Message from our Vicar
To everyone at St John’s, Gowerton and St Barnabas, Waunarlwydd,
Rumbelow’s Ramblings for the 5th Sunday of Easter
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Have you ever been asked to do something you really didn’t want to do?
How many of you can say that you have done what was asked of you?
And how difficult was it to trust the person who asked in the first place?
Today’s readings are all about trust in God!
Abraham’s trust, David’s trust, Philip’s trust, the Ethiopian eunuch’s trust, and the trust Jesus had in his Father.
Many years ago someone said to me that I would make a good priest! No way, me, a priest?
My reaction, had you known me then was based on the facts that I was very shy, hard to believe I know, but at that time I wouldn’t even stand up to read in church.
I was not particularly well educated, I’d only managed to get a couple of ‘O’ Levels at school and had left at the age of 16.
I didn’t think I was worthy of such an important position and thought
I didn’t know enough about God, Jesus or the Bible.
Roll forwards 30 years and here I am. I told you last time how much my trust in God had brought me to where and who I am today.
But what about the trust shown by the characters in our readings today.
Abraham, a little bit of a hero of mine who, not only does he leave his homeland and everything he has known in his life to this point but, when God asks him to, he is willing to follow, in faith, when asked to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Why?
What was God thinking?
Why did God need further proof of Abraham’s willingness to trust in him and why ask Abraham to do such a ridiculous thing?
And why on earth did Abraham go along with this plan?
It is important to remember here that, in ancient culture, where your identity was defined by your ancestors and your future by your descendants, being childless was a particularly heavy burden to carry. To have no children then; was to have no future. We are told that Abraham’s body was as good as dead and Sarah’s womb was also dead; there was no chance of the family line carrying on. So when God promised that Abraham’s family would outnumber the stars, the promise of a child was a wonderful recognition by God, of the importance of this family.
Roll forwards 20 years and the unthinkable happens. God demands, not asks, demands that Abraham sacrifice his miracle son, to him, as a burnt offering.
God says, ‘take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.’
When God asked Abraham to leave his country and go to a new place, Abraham didn’t really have much to lose. In the stories the ugly duckling, the washed-up boxer and the busker are always willing to take a risk - they have hit rock bottom. But in Abraham’s story, it is only after the happy ending had arrived that the story really heats up, and when God asks for a child-sacrifice, Abraham has everything to lose.
His reputation would no longer be as the founder of a great nation, but as a fool, even a murderer, who killed his only child when he knew he was too old to have another. Abraham would no longer be known as blessed by God, but instead as someone cursed by God. Instead of seeing his family multiply, it would be cruelly cut short. Abraham may have given up his past without qualms, but when he was asked to raise the knife to Isaac, ‘he was asked to surrender his future as well.’
If Abraham did as God asked, he had everything to lose – including his faith.
Is the God who forbids murder really telling Abraham to kill his son?
Is the God who expressly forbids child-sacrifice really demanding the blood of an innocent boy?
If we look more closely at Abraham’s story we can see three things.
1. His faith is not a leap in the dark. We cross the road every day without even thinking about it, but in a philosophical sense we cannot be certain that we are going to make it to the other side. We gather the evidence around us, the speed and amount of traffic on the road, and we make informed decisions as to when it is safe to cross.
2. Abraham’s faith is not only based on evidence but also on relationship. When we are very young children our parents take us to a room with one or two strangers and allow one of them to stab us. We don’t understand why or how she could do this to us but we trust in our relationship with her that there was no evil intent here; and we are taken back a few more times for follow-up vaccinations.
When God asks the seemingly impossible, Abraham has enough evidence and a good enough relationship with him that he can see no evil intent here.
3. Abraham’s obedient actions may be an engagement of his common sense. Abraham is held up throughout the Bible as a famous for his faith.
Abraham knows that Isaac is referred to specifically as the starting point for a whole nation of descendants, as numerous as the stars in the night-sky. In Isaac’s very existence, Abraham had already experienced the power of God overcoming the power of death.
So when Abraham was asked by God to do the impossible, he knew, with absolute certainty, that God had the power to perform the impossible and that God had been unchanging in his faithfulness in the past. So even when asked to lift the knife to kill his own son, Abraham trusts that God will step in to stop this sacrifice from happening. Abraham knows that something will happen so that his family line will live on!
So faith in God is not unreasonable, not blind, not silly or fool-hardy. Faith in God is measured, reasonable, evidential and considered.
If we think God is asking too much of us, then we need to ask why we think that way. We need to weigh up the evidence and consider all the things God has shown us and done for us so far, and we need to trust. Trust that God has our futures wrapped up with good things. He will never expect us to do something that goes against his wisdom, his laws or his love for us. We just need to trust him and go with the flow, sort of speak, obey and be brought to where he wants and needs us to be.
God gives the impossible - and he also demands the impossible.
When God is fulfilling our dreams it is easy to trust and obey him, until he asks the impossible. When God surprises us – when he demands what we could never imagine – this is a good sign that we are connecting with him, the real God.