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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Pentecost 11 – Year C

I want to speak this morning about faith—faith, which is what we all wish we had more of, and what today’s lesson from Hebrews is all about. We don’t know which one of those early Christians wrote that epistle, but whoever it was saw in Abraham a shining example of what it means to have faith in God. The author reminds us of the famous account way back in the Book of Genesis where, at the ripe old age of seventy-five, Abraham decided that God was “nudging” him to leave his comfort zone in Haran, his home town, (which would be in Iraq today)—to leave, and take his family away from all that was familiar to him and “set out, not knowing where he was going.” On and on he went, journeying south to what we know now as the land of Israel, where he and his descendents multiplied and became a great nation. And that made Abraham a great hero to the early Christians—and not just to the author of Hebrews: St. Paul mentions him again and again, as do all the gospels, and the letters of James and Peter. So, what can you and I learn from Abraham’s faith that might strengthen our own?
In the first place, Abraham obviously was a risk-taker. You see that willingness to take risks all through today’s passage: Not only did he set out in faith from his comfort zone, “he stayed…in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.” If you want to experience God, if you want to discover God at work in your own life, then you’ve got to be a risk-taker. You’ve got to be willing to “go out on a limb” as Abraham did—to take the chance of leaving your comfort zone and venturing forth into unfamiliar territory.
Experiencing God in your life is a lot like falling in love. Never forget that love is what God is all about! Love is God’s very nature; it’s what God is and does. And God loves us whether we believe or not, or have faith or not! But God doesn’t grab us by the scruff of the neck and force us to accept that love. Love can never be forced. Love invites us, woos us, romances us—but it can’t force itself upon us. We have to take a chance; we have to be willing to risk. Some of us are afraid to let ourselves be loved because we’ve been let down, we’ve been disillu-sioned, we’ve been hurt. And that makes us “gun-shy”—the very thought of being hurt again, abandoned again, isolated again is just un-bearable. So we put walls up to protect ourselves against that pain.
Or, we harbor the illusion that there’s no such thing as unconditional love. No matter what the Bible says, or the Church says, or the person who claims to love us says, there’s that nagging little voice telling us that we have to earn or deserve the love that’s offered us. That, frankly, was my own problem in coming to faith. In my growing-up years, love always seemed to have a conditional feeling about it. Somehow, I always felt I had to measure up. I was constantly “running scared,” constantly comparing myself with others, always trying to please, always afraid I might fall short. It was only during a “dark night of the soul” when a college friend convinced me that I was loved beyond all imagining, without any strings attached, that I finally let God get at me and came to a deep and genuine faith which has never left me.
And that brings me to the second thing I want to say this morning about faith as we recall the story of Abraham. Yes, Abraham was a risk-taker; yes, he set out with his family into uncharted territory, “not going where he was going.” Yes, he surrendered his safety, his certainty, his comfort. But Abraham also experienced God as a companion. There is a palpable sense of intimacy between Abraham and God. Otherwise, he would never have started out! Now, I’ve just turned eighty, as you know if you were here a couple of Sundays ago when Randy mentioned that milestone. I could have shot him for broadcasting to the world that I was eighty, because I don’t feel like eighty at all! Of course Randy was extremely kind about it—and so were you! I must say, however, that even had I been a mere seventy-five like Abraham, God would have had to nudge me very intimately indeed to make me give up my whole routine and venture forth like that into the unknown!
God seeks constantly to be our companion. Read the stories of God and Abraham in the Book of Genesis, and you see the intimacy that de-velops. They talk together. They argue together. Abraham laughs out loud when God tells him that he and his elderly wife Sarah are going to have a son. God overhears Sarah laughing too, and challenges Abraham about it: “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”
Faith means companionship and God yearns to be our Great Compa-nion. And it’s often through another person that God establishes that relationship with us. It was through the companionship of that college friend that I risked letting God inside the protective wall with which I had surrounded myself. Suddenly, I didn’t have to perform anymore; I didn’t have to be such a “control freak” (although I still struggle with that!); I didn’t have to worry about whether I was measuring up. The inner loneliness, the sense of isolation, the nagging fear of failure were no longer like demons haunting me. You can’t imagine the sense of freedom that came over me when I finally “let go and let God.”
Why is it such a struggle for us human beings to let God be our Com-panion? Our greatest enemy, I’m convinced, is anxiety, that noxious, corrosive, disabling fear of the future. Anxiety, says W. Paul Jones in his fascinating book Facets of Faith, is “caused by the contaminating power of the future to play havoc with [the] present.” He says “our temptation is to let the future squander our present through waiting.” And he quotes Henry David Thoreau who once wrote, “I do not want to get to the end of my life and find that I have never lived.” That so hits home with me when I think of how long I waited, paralyzed with anxiety, to let God into my own life. And it’s what brings alive for me scenes like the one in today’s gospel where Jesus draws apart with his friends and tries to relieve their anxieties: “Do not be afraid, little flock,” he says quietly, ”for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Jesus’ love for others knew no bounds; his companionship was utterly dependable. He challenged his friends to venture forth: “Sell your possessions and give alms….Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return…so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.” God calls you and me to the great adventure of faith, always unfailingly at our door, knocking, reassuring, yearning to be our Great Companion.
Old age does give us a certain perspective as we look back. Perhaps Abraham in his advancing years began to fear what Thoreau later feared, that he might get to the end of his life and find he’d never really lived. By daring to take some risks, and opening the door to adventure, and trusting God the Great Companion, Abraham discovered a life and a love beyond his dreams. I pray that that may be your discovery too!

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