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Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor
Title of sermon: The Reality of things hoped for
Date/time/service: Sunday 7th August
Readings: Genesis 15:1-6, Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16, Luke 12:32-40.
From the letter to the Hebrews: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
To use the words of Oscar Wilde, ‘we are all in gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? I want to make the case today, that to be a Christian is to be a faithful optimist, even if, in the day to day course of events, you are a bit of an Eeyore, or a Victor Meldrew, or just occasionally despairing about the state of the world which we inhabit. To be a Christian is to be someone who is hopeful about the future.
To be a Christian, to be a faithful optimist, is to live in the reality of this world with an eye to heaven, looking at the stars, one might say. Or as it says in the letter to the Hebrews, ‘desiring a better country’, a heavenly one, looking for a city with eternal foundations.
When God said to the childless Abraham, that he would be the father of a people as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sand on the seashore, that required quite literally a leap of faith on his part- it was an exercise in faithful imagination. Abraham must have questioned: How can I possibly get from here to there?
One of the foremost New Testament scholars of our times, is the American Harold Attridge. He suggests that a better translation of the first verse of Chapter 11 of the Letter to the Hebrews is this: Faith is the reality, of things hoped for, and the proof of things unseen.
This means that this isn’t just a Christian platitude telling us to cheer up and hope for the best- this isn’t blind optimism, but faithful optimism. This is about God’s reality breaking in to our reality, this is about our faith and what it can do, this is about our faith becoming a living proof of the coming kingdom and a sign of our journey towards it.
We might describe the writer of the letter to the Hebrews as a faithful optimist. Someone who has a view of the world shaped by the resurrection of Christ. Someone who, after the promises made in Christ and through Christ, looks to the future in a way which shapes the present. This is someone who can imagine the cities and kingdoms of God whilst starting the practical work of building them now.
Faith gives us a broader perspective, a greater context in which to situate ourselves, it gives us a narrative to be part of, something beyond us, a fabric to be sown into, a family in which to be grafted, part of a history which is not yet finalised. And at those times when our vision is limited, when our perspective is diminished, and when the world seems to be closing in upon us, when we want to crawl back under the duvet, faith shows us a better kingdom and a heavenly city which is being prepared for us, and we are called to lay down a stone towards that endeavour.
Think for a moment about how this cathedral was built: the church in which we sit was not completed for hundreds of years, those who began building it, those who laid the foundation stone, would not see its completion, but they nevertheless thought this project was worth beginning and working towards and they committed to making their vision a concrete reality, well, a limestone reality. This is a proof of things unseen.
Think about how our actions today might be affecting the lives of those who come after us, how can we build right now, a better world for tomorrow? What are we building in faith? How can we make our vision of a better world for all people, a reality today, and how can what we do be a living proof of that aspiration? We daily pray for peace and the alleviation of poverty and prejudice as if they were a long way away, what can faith do, to make these things a reality today?
We live in troubling times, and even the joy of England winning a European Championship hasn’t been able to completely overcome our woes in relation to climate change, Brexit, wars and rumours of wars, a looming recession and the appointment of the next prime minister.
Lest anyone should accuse Christians of being so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use, we might shape our earthbound lives in a way which accords with our ‘faith’ in God’s promises for all people. Faith is the reality of things hoped for, and the proof of things unseen.
Jesus, always one for practical advice, suggests to his disciples that they might live in the world but not of the world. That we might wear our possessions lightly, because where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. That perspective on life can help us be generous and active for the gospel and gospel values here and now.
We are given the vision to see that there is a greater purpose, a deeper meaning, a grander vocation for this bundle of flesh we are called to inhabit. Instead of looking downcast, the gospel calls us to be dressed for action with our lamps lit, like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet at an unexpected hour.
We live our lives then, as faithful optimists, in the light of the one who overcame even death itself, who rose from the dead and brought new life where there had only been pain, and hatred: the living one who completely transformed the perspective from which we human beings experience the world.
That should give us confidence to begin making our present reality, a reality of things hoped for in Christ- where good news is brought to poor, the humble are raised up, the captives are set free, the blind recover their sight.
In his letter to the Corinthians, St Paul writes If there is no resurrection from the dead, then Christ has not been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.
Our faith is a reality for us, because we believe that Christ has been raised from the dead and Christ will come again at an unexpected hour. That hope should surely make anything possible, and give us all cause for faithful optimism in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
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