Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, Sunday 4th August at St George's, Campden Hill and St John the Baptist, Holland Road, Trinity 11
Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, Sunday 4th August at St George's Campden Hill and St John the Baptist, Holland Road, Trinity 11
This Sunday, let us rejoice in the gift of faith.
Today, I want us to reflect on the example of Abraham and to think about those people who have inspired us on our faith journey, to rejoice and be thankful for the gift that they have given us, those people in our lives who have pointed us towards the heavenly treasures of the Christian faith.
For some of us it may be or have been our parents but for others, we may have come from homes where there were no parents or parents who were not believers. But someone will have encouraged us on the way. Perhaps it was someone at school, or maybe a priest? And maybe not just one person, but a number of different people.
Let us pause for a moment to remember those witnesses in our lives and give thanks.
Second. We should also understand we also receive the gift of the church from those who we never met.
A fortnight ago Christians were rocked by the murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel by his altar in Rouen.
The next day was the commemoration of Bishop Brooke Westcott, who was Bishop of Durham and a teacher of the Faith who had died in 1901. At the start of our midday Eucharist, I found myself reading his words which I would like to share with you today:
“If the outward were the measure of the Church of Christ, we might well despair. But side by side, when we think we stand alone, are countless multitudes whom we know not, angels whom we have no power to discern, children of God whom we have not learnt to recognise.
We have come to the kingdom of God, peopled with armies of angels and men working for us and with us - because they are working for him. And though we cannot grasp the fullness of the truth, and free us from the fetters of sense, yet we can, the light of the Incarnation, feel the fact of this unseen fellowship; we can feel that Heaven has been reopened to us by Christ.”
Such convictions are sufficient to bring calm to the believers in the sad conflicts of a restless age…. They teach us to preserve a true balance between the elements of our life….
They inspire us with the ennobling hope that in the wisdom of God - we shall become one, not by narrowing and defining faith which is committed to us, but by rising through the help of the Spirit, to a worthier sense of its immeasurable grandeur.”
On that morning after the murder of Fr. Hamel, this reading was a source of great comfort. But note also that Bishop Westcott encourages us not to try to narrow and define faith, but rather to accept and trust in the gift of the Holy Spirit –
A good analogy of trusting in the Holy Spirit is Henri Nouwen’s observation of circus acrobats performing at huge height.
The acrobat flying through the air does nothing and the catcher does everything. The flyer must simply stretch out their arms and hands and wait to be caught and pulled to safety over the apron behind the catch bar.
We too must stretch out our arms and allow ourselves to be caught by the catcher, and like the Prodigal son, to be enfolded in the arms of the loving father.
And so we come to Abraham, another example of those who have gone before us, who we never knew and who pointed the way, and who trusted God, like the flyer in the circus who trusts the catcher.
Who in our Old Testament reading is promised by God that his childless marriage to Sarah will yield a child. The Lord takes Abraham outside and says " Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be."
Why is Abraham important?
He is the greatest example of faith in the Old Testament.
He is the Father of the chosen people.
By giving up all his security and home in the land of Ur and by setting out for distant and unknown land of Canaan, he renounced attachment to perishable things.
And he and Sarah were rewarded with the miracle of the birth of Isaac.
In the Epistle the writer of Hebrews unlocks the mystery of God by showing us that the creation of the universal church following the life, death and resurrection of Christ, is the fulfilment of God's original promise to Abraham, that we too are the descendants of Abraham.
Faith, it has been said, is the opposite of certainty. The Bible is the story of our slowness to believe in the promises of God and to grasp the abundance of gifts that we have received from Him.
The writer of Hebrews brings home to us that God does not give up, and that despite our slowness to believe his promises are kept.
The story of the Bible has also been described as the creation of the Kingdom of God through his revelation to his people, a drama of five acts: the creation of the Kingdom, rebellion in the Kingdom (the fall), the promise to Israel, the coming of the King in the form of Jesus and our redemption, and fifthly, the formation of the Church, spreading the news of the King.
Again the writer of the Hebrews allows us to see where we are placed in this story, that as descendants of Abraham and through the gift of Christ, we are members of the kingdom of believers and are called to foster and nurture the faith.
To summarise, the message from these two readings from the Old Testament and from the Epistle to the Hebrews is that the gift of faith and knowledge of God comes from testimony- the Testimony of God and the Testimony of believers, some of whom are known to us today but the majority - those dwellers of space and time, are not. We give thanks for the example of the company of believers. And their example prompts and reminds us that by our lives and actions we can also point people to God’s gracious promises – we too can be, must be givers of faith
The next time we find ourselves looking in wonder at a star spangled night sky, let us remember the story of Abraham's encounter with the Lord and give thanks for the fulfilment of his promise: "So shall your descendants be."