Pentecost 11 C – Faith = Faith

There is no doubt about it –

Isaiah’s vision addresses a people

who have misplaced the object of their faith.

God, through the prophet, dismisses the activities of the people –

though they seems driven by devotion;

no more burnt offerings – no more sacrifices –

the message of this vision is that the observance of the people

has become a burden (to God) rather than a blessing.

Faith has become its own object.

That is what happens when a gift of God is re-invented as a requirement of religion.

You must have faith, is the common cry

but how, ask the people –

we will show you what to do, says the church.

Say this – behave thus – ask no questions and we’ll tell you no lies

and suddenly faith is a formula, only concerned with sustaining itself.

It is that formulaic approach that Isaiah rails against.

The ‘faith = ritual’ model that continues to be a refuge for some in churches today.

It is the trap of ‘simple faith’ that catches many a well-intentioned person

and does nothing to increase our awareness of God’s loving intention for us.

God, it seems, will not hold these errors against us: “if you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land (v. 19)” [that is to say, you will abide in my favour]

but it seems right that we should take steps to keep God as the object of our faith.

Before you take steps to have me removed,

I’m not suggesting everything the church has ever done is wrong, or misguided, or empty.

I am suggesting that it doesn’t take much to distract the people of God from the pursuit of God,

because it is so easy to pursue the god-like tasks of the church.

Presbyterians are especially vulnerable –

with our great passion for education, and our great pride in our system of church government

we find ourselves fully invested in a system that can distract us from God’s’ purpose.

We cling to the idea that an educated clergy

combined with an empowered lay-leadership

will create the proper atmosphere for faithfulness –

And when we approach our system with the proper respect (and just a little suspicion) –

we are rewarded with wonderful and genuine opportunities to serve God and one another.

Unfortunately we more often speak and act in terms of “hoops to jump through”

when we are confronted with procedure and practice of the church

Decently and in good order – the watchwords of Presbyterian polity

have become code for “unchanging and unresponsive”

This is not fair, because it suggests that we have abandon faith – and we certainly have not –

but such talk is a sign that our faith has lost sight of its object.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

So says the author of the letter to the Hebrews in chapter eleven.

That does not mean we must let faith choose it’s own way –

Hebrews puts the things of God clearly in our sights

as the proper destination for all faithful (faith-filled?) pursuits.

For Abraham – faith meant looking forward – trusting –

taking drastic steps against all the available information,

but not just for the sake of change,

nor for the sake of conforming to some well defined system of thinking / believing –

the author says that Abraham looked forward,

not to some personal achievement/reward,

but to “the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God”

This man whose best years (it seemed) were behind him;

who had no children, (and therefore could leave no legacy)

left the country of his birth to journey towards God (whom he could not see)

there was nothing but God on his mind in all his tasks

“and this was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness…”

This opening argument in a chapter of faithfulness should make us stop and think:

When was the last time you took a step forward (or even sideways) in that kind of faith?

When was the last time a church body made a decision, or took action,

with a real desire to see God in their decision making process.

Can our faith ever look like that?

We are not without potential – that much is certain – and of course we are never without hope.

God’s leniency towards repeat offenders works in our favour.

And Jesus’ reminder that the culmination of all this kingdom work is coming at an unexpected time

means we are working toward a flexible deadline.

So there is time to redeem this thing we call faith

to point it, once more, toward its source, and its goal.

The million dollar question, of course, is HOW…?

Is it a change of polity, or a change in attitude, or a change in perspective – or a change in priorities – wow, that’s a lot of change – and we can’t abide change,

because we have made gods of our traditions, our policies, our rituals

and all our well intentioned habits – all offered in God’s name, but for our sake…

I think it is simple – we need to study and consider very carefully

those things we believe as followers of Jesus – and his body, the church.

We need to trust so implicitly in the compassion of God

rely so completely on the love of God

care so deeply about the promises of God

that we begin to act as though they were real

(rather than acting as though we wished they were real – a very different thing)

Then we will see what faith can do for us – then we will know the joys of faithful living

then we too will find ourselves citizens of that better country –

drawn by faith’s true object.

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