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Second Sunday after Pentecost.

We were delighted to welcome Licensed Reader, Canon Janet Berkovic, as our guest officiant and preacher at Morning Prayer on Sunday, 11 June, 2023. SUNDAY 11 JUNE 2023 SERMON Gen 12:1-9, Ps 33, 1-12, Rom 4:13-25, Mt 9:9-13, 18-26 FAITH AND CALLING How would you define faith? Different people have different ideas about what the word faith means. For some, it’s a practical thing. You put your faith in the laws of physics when you board a plane. You put your faith in chemistry and biology when you take medicine expecting it to work. You put your faith in the legal system, the social services, or the government regarding citizens’ rights – or perhaps you do not! For others, faith is more of an abstract concept and it requires a great deal of concentration. It’s more like channelling all the power of your mind to influence something – and for Christians this often means praying long and hard with your eyes tight shut – to try to change something in your favour, whether the weather forecast, passing an exam, avoiding a speeding ticket, or whatever. This kind of faith has a specific target and more often than not, the arrow misses or bounces back and hits the archer instead. It can be a rather cheap faith – believing you will find a parking space and then being either thrilled or disappointed when you do or don’t. A fifty-fifty chance. Is that really faith? Then there is blind faith. Blind faith means switching off your alertness and sensitivity to what is happening around you. Blind faith is stumbling in the dark. It ignores the signs and crashes forward regardless. It means believing something without having any reason or evidence and we see it every day in how people respond to what they find on the internet, posting quotes which are supposedly by famous people, or claiming the health benefits of garden weeds. What about faith in the Bible? Well, we certainly find the two kinds I have described and many other variations – in the Psalms, for example. The psalmist has complete faith

that the sun will rise, the rain will fall, the crops will grow, and so on. He also has moments of channelling his energies into getting one result – usually the downfall of his enemies. But the baseline for faith in the Bible is what we read about today in the account of Abraham hearing God’s call and leaving his home. True faith brings about changes, or it should do. Lives are changed, ambitions change, decisions change, and circumstances change as faith in God results in his guiding us in ways and to places we did not plan ourselves. True faith means listening out for and responding to the prompting of God in our lives, and then following him. True faith is not belief without evidence. Faith is the extent of belief. In other words, if your belief in God is so strong that it affects your actions and attitudes, it has become faith. If you have complete confidence in him, you have faith. Faith in God also brings new life. Look at the Bible readings we have heard today. For Abraham, faith brought new life in the miracle of his son’s birth, the fulfilment of the promise “I will make of you a great nation”. For Jairus, it was the restored life of his daughter. For the woman worn down by years of illness, social and religious exclusion, it was the gift of a normal life from that day on. For Matthew, it was the new life of a disciple, loved by the Lord, instead of his old life as a hated tax collector. These very different stories illustrate the power of God to bring about profound changes and newness in our lives. But are we ready for that? Isn’t it easier to retain the status quo, to settle for what we have, to avoid taking steps in faith? For every person we read about in the gospels meeting Jesus and moving forward in faith, there must have been dozens or hundreds of others who held back and did nothing. All of them religious people, of course, in those days. And what about us? Would we be “in the crowd”, watching, listening and drifting back to our everyday lives unchanged? Or might we be the ones about whom such gospel reports were written? Faith and needs We often think about faith as something we need to summon up when we have particular needs. And if our prayers are not answered, it must be because we do not have enough faith. But faith is not about the power to concentrate hard enough. It is about the power of God to

transform. Let’s look again at the people in our readings today. Two of them had real, pressing needs. Two of them did not. Yet all of them made steps of faith. The sick woman was desperate. Jairus was distraught at the death of his daughter. I’m sure we’ve all been in situations which have overwhelmed us. Abraham, on the other hand, had no particular needs. He lived a comfortable life in a respected family, in Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisation, where he had a livelihood, security and identity. He was told by God to go into the unknown “to a land that I will show you”, to become a nomad instead of a settler. Why? Because Abraham was called by God to participate in a new act of creation, that of a new nation, a special community. He was not a young man, he was rather rich and had plenty of employees and assets, so his step of faith was certainly not made in the hope of getting material benefits and rewards. Even the promise of descendants, when he had already stopped hoping for that, was not the reason why he went. He went because he had faith in God. Matthew, too, was already well-off when Jesus called him. He had made deliberate compromises in his public, business life and was pretty thick- skinned. He didn’t care that the Romans called him “Jew” and the Jews called him “traitor”. But the call of Jesus was for him simply irresistible and he responded with the kind of faith we might not expect a person like that to possess. There are two very telling phrase in Paul’s account of Abraham’s calling in his letter to the Romans. The first is his description of God as the one “who calls into existence the things that do not exist”. I think this is the key to understanding what true faith. True faith is not about yearning for things that already exist. It is about openness to things which do not yet exist. The second is this; “Now the words, ‘his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness’ were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also.” Earlier, Paul says, “for Abraham is the father of all of us”, meaning Jews and Gentiles, according to the promise in Genesis 12:2, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. In other words, the story of Abraham’s call and step of faith is not just an old Jewish legend. It is directly relevant to us today. Because of Abraham’s faith, we have become part of the called community of God, the body of Christ. We are part of something which once did not exist, and now does exist. It exists because God called it into existence, starting way back in ancient times

with Abraham. It members have included countless men and women who lived before Jesus, those who had faith in him during his time on earth, like Jairus, Matthew and the sick woman, and those who have had faith in him ever since, right up to today. Are you among them? Can you place yourself in that long, long, chain of faith? Can you see that faith is much more than wanting God to do things for you, but is about what God wants to do through you? Let us pray Lord, we thank you for the examples of faith we have read about today – for Abraham, Matthew, Jairus and the sick woman. We pray that you would strengthen our faith so that it changes our lives, our communities and the world. May we be open to your creative, transforming power through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. Amen. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11:1)

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