There’s an old saying, and I’ve updated it a bit, it goes: “If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans.”
As I’ve gotten to know you, Graeme and Nadine, and you, wee Mackenzie, this seems to have been a bit of a theme from the last while. Plans for an international wedding that went a little haywire; you come for the first time to the local church in your new neighbourhood, and Covid hits. Churches are closed. Two years on, you have a beautiful baby girl and you’re looking with excitement towards her baptism. It’s July and your family is all set to arrive from New Zealand. Covid hits again; family can’t travel.
Fast forward to today. Mackenzie’s rescheduled baptism date. At last! Godparents on Zoom and everything! The wonders of technology. This morning I want to speak for a few moments about what it means to have faith, maybe especially when life doesn’t go as planned.
Our second Bible reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, it gives us a list of holy people, ancestors in the faith. They had life pretty well figured out when things suddenly took a turn. Take, for example, the story of Abraham and Sarah. They were in their eighties? Nineties? God gives them a child. If we were to go back and read this episode we would see that it’s not God who laughs when Sarah learns she’s pregnant, but Sarah!
I imagine Sarah laughing, and I think of those times when you’re trying to stifle your laughter. Or, that fully-belly laugh that comes out when you’re with your closest friends. It’s not a polite, civilised, “ha-ha”, it’s a “Ha!” or a “Ha-ha!”
This week a parishioner shared a prayer with me about Sarah’s laughter. It’s from the Church of Scotland’s Celtic Daily Prayer Book. It reads,
I have had enough
of sad saints
and sour religion.
I have had enough
of sin spotting
and grace doubting.
I need some laughter, Lord,
the kind you planted in Sarah.
But, please may I not have to wait
until I am ninety
Three things we learn about the nature of faith from the Letter to the Hebrews. First, Hebrews 11:3: “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” You can just about guarantee that the Christian journey will land you at least once or twice in your life, somewhere so totally laughable, so unbelievable, somewhere you never would’ve seen coming with your own eyes. Sometimes faith is as simple as sticking around to see what happens next.
The second thing we learn about faith from the Letter to the Hebrews is that faith transcends borders—countries. “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.” We have a general idea, right? When we pack up our lives and move to a new country? When we get a new job, or, get married, have a baby? But we have no way of knowing where the journey will lead, what problems we’ll face, what unexpected happiness will come our way. Often, faith is the willingness to get up and go when we are called.
The third thing we learn about faith in our reading this morning is that God could have chosen to complete the work of building heaven on earth with our ancestors, with the lineage of parents and godparents and grandparents that have gone before us, but God chooses to leave it incomplete, open, for the next generation, and the next, and the next—generations in times and places as expansive and as many as there are stars in the sky and grains of sand by the seashore.
I mean, if you could see the people in Abraham and Sarah’s family tree! Everyone from kings and queens to prophets and martyrs; sex workers and migrants and refugees—this guy called Jesus! And those are just the blood relatives. Wait till you learn about the ones who are adopted in—the likes of you, and me!
Hebrews 11 verse 13 says this: “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; and indeed, has prepared a city for them.”
Faith is seeking and finding a home knowing that God will always call us out of it. Faith is being welcomed into the household of Christ knowing that living the way of Jesus might just mean you'll always feel like a stranger in the world. That just as you’ve made plans, they may very well change. That just as we think we’ve figured someone or something or some doctrine out, we will find ourselves surprised.
There’s a tradition in some churches where you’re given a Bible verse at your baptism. I think it’s a wonderful custom and maybe one that we can practice here at St Clement’s more often. Today, Mackenzie, I wondered if I might offer you this verse: “Now faith is being sure of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen.” -Hebrews 11 verse 1.
Mackenzie, you can be sure that throughout your life of faith, God will surprise you. You can be sure that there will be times that the sheer incredulity of life, the twists and turns of it all, these will cause you to laugh out loud. You can be sure that those who go before you, your mum and dad, your grandparents, your godparents, that their faith has been tested, oh, a time or two. You can be sure that they didn’t always get it right—that a lot of times they either literally were strangers and foreigners in a new land or at least they sure felt like it.
Graeme and Nadine, grandparents and godparents (Kaylee, Lisa, and Luke), I reckon half the job of doing what you already do so well, is your willingness to talk about the times you get it wrong. The times you feel like you don’t know where you’re going, but you’re stepping out in faith, nevertheless. Finally, Mackenzie, and all of us, really, we can be sure that the courage to go on this faith journey isn’t something we have to muster up ourselves; rather, it’s something God, with a great cloud of witnesses, musters up in us everyday.