Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Building Blocks of Faith

Following on from the united service with St Luke's that we shared this morning [see the previous blog] we reflected this evening on the building blocks of faith.

It was great to share with so many children at our Summer Fun Day on Friday something that goes to the very heart of the faith we share.


The love God has for the world, the love God has for each one of us and the love we share with each other.

That love that goes to the heart of our faith.

It was good sharing with friends from St Luke’s – Mike used a set of jenga blocks – stand one up and it easily falls, stand two up and they fall – but place a block on top and hold it down – and it’s so much stronger.

I want to reflect on what we can build our faith on.

Turn to Hebrews 11 –

How can we be sure of our faith?

1) Faith founded on Creation

Chapter 11 is one of those great chapters of the Bible.

It begins with a wonderful definition of faith.

faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen

It’s not proof.

It is not something tangible.

It is unseen – yet it is real.

What’s the foundation for faith?

First of all there is that sense one can have looking at the beauty and the majesty of the world that there is something more to it than we can see.

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.

Sense of wonder at the world.  – The beauty of the coast – the wonder of the sea – Chesil beach with three pebbles – large at Portland – medium sized at Abbotsbury tiny at West Bay – the world in a pebble.  Wonderful!

AS the service came to a close we said a big thank you to Carolyn for the last three years she has shared with us as our  children’s worker and latterly as our children’s ministry leader.

It was lovely when Carolyn presented us with a gift too.

A lovely way of remembering.

Carolyn has a very artistic eye and it includes backgrounds and photos she has taken – just of ordinary things that look extraordinary – four twigs on Crickley Hill!

And then turning the pages – I thought she had included a photo I had taken, but no, after one conversation she and Pete had visited one of my favourite beauty spots.

It’s at the top of the bwlch – desribed in one of the geology books I have as one of the finest mountain roads in the UK – from Bridgend over to the Rhondda – magnificent mountain scenery.

And there a quotation – for the earth is the Lord’s – how manifold are all thy works.

This is the beauty of creation.

It’s a photo album – a family album of Carolyn’s time with us as children’s worker.

How do you think of the Bible – as a code book, a book of rules and regulations – try thinking of it as a family album.  Something to dip into.  You catch a glimpse of someone and you can fill out the story

That’s what I do as I skim Carolyn’s album with lots of June’s photos as well.

That’s what the Bible is like.

That’s how Hebrews saw the Bible.

For the second building block for our faith is people of faith.

That’s what we catch a glimpse of in Hebrews 11.

But faith is not just founded on the world and its beauty.

Faith is founded on the people of faith who have made such a mark on us.

So the second of the building blocks of faith is people who show their faith to us - in the BIble and beyond

2) People of Fath

Faith is what makes people tick – the people of the Bible.

The writer then treats us to a flick through the pages of the family album.  In pen pictures he conveys a wonderful sense of the faith that makes people tick.

Abel, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses,

He tells the story – lets us see the snapshots.

And then runs out of time.

And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection.

So treasure the pages of the family album – bring to mind the people of faith that have meant the world to you – treasure their stories.

Returning to a Greenfield stie Greenbelt had it all … it’s a beautiful world of God’s creation – in the gentle rolling countryside of the East Midlands that felt like home.  The beauty of the world.

Then the testimony of people of faith.

Mpo Tutu was one of the main guests – speaking about the work she is doing with her faither in the work of reconciliation and forgiveness.

Mpo Tutu – on forgiveness – the four steps
Desmond Tutu – his infectious laugh – a life underpinned by faith

But however wonderful the stories – people can let you down.  It’s easy for the building blocks to be knocked over for the foundations to be shaken.

Martyn Joseph – 9-50 on Monday night … but I caught him sing one song on his own … at the end of an evening that had included the Tallis Singers singing Thomas Tallis lamentations – his songs are angry, despairing – he spoke of visiting a family in Bethlehem – a Christian family – children were agonising … he shared the anger – but then the grandfather put his hand on his shoulder and said there isn’t time for the luxury of despair.

Song – the Luxury of Despair.

The song was one of those laments.

I looked up faith in a Dictonary of the Old Testatment and the index took me to a section on Lament by Walter Moberly, Lecturer in OT in Durham University.

The most frequent occurrence of laments is in the Psalter.  Indeed, the single most numerous type of psalm, more  numerous even thatn hymns of praise, is the lament.  Although this fact is routinely noted in introductions to the Psalms, its signifance is less often explored.,  Such predominance of laments at the very heart of Israel’s prayers means that the problems that give rise to kament are not something marginal or unusual but rather are central to the life of faith (cf. the exploration of this issue in Job).  Moreover they show that the experience of anguish and puzzlement in the life of faith is not a sign of deficient faith, something to be outgrown or put behind one, but rather is intrinsic to the very nature of faith.  Instead of the problems of the life of faith being put on one side, as though worship should really be just a matter of praise and thanksgiving, these problems are made central lto the very act of prayer and worship.  The practical realism of the these psalms is most striking.

Faith can be knocked -

Faith founded on the wonder of God in creation – it can be knocked – for nature red in tooth and claw gives rise to many questions …

Faith founded on the witness of other people that too can be knocked – as people you have honoured, put your trust in let themselves down – and you feel let you down.

But the faith that is so important to us is a faith that is founded on one thing more.

The main foundation – the most important foundation of all.

We move beyond Hebrews 11 to the start of Hebrews 12.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

I love that image – our Christian life is a race to be run – and we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus – looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter – or as one translation puts it the one on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.

3) Jesus Christ - on whom our faith depends from beginning to end

Mpho Tutu was interviewed by someone called Richard Burridge – I picked up a book of his in the bookshop – on Jesus.  Four Gospels, One Jesus?

An excellent introduction to the Gospels – it’s going down on the reading list for the bit of our course that begins in January.

He delights in the way that we have four different portraits of Jesus –

He begins with one example of someone having different portraits –

It made me think of another of our visits on Holiday – T>E> Lawrence

The classical scholar – translator of the Odyssey – inscription over the door of his house – do not worry –

The friend of Arabs – Lawrence of Arabia

The warrior –

The diplomat – involved in the peace settlements

Different portraits – but the same person -

Traditional pictures associated with each Gospel –

Mark’s Jesus – - the lion the roar of the Lion
Matthew’s Jesus – the human face – the teacher of Israel
John’s Jesus – the eagle – the high flying eagle

… and the one that caught my eye this evening
Luke’s Jesus – the ox – the bearer of burdens

Richard Burridge says this,

As well as a patient steay plodder, carrying heavy loads, the ox was a very religious symbol for Jews being used for sacrifice, and its horns representing the power of God.  If Luke is the evangelist who depicts Jesus as the bearer of burdens, he also most clearly describes his resources.

The Holy Spirit
Joy and Praise

This is what holds it all together.

This is the strength our faith needs.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

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