Thought for the DayThe Revd Tracy Watkins, Curate and Priest

Sunday 7 August 2022
8th Sunday after Trinity

The Revd Tracy Watkins

To download this 'Thought For The Day' as a PDF document, visit the Previous Thoughts page.

Old Testament Reading from  Genesis  (chapter 15  v1-6)

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision,  ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield;  your reward shall be very great.’  But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’  And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’  But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir;  no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’  He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’  Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’  And he believed the Lord;  and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

New Testament Reading from  Hebrews  (chapter 11  v1-3, 8-16)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.  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.
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.  By faith he stayed for a time 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.  For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.  By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old — and Sarah herself was barren — because he considered him faithful who had promised.  Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’
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;  indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Gospel Reading from  Luke  (chapter 12  v32-40)

‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions, and give alms.  Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit;  be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes;  truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.  If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.’
‘But know this:  if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.  You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’

A Reflection

Just yesterday, a group of us reflected that putting our faith in Jesus does not mean that we will not experience sorrow, suffering and loss – and that there are difficult questions that will remain unanswered in this life.  Perhaps your faith levels are high today, or perhaps you feel as if you are running on empty or somewhere in between.

However we come today, God meets us where we are.  Last week’s Collect Prayer reminds us that He can work with whatever we have, however small, if we bring it to Him:
Generous God, you give us gifts and make them grow:  though our faith is small as mustard seed, make it grow to your glory and the flourishing of your Kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
The writer to the Hebrews was deeply concerned with faith which he linked to hope – his readers needed to hold onto these amidst persecution, suffering and doubt in the days of the early Church.  As Tom Wright puts it ... Faith is looking at God, and trusting him for everything,  while hope is looking at the future and trusting God for it’.

Our passage from Hebrews and our verses from Genesis both centre on the faith of Abraham.  God made a covenant with Abram as he then was, promising him an heir from his own body, despite his age, and promising that his descendants would be as innumerable as the stars.  Abram left everything he knew to obey God’s call and did not live to see the fulfilment of God’s promises.  What made him believe?  Perhaps his decision – rather than being blind faith – was based on prior knowledge and experience?

Abram didn’t have the Scriptures but, as a descendant of Noah, he would have heard stories of the Lord, of his creating the world, and of saving Noah and his family from the flood.  The Lord had already asked Abram to leave his father’s house and land, and to travel to a place he would show him – a place that would be an inheritance for him and his offspring forever.  God had repeated this promise over time, and Abram had become very wealthy and had known God’s protection, but still he had no son and heir and was now very old!  However, this longed-for son seemed to be part of God’s plan, so Abram kept faith with God out of this combination of the knowledge of what had gone before and his longing for the future – his hope for a son.  God saw this faith and credited it to Abram as righteousness.

The readers of Hebrews needed to be reminded of the family history of Israel, the faith of their ancestors, where God’s promises were believed in seemingly impossible situations.  The heroes and heroines of faith whom we read about in Chapter 11’s ‘Hall of Fame’, who struggled and suffered, were living by faith in God’s future world, and God was helping them to do it, which proved His faithfulness.  They were beacons of hope, part of a bigger story that had implications for those who were to come.

Abraham and the other heroes of faith did not see the completion of God’s plan, but somehow caught a glimpse of the vision and ran with it.  They set their sights on the things of God, the eternal perspective of the Kingdom of God.  They were able to live their earthly lives in such a way that they were an example for future generations to play their part in the story.

For the readers of Hebrews, trusting in the Good News of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus had brought them the gift of salvation and the freedom of new life in Him.  Even though they were suffering now, the full outworking of God’s plan would be seen with the return of Jesus.  Living whilst waiting would require the same faith and hope as demonstrated by their ancestors, to carry and pass on the baton to future generations.

Down the centuries, and perhaps even amongst our own families, there are many stories told of people who were far from God, but someone was praying faithfully for them.  In some cases, the prayer did not live to see that person come to a living faith in Jesus.  What kept them going in prayer, day after day, week after week, year after year?  Perhaps a confident belief in the goodness of God and in His love for that lost sheep, and a desire to bring them home into the fold?

This is the challenge for us today – to keep going in faith, even if God’s promises are not fulfilled in our lifetime, and to be beacons of hope to others, sharing the Good News of Jesus.  There is so much that can shake our faith.  We see war, oppression, violence, greed and corruption all around us, and on a personal level we may face serious illness and physical pain, we may experience bereavement, relationship breakdown and financial hardship.

So how do we keep going in faith?  My first verse of the year as a new believer was from Hebrews chapter 12 verse 2:  ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith’.  He has run the race before us and He invites us to follow in His footsteps as so many others have done before us.  The anticipation of His welcome at the end can keep us persevering in faith and hope.  Like those Hebrews, we need reminding not to grow weary!  We can choose to keep believing the truth of the Gospel, rather than being overwhelmed by circumstances or feelings.  We will shortly affirm our faith together, the truth of who we believe God is, what Jesus has done for us and the life we have in Him by His Holy Spirit.  As we declare this confidently, as part of the Body of Christ each week, may it strengthen us and sustain us in the week ahead.

We are not left alone in our struggles;  we can pray and ask for the gift of faith to help us believe.  I wonder if, like me, you find it easy to identify with the man who begged Jesus, ‘Lord I believe:  help my unbelief’! (Mark chapter 9 verse 24).  We can be honest with God when our faith is weak – perhaps when we are faced with something that seems to overpower our trust in that moment.

I love the words of the hymn chosen for today’s service, ‘All my hope on God is founded, he doth still my trust renew, me through change and chance He guideth, only good and only true’.  We can seek God each day to renew our faith and hope in the storms, choosing to believe that He is good and faithful despite what we see around us.  In the midst of suffering, we see His goodness in the kindness of strangers, we gather strength from the faith and courage of others, and sometimes, in a special moment, we feel His love and presence tangibly.

From my own experience caring for my terminally-ill mother-in-law, we experienced God’s love in so many ways – the Daily Service on Radio 4 (Long Wave), which always seemed to be on as I drove to her home, and the people who supported us and cared for Vera.  Paul has given me permission to share our experience of when we went in to see her after she had died.  Although it was very early in the morning, the room seemed full of light and we both, to our astonishment, thought we heard what can only be described as heavenly music.  I tell this story often because, whilst feeling deep sorrow and after much suffering, we were comforted and knew God was with us, which was so important to me as a fledgling in faith at the time.

You can’t see what I’m holding but it’s a mustard seed.  I hadn’t seen one until I started making my signature Bring-and-Share staple of ‘Sticky Sausages’!  As I mentioned earlier, last week’s Collect Prayer asked God to take our mustard seed faith and grow it for His glory and purposes.  Those attending services today will be offered an envelope containing a mustard seed to take away as a prayer prompt, a reminder that God can meet us and work with us where we are and grow our faith for the Kingdom.  I also have a saucer of mustard seeds representing everyone on the electoral roll of this parish, plus the ministry team, plus a few more to include others at today’s services and those watching on-line.

As I pray last week’s Collect again, may each of us choose to be part of this on-going story of faith as beacons of hope in the world.
Generous God, you give us gifts and make them grow:  though our faith is small as mustard seed, make it grow to your glory and the flourishing of your Kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.

The Collect Prayer

Lord God,
your Son left the riches of heaven
and became poor for our sake:
when we prosper, save us from pride;
when we are needy, save us from despair;
that we may trust in you alone;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.