Genesis 15.1-6; Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16; Luke 12.32-40
I don’t think that’s true. I think that Scripture, our Lutheran and Christian heritage, and our daily experiences point us to understanding that faith not only comes from outside of us, but is also far more complex that the world would have us boil it down to.
Whenever we talk about faith, it’s important to center ourselves in Ephesians 2.8. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Grace and faith are gifts from God. Our salvation is not something we could ever earn for ourselves. Our reading from Luke today reminds us that it is the good pleasure of God that motivates God’s promises, God’s giving of gifts.
Faith is many things. It is connected to hope, trust, belief, but it is not as simple as any of those things. Our understanding of what exactly faith is changes and grows and develops as we walk on our spiritual journey through life. Today we will not leave here with a complete or final definition of faith, but our readings today point us to ways we can more deeply understand this gift of faith and ways we can respond to it well.
Imagine a parent and young child at a swimming pool. The child is standing at the edge of the pool, and the parent is in the water, arms outstretched, assuring the child that yes, they will catch them no matter what. It is safe to jump. They will be glad they did.
When Paul writes about faith in Ephesians, and here in Hebrews when faith is framed as assurance, we find that faith is about the promise of the parent, not about whether or not the child jumps. The promise of that parent to catch the child will not go away if the child is scared, if the child doesn’t jump, if the child doesn’t believe the parent. That promise of safe arms to jump into will never end. In fact, in the face of a scared or hesitant child, perhaps the parent moves closer, repeats the promise again and again, perhaps shows the fulfilled promise by catching one of their siblings. Faith is steadfast because the source of faith is not from within ourselves. Faith is steadfast because the source of our faith is the Holy Spirit – it comes to us through God’s good pleasure.
And just as the response of that child on the deck of the pool differs from child to child or day to day, our responses to the gift of faith are very different. Abraham is often lifted up as a supreme example of how to respond to the gift of faith. In the part of Abraham’s story we heard today, God’s specific word of promise makes Abraham’s response possible. God’s promise of a child and ancestors gives Abraham his faith. Through that faith, he is then empowered to leave home to a new land, become the father of many, and even trust a promise he will never see the end of.
All of our faith journeys are different, but there are some lessons to be learned from the story of Abraham. Abraham does not let his obedience turn into blind faith. He often asks questions of God - today we hear him ask questions when he laments his lack of children. To Abraham’s questions come a specific response. God’s promise we heard at the beginning of today’s passage, “I am your shield, your reward will be very great.”, while nice, is vague. Once Abraham engages God, lifts up his worries and concerns, God gets more specific, God addresses his concerns directly. So as we respond to God’s gift of faith, let us embrace the questions and listen for God’s replies.
Like a child jumping into their parent’s arms in a swimming pool, Abraham is willing to take risks. In the entirety of Abraham’s story he does some pretty monumental things at the behest of God. He uproots his entire family and moves to a new place. He even takes his son to the altar of sacrifice. But he makes some mistakes along the way, he takes some risks that God may not have wanted him to take. Abraham also has his share of doubts and struggles. And yet God takes all of that and works it for good. Through it all, God’s promises to Abraham are repeated again and again, and they stand true. So as we respond to God’s gift of faith, I pray that we can take risks, knowing that God’s promise will not go away, even if we fail.
Abraham’s response to the gift of faith is also incredibly forward looking. God promises many descendants - Abraham only ever meets one - his son Isaac. God promises a new home, a permanent place, but we find Abraham living in tents the rest of his life, as a traveler or nomad would. The same was true for his son Isaac and his son Jacob. But Abraham trusted the promises of God so much, he passed them on to the generations that came after him, even though he wouldn’t see them fulfilled. So as we respond to God’s gift of faith, I pray that we have vision beyond our lifetimes, that we can see that the fulfillment of God’s promises often take time, more than we would ever expect.
Yes, Abraham is to be commended for his response to God’s gift of faith. While he is an example to follow, it is important to remember that our gift of faith is the same as his. In the end, what makes Abraham’s story one of hope is not that Abraham does brilliantly faithful things, it is that throughout the whole story, the whole journey, God’s hands remain stretched out. God never stops saying “Go ahead, jump, I promise I’ll catch you.” What makes this story one of hope is that it shows us that God’s promises never fail. They may not be kept in ways we understand or even see in our lifetime, but God remains true.
Why? Because God wants to - the author of Luke reminds us that it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. We are told to have no fear. In a world that is using fear again and again to motivate us, let us instead jump into the arms of our loving God, who will repeat again and again the promises of peace, mercy and hope. And with the assurance of God’s promises we will be empowered to live out the gift of faith - changing fear to love, anger to peace, and despair to hope.