In the beginning there was faith, for faith is a gift that humanity has been given that there is a place where we come from and there is a place toward which we are moving.
Scripture offers us countless examples of the faithful, those who wrestled with a call to faithfulness in the most laughable places – such as the birth of a child from the body of a woman long barren, and far too old to now bear a child – and yet, by faith, that child came, and that legacy, that inheritance of Abraham and his descendants outnumbering the stars was borne.
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)
Abraham stepped out on faith, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1)
These quotes from the Hebrews passage are both frightening and reassuring. They are frightening because it is not always easy to be a believer. It is not always easy to trust the faith that has been entrusted to us through the church, from our ancestors, from our friends and companions along the way who have reminded us that God calls to be in relationship with Him and with one another.
At times our faith is tested, our ability to accept the hurts of the world and the hurts in our personal lives such as devastating poverty, and the devastation of the loss of a loved one – young or old – it is always too soon, and it is always too much to bear. And our faith in a loving God is challenged as we ask the question, “Why?” “Where are you?” “Where are we going?”
“The assurance of things hoped for” is the response that we are given to these difficult questions, these painful experiences that lead us to challenge the faith we have been given.
We hope that we are moving in the right direction. We hope that we are doing the work that has been set forth for us to do. We hope that our action, our choices, our way of being conforms to the way that God would want to see us engage with one another. We hope that Christ’s teachings would shape and lead us in the ways we interact with one another, and with those in need around us.
We are not always successful at these. We are not always perfect and complete in our response to the things that hurt us, and the experiences that cause us to want to hurt others. We are fallible.
And yet, the gift of faith, the gift of hope instills in us a desire to do better next time, to grow and change and learn from the times where we have not lived up to our call to follow Jesus’ example. And when our own faith fails, it is the faith of the community that surrounds us and upholds us that invites us, encourages us, and calls us to carry on, to continue walking together, not always knowing where we are going.
In the beginning there was faith, and in the meantime there was living in the real world.
Faith and hope are wonderful things – but if we rely on them alone, then we are not responding to the call that is given alongside of them. “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
But there is work to be done in the meantime. Like the watchful slaves, we too must do our work to be prepared for the impending return of the Master. We don’t know when it will be and we don’t know what it will look like. But all we have to do is open our eyes to the hurts of the world, the hurts of our neighbors in need to see that there is much to be done before we rest. There is much to be done in preparation for our own arrival at the unexpected hour.
Every week we gather here as a community and you are given opportunity upon opportunity to give to various causes, groups, offerings to people doing the work of enacting God’s love for his people. There is a simplicity to the kind of giving that you are invited into with our weekly offering baskets – giving a dollar, five dollars, twenty dollars to the work that our diocese supports through medical and educational mission work in Cange, Haiti, to the relief work that is still the focus of Episcopal Relief and Development from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, and the support that goes to York Place, a ministry and social outreach to children survivors of emotional and physical abuse.
In one way we are reminded that that which we have been given, is not ours completely. And as stewards of the wealth that we have control over, we have the opportunity to learn the difference between having enough, and having enough to share with others.
But beyond mere giving of our economic resources, we are called, challenged to extend our giving beyond the almighty dollar.
“Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke12: 33)
Giving one dollar or one thousand dollars at a time is a wonderful thing – it enables others to combine the resources of many so that higher goals of helping others might be achieved. The Millennium Development Goals have been put to us as a means of wrapping our minds and hands around tangible goals that can and will lead to the betterment of the world. Children receive life-saving vaccinations, infrastructure in developing and underdeveloped countries is improved, much needed school supplies and tuition grants are given to allow girls an equal opportunity to be educated in places where the family can only afford to send the male child to school. These are the kinds of incredible programs and supports that we are invited to be aware of and to invest in.
I do not begrudge the simplicity of generosity that invites you to place what you can in our offering baskets. But my question for you, and the challenge of the gospel is not only about material giving and possessions – but where do you invest your heart? Where do you invest the faith that has been entrusted to you?
Perhaps there will come a time when the simplicity of giving a dollar does not satisfy the complexity of the problems of the world. Perhaps there will come a time when our faith in things yet unseen, will allow us to see the possibility of a world where all people, have access to resources to meet their most basic needs. And perhaps our call to action as a people of faith will lead us to invest ourselves in the work of bringing about those changes – of challenging the status quo and of committing ourselves to the possibility of change, so that we might be agents of change in a world that so desperately needs it.
Followers of Jesus are exhorted to place their greatest faith, the strength of their heart into those places where the greatest needs have not yet been met. Is there a need within the goals that have been put to us that your heart yearns to invest in – to see it through to see real change in the world?
One metaphor that the gospel offers today is the idea of seek a purse that does not wear out to hold one’s treasure. How does one make a purse that does not wear out? One sews it with compassion for others. One fashions it from materials of integrity and awareness. One marks it with reminders that the abundance at our fingertips is not ours alone. And one fills it with investments of the heart… where neither rust nor moth may destroy.
Today I ask you, people of faith, will you follow a call on a path that leads to your inheritance, but at what end you do not and cannot know? Will you step out on faith, and allow yourselves and as a result your world to be changed? Will you store up your treasures, the investments of your heart in things hoped for, but not yet seen? My hope, and my prayer for you, for us, is that we will answer, “We will with God’s help.” Amen.
Delivered by The Rev. Mary Catherine Enockson
The Episcopal Church of Our Saviour,