Faith vs. certainty

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Luke 12:32-40

Sunday Sermon

Barbara Metcalfe
Layperson

August 11, 2019

Have you ever had what you think is a nudge from God to go do something outside your comfort zone? Have you ever felt that God wanted you to, say, devote an hour to prayer every morning? Increase your pledge? Sing in the choir? (I never had that one!) The problem is that God doesn’t present us with a vision, like the one he presented to Abram, later called Abraham. We have to settle for nudges--but sometimes we can’t help but recognize them as coming from God, and we know we really should respond to them, even though we don’t have the certainty Abraham had in his vision from God.

Fortunately, none of us has been asked to pick ourselves up and head off with our families to live in tents as nomads in lands we’ve never seen. But we can only feel awe at Abram’s willingness to show his obedience to God. He had faith that he should obey God, even though he had no certainty about where he’d wind up. He didn’t know where he was to go!

And that’s the key to it. What counted for Abram was his faithfulness and his trust. This verse in today’s reading turned out to be a kingpin of the Protestant reformation. “And he believed the Lord. And the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” There were times Abraham slipped from good behavior, sometimes in a big way, but he was able to restore his relationship with God, because he continued to trust. That’s what God wanted from him.

No, Abram’s righteousness was not the result of good works, as Luther and any good Reformation thinker will tell us, but of his faith. The great insight of the Reformation was that our relationship with God does not depend on a lifetime of exemplary behavior, of doing stuff. Thanks be to God that this is not how God counts righteousness, but by our faith and trust. Faith counts as righteousness, thank goodness!

Fast forward to today’s reading from Luke, words spoken by Jesus as he is on his way to Jerusalem, with the terrible events ahead of him. Jesus promises us that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. But he doesn’t give us the date, the time, or the place. He simply invites us to trust.

We can’t stand that. In every generation, someone has tried to second-guess what God plans to do with us. Remember some years ago, a book called “The Late Great Planet Earth”? The author made huge sums of money with a book that specified what God was surely going to do. It fizzled, but I’m sure the author is enjoying a comfortable retirement. Later on, a couple of writers put out the “Left Behind” series and made even more money out of several volumes, even a movie, detailing what God was about to do. This one has also fizzled, so far. We just can’t stand not knowing.

But that’s the difference. Faith is trusting in our loving God, who has proven to care for us, without knowing the details. If we knew what was in store, it wouldn’t be faith. It would just be map-reading. 

Today’s reading from Hebrews gives us the definition of faith that has guided Christians for centuries: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We would love to see Jesus return—maybe he’ll do so this afternoon, or in the middle of the night —but we need only to stay ready, keeping our lamps lit, and our faith strong. We need to respond to those nudges from God to do what we can to draw closer, to pray and study the word of our Lord, to serve Him in our church, and to keep our faith strong, and our loving God will care for us in this world and in the next.