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Faith Changes Everything

00:00 / 18:10

25 Feb 2024

Second Sunday in Lent

Gen. 17:1-7, 15-16; Romans 4:13-end; Mark 8:31-end

Lent 2, 2024

Gen. 17:1-7, 15-16; Romans 4:13-end; Mark 8:31-end

The Faith of Abraham

The Situation

-       Situation faced by Abraham: God promised him offspring and that ‘he would be heir of the world’ (Romans 4:13).

-       By 99 and 100 years-old respectively, Abraham and Sarai had no offspring together. His body was ‘as good as dead’. Sarah’s womb was barren. (Romans 4:19).

-       What was going on?

Consider this:

-       What was Abraham thinking about the promise of God? Must have thought: Why is God so slow? My time has passed; what is he thinking? Surely it would have been better to fulfil this promise whilst I and Sarai were in our prime?

-       So for us: Why is God so slow to answer prayer? Can’t he see that I could have used an answer earlier? Why is he not blessing me? Why does he not give me what I ask for? Why has this problem or illness not cleared up? Why are my relationships such a mess? Why do I not seem to be making progress in the spiritual life?Why does everything seem so stuck, so stagnant, so the same?

Why does God make us wait?

-       Consider the faith of Abraham: ‘He did not weaken in faith when he considered his body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promises of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that he was able to do what he had promised (Romans 4:19-21).

‘He grew strong in his faith’

-       God was more interested in Abraham’s heart than his material circumstances.

o   Let us recognise that about our own lives: God can take care of everything in an instant if he wants to. He doesn’t. Why? He has got plans for your soul.

-       God wants us to have faith…enough to make us wait, enough to let us suffer.

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

What is faith?

-       Faith is a disposition of the heart and mind. Consider Abraham: could have looked at material circumstances and panicked: How is this ever going to happen? Look at this mess!

-       Consider Peter in our Gospel story: Far be it from you, Lord, to suffer and to die. This must never be! (Mark 8:32). Christ’s reply: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33).

-       Easy for us to look at our material circumstances and think, “I cannot possibly imagine x,y, and z.” And to conclude, “It can’t happen”.

-       But, have we factored in the reality of God? What difference would that make?

-       Exercise/Muscle analogy.

“Souls are like athletes”

-       Example of Thomas Merton’s father, Owen, an artist.. Not lived a particularly pious life but had some faith. Struck down with mortal illness that impeded his speech. As a boy Merton witnessed his decline:

“One day I found his bed covered with little sheets of blue note-paper on which he had been drawing. And the drawings were real drawings. But they were unlike anything he had ever done before – picture of little, irate Byzantine-looking saints with beards and great halos.

“Of us all, Father was the only one who really had any kind of a faith. And I do not doubt that he had very much of it, and that behind the walls of his isolation, his intelligence and will, unimpaired, and not hampered in any essential way by the partial obstruction of some of his senses, were turned to God, and communed with God.

“Souls are like athletes, that need opponents worthy of them, if they are to be tried and extended and pushed to the full use of their powers, and rewarded according to their capacity. And my father was in a fight with this tumor, and none of us understood the battle. We thought he was done for, but it was making him great. And I think God was already weighing out to him the weight of reality that was to be his reward.”

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain, pp.91-92

-       To all the world, you may seem done for. But, if you have faith, you are being made great and prepared for your reward.

Faith transforms everything

-       Gospel reading: ultimate act of faith to commend our souls to God in death.

-       Bonhoeffer: “Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God’s Word.  Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace… Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith.  But that is just what is so marvellous, that we can transform death.”

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