(Proper 14C2) Gen. 15: 1-6; Heb. 11: 1-3, 8-16; Lk. 12: 32-40
Good morning—and grace and peace on this summer Sunday morning. We gather here in the Hicks Chapel for what I expect will be the last of our “on the road” Sundays, as so many are working diligently indeed to see that we’re able to return to good old St. Andrew’s next Sunday morning. A great deal of excitement in that, even as I continue to be very thankful for the hospitality of the seminary in sharing the Hicks Chapel with us during these past months. There’s a prayer at the Jewish Seder that concludes, “next year in Jerusalem,” and I find myself with a contemporary version of that in my heart as well. Next Sunday on Hampton Street . . . .
Last Sunday afternoon Susy and I went over to Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill for the wedding of our son Daniel’s best friend Seth and his new bride Amanda. Seth and Dan grew up together, and we have lots of family stories, one of which surfaced in a very funny conversation at the reception. A story perhaps titled, “the time Dan and Seth took Dan’s dad on the Skycoaster at Kennywood.”
I don’t know if you know the Skycoaster, but it’s a ride that is designed to be about as close to a classic “bungee jump” experience as you can get in an amusement park. You get outfitted into a jumpsuit and then attached to a line. Then cranked up high into the night sky over the waters of a little manmade lake—where you hang suspended for a few seconds, or perhaps it really was an hour (felt like it). Maybe 3500, 4000 feet. What it feels like, anyway. Then you pull a rip cord and the line is released and you drop suddenly and dramatically in free fall, until the line is extended and the fall then is transformed into a swing, and until you finally come to rest and then are returned to the landing.
Anyway, Dan and Seth talked me into this. Not my idea. I think maybe they were in Middle School, probably together in Barbara Lewis’s algebra class over at Reizenstein. The deal was that it was a popular ride, so you signed up, paid for your tickets, and were told to return an hour or so later. Which was for me, I recall, a very long hour. Very long. In the interval I found myself several times wandering away from whatever we were doing to watch the Coaster. Not that I really was afraid. Not really. But I just wanted to reassure myself that the thing worked as advertised. Which it seemed to with consistency. And I kept reminding myself that Kennywood has a very good reputation for safety, and an excellent track record.
Now, the funny part of this story has to do with Seth’s great propriety, and his sense that my delicate ministerial ears might be deeply offended by some vocabulary that I might have heard unintentionally spoken when a Middle School-aged boy was suddenly dropped from a great height. --But I’m not going to go into those details now. Ask me at coffee hour.
But anyway, somewhat in the context of the Kennywood Skycoaster, what I do want to note is that the three lessons appointed for us this morning are all about faith. In the reading from Genesis the great moment of Covenant when Abraham hears and trusts God’s promises that through him God will work out his divine plan for the salvation of the world. Through Abraham, old and childless, a great nation, and a destiny to bring forth the greatest of blessings to every people, tribe, and nation. That Trust, that faith in the covenant and promise of God, at the heart of this key New Testament passage from the Letter to the Hebrews. A redefinition of the word “righteousness” here. Righteousness not the result of correct behavior, following the rules and avoiding misconduct, but about a transformation of relationship and identity, so that God’s promise has become not just something that I think is probably true—in the way that I think the Skycoaster is probably a reasonably safe ride at Kennywood—but that it is now, and I love this image, my “homeland.” Where I come from. Where I’m headed. Starting point and destination. Real faith. That’s the “righteousness” of Abraham. To know God’s Word and God’s Promise as homeland. Where I was born. The place where I am and where I will be truly at home.
Faith, Jesus reminds his disciples in Luke 12—faith, casts out fear. Completely. Absolutely. Permanently. Hope, trust, not simply a probability, but something that is already so deeply true that it seems we have been enjoying it already forever. The righteousness of Abraham, for us. An Advent reading, Luke 12: You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. But of course the fun of Advent is that we lean forward in anticipation and expectation for one who is already here. Who has come, whose work is accomplished, who is seated at the right hand of Father. The miracle of Advent, that the 21st Chapter of the Revelation to St. John is already accomplished. The New Jerusalem coming down from heaven from God. As we will sing in just a few minutes: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are full of thy glory.” Present tense. Even as we speak this old world passing away. The new world arriving. Already true. An old joke sometimes attributed to Mark Twain (though that’s somewhat hard to imagine): Someone asked Twain, “do you believe in infant baptism?” He replied, “Believe in it? I’ve seen it with my own eyes!”
There is I think, and it is something we see again and again in the Bible, a spiritual or we might even say a supernatural character to this thing we’re calling faith. Not like my faith in the Kennywood Skycoaster, which was strong, but also provisional--based on observation, evidence, reasonable calculation. No way observation, evidence, or reasonable calculation gets Abraham to see what God is doing through him as he looks up into that starry sky. No way for those friends of Jesus to think or calculate their way to their fearless sacrificial witness and heroic martyrdom.
It is for us, as it was for Abraham, a choice, a decision, an act of will. No coercion. No forced marches. And yet supremely, it is a gift. Faith. Something that we can know, that we can pray for, that we can receive no matter how broken we are, how inadequate, how off-center.
That God’s promises move from being words on a page to being words inscribed on our hearts. To know with assurance that the promises God spoke to Abraham and the promises that the friends of Jesus trusted to the very end in ancient times are promises that God has for us, promises that God is fulfilling for us today. We would believe that. Promises to be found with assurance in Scripture and promises handed down generation by generation in the stewardship of the Church. Promises that we can share in with hope and joy even as we this morning share the Bread of Heaven, the Cup of Salvation.