Little Malvern Priory
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SUNDAY 7 AUGUST 2022.

8th SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.

 

Readings: Hebrews 11: 1-3 and 8-16; Luke 12: 32-40.

 

Last week’s gospel, which we didn’t dwell on, was the parable Jesus gave about the rich man who stored up everything he had safely in his barns thinking that would guarantee him security and prosperity. But the Lord warned him that his life would be required that very night, and what would become of all his wealth then? So, the general message was a reminder that ‘you can’t take it with you.’ One day we will be left with nothing but ourselves to present before the Lord.

In today’s gospel Jesus takes this thinking a stage further, and urges his listeners to prepare for that judgement day, when the master comes and knocks. “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” The reading from Hebrews link this talk of judgement to faith. It begins “Faith is the assurance of things hoped-for, the conviction of things not seen.” How are we to live out our lives in the light of all this? I remember a humorous religious slogan – “Jesus is coming – look busy!”

 

Would any of us live differently if we thought it would influence what might happen after death? Do these concerns gain greater importance as we get older? I remember a young person once telling me that life was to be enjoyed; that you did what good you could and should live life to the full, not because you would be rewarded with heaven, because when you were dead you were dead, but because that was the right thing to do. As Christians we think on a wider canvas; that we are set in this world to live in the love of God, to seek his will and endeavour to be a part in bringing God’s kingdom and reign to come fully. Perhaps you recognise these lines from a hymn.

 

My God I love thee, not because I hope for heaven thereby;

Nor yet because who love thee not are lost eternally.

Then why, O blessed Jesu Christ, should I not love thee well?

Not for the sake of winning heaven; nor of escaping hell;

Not for the hope of gaining aught, not seeking a reward;

But as thyself hast loved me, O ever-loving Lord.

 

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things unseen” – according to the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, as we heard earlier. In that chapter 11 the writer reminds us of many figures from the Old Testament who lived by faith. Abraham, for instance, “set out (by faith), not knowing where he was going.”

Those people lived from day to day, trusting in God’s presence and direction; but there is also a sense in which they lived in the light of the future. God made a promise to Abraham: his reward was to be very great and his descendants to be as many as the sands on the seashore. Genesis says that Abraham believed the Lord, and reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Now very often people assume that faith is faith because there isn’t any real evidence. After all, if you could prove God’s existence then faith wouldn’t be necessary. But I think it is helpful to point out that Christian philosophers see two meanings to the word ‘faith.’ Firstly there is ‘faith in’ – such as “I believe in God the Father Almighty.” That’s really all about believing – a proposition we agree to. Then there is faith as trust, faith that the divine purpose towards IS us wholly good and loving. The bible pretty much assumes faith ‘in’ – and apart from a few verses, the reality of God is rarely questioned, unlike the world of today.

So, faith in the bible is faith as trust in God; that God is good, that he loves. This is the faith that spurred on all those great figures of the Old Testament we heard about in Hebrews. It’s good to read all about them and realise that we are part of that ongoing and unfolding story – the story of God’s loving purposes for his people. This building helps us to understand that. We think of the faith that the early monks brought to this spot when they settled here, and that led to the building of the church; the numerous witnesses to faith who have worshipped here. What they did had consequences for us, and what we do with our faith will have consequences for those who come after us. We take encouragement from the examples of those who have gone before in faith.

The writer of Hebrews seems clear that all those people from the Old Testament did not see the completion of God’s plan, but they desired to. So Abraham “looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Now faithful Jews focussed their hopes and dreams on Jerusalem – the earthly Jerusalem, where ‘God had caused his name to dwell’ as a verse in Deuteronomy has it. But the earthly Jerusalem failed, as all our worldly Jerusalems will. Jesus and the New Testament writers looked to a heavenly city in a better country.

John Pridmore says, “The vision of the city of God is not some private fantasy peculiar to Christians who find the present world uncongenial. It is a longing for somewhere where justice is done, where joy lasts, where beauty does not wither, and where peace reigns. This,” he says “is a hunger of the human heart, not only of the Christian heart. The quest of that city makes inexorable moral demands.”

One of the lessons seems to be that whatever anybody knows about God and his ways in this life is always incomplete. So I think all this helps us build up a picture of faith. It is based on ‘faith in’ God, but is lived with a longing to know God better. And that will involve risks, as we take what the world might see as chances in testing our faith; by acting sometimes in a counter-cultural way, by extravagant acts of generosity, by loving, by caring, by putting others first, by service to the Church because we think the Church matters as do the people we journey alongside here. I believe we’re meant to live in expectation that God can and will reveal himself at any moment, in unexpected ways. So our Christian glass is always half-full – more than half-full – never half empty, as we look with longing for that heavenly city.

A mature faith will help one through the little deaths we all have in life, in hope of resurrections to come. Jesus invites a spirit of readiness and expectation in the gospel for today. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Was Jesus just talking about his return? Or was he encouraging his disciples to live as those who expect good things to happen now when they let him into their lives? Maybe both. So we live from day to day in this world, but with our hearts looking for a heavenly city and kingdom, because ultimately we don’t belong here. Hebrews talks about those great figures seeing themselves as strangers and foreigners on earth, seeking a homeland, not here, but in the city God has prepared for them.

And that takes us back to where we started – Jesus’ warnings not to get obsessed with what we have in this world, because you can’t take it with you. No. Put your trust in him, where true riches and eternal fulfilment are.

 

 

 

 

 

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