we sometimes wonder how long it will take, even if being made well happens in a way that we weren’t expecting.
Faith is trust. Trust that God calls us, trust that Jesus is the one we are to follow, trust that the God revealed in Jesus is the one who gives us life, raises us up and makes us well. And with that trust as our foundation, we can be audacious. We can be bold, we can do things, we can take risks.
Audacious trust means that when we are called, we go, like Abram. It means that we can dare to leave things behind, like Matthew. It means that we can break down barriers and defy social conventions, like the woman. It means that we are willing to go to risk our reputations and go to unexpected, unknown places, like the synagogue leader.
That’s what it looks like to have faith in God. We are people of faith. And faith is audacious trust.
So learn to trust. Then be audacious.
Homily: Yr A P10, June 11 2023, Trinity
Readings: Genesis 12.1-9; Ps 33.1-12; Romans 4.13-25; Matthew 9.9-13, 18-26