8/7/2016 Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Gen. 15:1-6, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Life is truly a ride,” says comedian Jerry Seinfeld. “We’re all strapped in and no one can stop it. As you make each passage from youth to adulthood to maturity, sometimes you put your arms up and scream; sometimes you just hang on that bar in front of you. But the ride is the thing. I think the most you can hope for in the end of life is that your hair’s messed up, you’re out of breath, and you didn’t throw up.”
You know, that’s not a bad description of a life lived to its fullest, with its ups and downs, thrills and spills, adventures and discoveries. And it’s really not a bad description of the life of faith either. But, of course, we seldom think of faith as a thrill ride, or as holding onto the safety bar of the cross. Somehow, we’ve managed to make the life of faith – safe, secure and dull.
An Episcopal priest, who was shopping for a Harley Davidson one day had this false notion of what it is to live a life of faith slap him in the face. The salesman at the dealership talked about speed, acceleration, risk and the women who like to ride on the fast machines. Then, the salesman found out that the guy he was selling the motorcycle to was a minister. Immediately, his language and the tone of his voice changed. He spoke quietly about good mileage, visibility and how practical the machine actually was to own and ride.
Upon reflecting on his experience that day, the minister wrote: “Have we told the world that being a Christian is more like riding a lawn mower than a motorcycle? Is the life of faith more safe and sound or dangerous and exciting? The common image of the church is pure lawn mower – slow, deliberate, plodding. Our task is to take the church out on the open road, give it the gas and see what the old baby will do!” (excerpt from Maxie Dunnam in Dal Galloway’s Leading with Vision)
We don’t have to read very far into the Bible in order to get some idea of what this baby, we call faith, can do. We don’t have to go any farther than the first book, Genesis, and read about the story of Abraham and Sarah. Here, we have an elderly couple, childless, but seemingly happy enough with their lives until God disrupts their lawn-mower version of faith. You see, God has something more in mind for them and for the world through them – and without warning, God offers them the ride of a lifetime.
Without much ado, God tells them to leave, to leave behind all the security that they have known for all the years of their lives and go. God doesn’t tell them where he is sending them. God only tells them, “I will show you.”
For them to go requires a leap of faith, for they have nothing other than God’s word, God’s promises, to hold onto as they venture down an unknown path. And yet, they trust that God is going to keep them safe and that God will keep the promises that he is making to them. They believe that God will bless them and make them a great nation in spite of the fact that they are too old for this to happen. They step forward in courage; answering God’s call, and embracing the unknown.
How few of us are willing to do the same! How few of us are willing to trade in the safety of our lawn-mower version of faith and venture into the unknown, following the will of God? Most of us are unwilling to invite others to church services, let alone leave everything behind and take a giant leap into the unknown, trusting that God will keep his promises and guide us along the right pathways. But, that is not so for Abraham and Sarah. They leave behind their familiar surroundings and comfortable life even though God’s plan is a long-shot at best. It doesn’t seem possible…whole pages in this adventure story are simply blank, but they start out anyway.
Faith is like that. Faith motivates and pushes us in new directions. For, faith is more than an intellectual understanding of who God is. Faith is the power of God in our lives, and this power can cause us to leave behind the old and take on something new. Faith gives us courage to put aside political correctness and to admit unashamedly that we are Christian, even though it is more comfortable to admit nothing. Faith gives us the courage to live out our faith and to place our trust in God, although the world would have us rely on the government and the programs it can provide. Faith gives us the courage to step out of our comfort zones and to serve (rather than being served), to give generously (rather than holding onto the almighty dollar with a death grip), to seek God’s will (rather than doing our own thing). For, the power of faith implores us to move away from the comfortable and to take an adventure ride with nothing more than God’s word to inspire us and God’s faithfulness to encourage us.
To step forward in faith can be scary, but when you surrender your will to the will of God, you come alive. You are connected, tingling a bit from nerves. All you have in front of you is a track, a path, which you cannot see, and a trust in God to guide you. There is no map, no contract, and no guarantees in writing. There is only a nagging choice to be made and no escape.
Of course, you can choose the safety and security of the known and never get involved in the adventure of faith. God doesn’t force us into making a particular decision. But as the Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggeman has said, “We are, all of us, children of faith. We have been conceived and birthed, generated and summoned, given life by this faith and none other. Faith keeps having its way among us. We must come to terms with it. We spend our lives struggling with faith, sometimes struggling for faith, sometimes struggling against faith. Faith always has its say among us; it will not go away. Its voice is a haunting one…and in it we hear the very voice of God: majestic sovereignty, awesome holiness, passionate grace, weakness made strong. Because of this test which will not go away, we have haunted lives, filled with yearnings for what is not in hand, promises not yet filled, commands not yet obeyed, desires not yet granted, neighbors not yet loved. And because faith will not go away or be silent, we are destined to be endlessly haunted, uneasy, restless, on the way.”
We all take risks. We would never have or do anything if we did not. Helen Keller got it right when she said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky put it this way, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.” Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.” So, explore…dream…discover…and take an adventure, trusting in God who will not let you down. And remember, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
The object of faith is God and God is worthy of our complete trust for God does not break his promises to us and will never lead us astray. God is the one who instills faith in each of us. God inspires us to have faith. God initiates faith and completes faith. God makes the promise. We simply respond to God’s love through Christ Jesus, our Lord, and when we do, life becomes an adventure.
Remember, most people who are drafted into this adventure of faith in the Bible aren’t any more religious than anyone else. Abraham and Sarah are ordinary people. They were just trying to get on with their lives like the rest of us when suddenly, in an unexpected, unwanted, unanticipated way, they are called to make a decision, to open the door to the future, and to take a risk and go. In faith, they answer that call.
May we be as open as they to God’s call in our lives, and may we respond, in faith, as they did. May we trust in God and his promises so much that we leave the lawn mower behind and take the ride of our lives. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.