Aug 6, 2016

19th Sunday - Faith is . . .

Abraham obeyed when he was called to go . . .

Wis 18: 6-9
Heb 11: 1-3, 8-16
Lk 12: 32-48

(This homily essentially looks at the second reading alone for this Sunday)

It has been said that one of the best reasons to be either agnostic or an atheist is the existence of evil in the world, in particular great evil. Let’s face it, it is tough to proclaim a God of love and mercy in face of what appears to be a divine toleration or at worst allowance of the horrendous violence we see in our world today.  Or, often the question is asked how a God of love could have allowed the Holocaust; the inhumane and senseless death of millions? 

We could take that further and ask about the suffering of millions in poverty, disease, and the poor from natural disasters.  If God is love and mercy – where is love and mercy in all that horror and hatred?  Therefore the proclamation of the Christian God of love and mercy is only a myth – and God is a myth. 

So may go the reasoned argument of those who do not believe in a God, let alone a God of love.  On a purely intellectual level it may make sense and to many it does and they are at best indifferent about things of religion; many see no purpose to it. 

But what is the real problem here?  Is it the increasingly secular culture we live in?  Yes, of course our culture plays a role indeed.  The same is true with our circle of friends and coworkers.  If they have no religious affiliation or never speak of the divine, it is challenging to say the least to be the only one who does.  Many face criticism and far worse if they openly speak of their faith.  Faith cannot be measured in scientific ways.  There is no mathematical formula, measurement or verifiable proof.  Faith is not a thing.  It is a conviction. 

Our second reading this Sunday from Hebrews offers us the classic biblical definition of faith: Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see. To believe in a hope and to trust in something I cannot see and to form one’s life around that “faith” is both risky and rewarding. 

In the letter to the Hebrews we hear of the great man of faith – Abraham. What was it about Abraham that has caused his forever fame?  He was a man of true faith. His response to God’s open ended requests is a model for believers and in particular for anyone who suffers from a shaky faith.

For example, Hebrews tells us: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called . . .By faith he sojourned . . . not knowing where he was to go . . . by faith he received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age – and Sarah herself was sterile . . . by faith Abraham was put to the test, offered up Isaac . . . he reasoned that God was able to even raise from the dead . . .” (Heb 11: 2, 8-19)

Still, how can I believe in something I either do not see or have never experienced? If, as Hebrews tells us, “Faith is confident assurance . . . what we hope for” then we must recognize it as a gift. It is grace from God. Faith is a seed planted in our hearts and nurtured through our life experience, strengthened by the support of others, the inspiration of others, personal prayer and participation in a faith centered community such as a parish, participation in a sacramental life, and a serious approach to the question of God in my life.

One thing faith is not is magic.  If we ignore it, never nurture it or “tend the soil” of God’s word in our hearts, then we put ourselves at some risk of simply loosing that gift of faith. Maybe stated in simple terms, “I have to show up.”  

The point is that the kind of faith we hear of today in our Scriptures is beyond proof.  It is God’s word alone that convinces us it is true.  It is faith that will trust that God’s word is reliable and the proof is in the scriptures and the countless lives of believers over the centuries. 

True faith in God’s love and mercy then is based not in verifiable scientific study but rather in the lives of people who have trusted the truth of the Lord’s word.  We may come to convince ourselves of God’s existence, for example, by the study of the universe or logical philosophical argument but that does not tell us what God is like. 

Abraham learned, through his obedience, as Mary did through hers, that though God’s will is often not clear, to follow it anyway brings great rewards and benefits.  We might think of the following example:

There is a true story told about Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India.  A priest came to the “house of the dying” to ask Mother Teresa about his future.  One morning Mother Teresa met this priest after Mass at dawn.

She asked, “What can I do for you?”  The priest asked her to pray for him.  “What do you want me to pray for?” Mother Teresa asked him.  He said, “Pray that I have clarity.”

Mother Teresa curtly answered, “No.”

Confused the priest asked why she said “no.” She told him that clarity was the last thing he should cling to and had to let go of.  The priest then commented that she herself had always seemed to have the clarity he longed for.  She laughed, “I have never had clarity; what I’ve always had is trust.  So I will pray that you trust.”

Her words are an example of what Hebrews tells us this Sunday.  While there may be no satisfying answer to the existence of evil, we still are convinced that God is love and mercy itself. In the face of the cross of Jesus we hear of resurrection and new life.  Our Eucharist has come to us through suffering but offers us the conviction found in trust that with God all will be well. 

Almighty ever-living God,
whom, taught by the Holy Spirit, 
we dare to call our Father,
bring, we pray, to perfection in our hearts
the spirit of adoption as your sons and daughters,
that we may merit to enter into the inheritance 
which you have promised.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your  So, 
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. 

(Collect of Sunday)