Welcome to the Knox Talks blog. Here you can find recent and past sermons relating scripture to a wide variety of topics. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog.
Who Can You Trust?
Scripture: Genesis 12:1-4
Faith has become a very meaning-filled word. Nowadays, it can refer to a whole religion – “People of the insert name here faith” – which is interesting because it causes us to approach religion in a particular way that focuses on what a person or group believes.
This arises out of the Protestant Reformation that took passages like today’s reading from Romans and made this understanding of faith the very definition of our identity.
Five hundred years ago it was a fight between Martin Luther’s “salvation by faith alone” and the existing Roman Catholic understanding that Christianity needed to involve many rituals and practices, which the Protestants rejected.
The churches of the Reformation developed creeds: statements of what they understood were the things a person needed to believe, in order to be right with God.
That’s an oversimplification, but for many people it became the way religion works and that understanding of the word “faith” colours how we read scripture even today.
Paul defined righteousness in terms of Abraham’s faith in God. He was creating a contrast with the idea of following strict rules: adherence to the law, something that mattered a lot in the ongoing debate between the new Christian take on Judaism and more traditional forms, namely the priesthood and Sadducees who emphasized sacrifice and rituals and the Pharisees who emphasized the law.
Paul was making a point about the nature of righteousness and the way Abraham was counted as righteous, not because of what he did, but because of his faith in God.
That’s harder to get our minds around these days. Righteousness is not something we talk a lot about and when we do it is very much in religious terms, sort of like faith.
Let’s re-position this so we’re not carrying the weight of all those centuries of meaning.
When Paul was talking about righteousness he wasn’t talking about Abraham’s score sheet, although he is suggesting that others may think that way. He was referring to a relationship to God: Abraham being connected to the Creator: “in tune with God,” if you will.
And when Paul talked about faith, he wasn’t talking about believing the right creed. That would have appalled him. It’s just another version of trying to follow the law except that we’ve replace a set of rules about behaviour with a set of rules about belief.
So when Paul says “faith” here, we should think: “trust”. Abraham trusted God and that made all the difference.
When we read our Genesis lesson, we can see just how much that trust mattered. Abraham, at age 75, trusted God enough to pack up his household and leave the land he’d settled with his father to go off on a crazy quest for a promised land where he and his elderly wife would proceed to have countless offspring and become a great nation.
It’s insane! Nobody wants to start from scratch in their 70s! That’s the age when you want the comforts of a real bed rather than a sleeping bag rolled out during a camping trip that would take years. And what about all that child-raising stuff? Midnight feedings and colicky babies? That exhausting stuff belongs to the younger generation!
The whole point of being a grandparent is that you can spoil the kids and then give them back to their parents and go home to peace and quiet.
But God made Abraham an unbelievable promise and Abraham trusted God enough to set out on this incredible new life at the age of 75.
It changes things, doesn’t it, when we stop saying “faith” and start saying “trust”? We are a community of faith, by definition, but are we a community of trust?
In some ways we are in the position of Abraham. We are a congregation of “a certain age” and we are being challenged with an unexpected future, a future where we may have to leave behind comfortable and familiar things and discover new ideas, new people and new ways of doing things.
God is promising us a future full of potential and mystery. We simply don’t know what to expect. We can’t say for sure what will happen.
Can we be like Abraham? Can we trust God enough to let this future unfold to follow God into unexplored paths?
That is what “faith” is supposed to mean: not believing the right things;
but trusting God enough to be scared and still go forward; to be willing to be changed as we adapt to the future that is ahead.
Change is part of this. In our Genesis lesson we heard about Abram and his wife Sarai. As they went forward God re-named them Abraham and Sarah. Their very identities were transformed, they were transformed by the journey of their lives.
That’s the call facing us now: God is calling us into the future, to be changed, to be transformed, to grow beyond what is comfortable and familiar and discover the new experiences that will re-shape us.
It may feel like starting from scratch sometimes. It may feel like nothing we’ve experienced before and it may be very scary or even very exciting.
But it can only happen if we trust God, because that is what being people of faith really means.