A sermon on faith preached by Mark Ward, St Mary’s Fordingbridge, 25th February, evenson

I guess it’s not strange that when I read the two readings set for this evening, I thought, “I’ve spoken about all of this before”, the subject matter being faith.

A number of you here are roughly the age Abram was when God commanded him to up-sticks and move his family to a faraway land. For most people the age of 75 denotes a time to settle down, not to start on another new journey. I reckon if I had been Abram I might have decided to stay put. But he didn’t. For some reason he heard and he believed and he obeyed. And of course it didn’t stop there did it, not long after he and his equally aged wife were expecting a child – that must have been quite a shock.

The musings that follow are utterly mine and I don’t ask you to agree with any or all of them, some I have already voiced before.

To have faith in our society in this place is a very simple and straightforward thing to do. Yes some people might wonder why you come here and believe in someone you’ve never seen but the worst most people will think of you is that you are a bit strange. No one is going to come knocking on the door in the middle of the night and drag any of us away because we believe in God.

The attitude to faith, to Christianity, is quite benign in this country and in some ways I think that’s a real issue for us. Because if we come here, say nothing controversial and go about our lives without worrying others, we will be easily tolerated, because we can be easily ignored.

It is only when one of our leaders does something controversial that the non-Christian community pricks up its ears – the Archbishop makes a political point and is roundly told off, even though he is by right a member of the highest form of government in the land, or the Pope makes some amazing gesture which appeals to the media for a few days and then everything returns to normal.

So what place does faith have in our lives? Some people come to places like this out of curiosity, for some it’s little more than a comfortable habit, perhaps an escape from the world, for others the hour or more they spend it such places per week is a chance to meet with God, and for others it is a place they come to as part of a complete life built around the God they worship. Now I suspect we all fall into that spectrum somewhere and we have been in different places at times in our lives.

I probably shouldn’t pick on Gary, but he’s an easy target – suppose next Sunday you are all here and Gary says “God came to me in a dream overnight and he has told me that we all have to sell everything we have because we are going to start a new Christian mission in Middlesbrough. Do you believe Gary is a faithful servant of Christ?  – I do, and then what if John or Kate came in and said “I’ve had the same dream” – what would we do, what would you do? Would you follow Gary’s lead believing he really did hear from God? It wasn’t just Abram who upped and left because he heard God – his whole family went as well.

Or suppose something happened akin to Len Deighton’s SS-GB whereby this country was invaded not by a Nazi regime but by a pagan regime that banned the practice of our faith? Would you go out there and stand up for it or would you decide that a quiet life which didn’t include meeting to worship God was the best option?

Of course we don’t know the answers to any of this until we are tested do we? And in my lifetime we certainly haven’t been tested.

So it begs the question, should we make something happen? We know our numbers in this country are in decline, but we still come here, so it must mean something to us. Are we going to fight for it or are we going to let it go to the grave a little more every time Mr Newman is called upon to despatch one of us? (For the sake of balance other funeral directors are available.)

Let’s list some issues; of course we don’t see so many because we live here but what about:

And the things we do see

Are these issues ones which we should be actively involved in trying to resolve because we have a faith in God who tells us to love everyone? Is that part of our faith, or is our faith limited only to praying for the world. Don’t get me wrong, prayer is a very powerful thing and a huge part of what we are, but we only have to look at Jesus’s own life to see that prayer was just one side of the coin – did he only pray for Zacchaeus? Did he only pray for the Samaritan woman at the well? No he didn’t – he got involved, he got his hands dirty in both cases and many more. He intervened. Neither of them were a massive threat to him or to those around, he could have let both incidents go, but he chose not to because he felt compelled to help those people live a different life. What about us?

In case you think I’m building up to a big ending with a blindingly obvious answer, I’m sorry I’m not. It’s easy to stand here and spout at you all. Some may go home and say, “well there he was, ranting again, never mind it’s Rachel next week”, some might email Gary and say “can’t you change his tune or ask him to keep his thoughts to himself” and others may go home and switch on “Call the Midwife” and forget everything I said. My point though is this – I don’t know any more than any of you what we should do, but I guess that’s at the heart of it – our faith drives us individually. God talks to us all in different ways and for different reasons and it is up to us to answer that call in whatever way we decide is the right one. Some of us might get an extra nudge like Jonah – “try running away from me and I’ll keep after you Jonah” says God and Jonah finally gets the message, but in my experience, in this age, he puts few of us to such a severe test.

Due to the way my diary has worked out, I have written this several weeks before I shall deliver it, and before the P.C.C. meets to deliberate on what our response in faith is to the gift of the Lillington legacy. For me it’s not about how it is spent, but what we have decided our purpose is here in this place at this time. Let me reiterate my earlier warning before I finish – this is just my opinion and is one of many, but if all we do with that money is to keep this place in tip-top order, beautiful though it is, then for me we will have wasted a massive opportunity to be faithful. If however we spend that same money doing something to this place which is based on welcoming others to us, looking after them, responding to their needs, allowing us to go out to them in Jesus’s name, well, that’s a very different matter.

Abram stepped out in faith and was richly rewarded in due course, but he had to take that first step into the unknown. Do we have that faith?


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