A year ago Sarah and I were in the Aran Islands, in the west of Ireland, and we walked out to the ancient stone forts on the western cliffs. The island lifted, at that point, hundreds of feet above the sea; when you came to the edge of the cliff you were at a sheer drop hundreds of feet into the Atlantic. Above was the endless sky. And to the west, looking out, across miles and miles of ocean, you could see a pathway shining in the sun, reaching almost as far as oblivion – or a new world.
This is what the ancient peoples of the Islands saw to the west – where mortality and immortality met. To embark on the journey to the west was to leave all you knew behind, and go to a new place, one from whence you might never return.
The Lord said to Abram, “Go,” and he went: he left his father’s house, and his kindred, and his country, and set out with Sarai and Lot and the people of their household, leaving the land of Mesopotamia and heading west across the desert to find a new land, Canaan, and to found a new people, the people of the Lord.
It was a tribal migration, of a herding people, yet it was more: Abram stepped out in faith. The people he gathered with him, and took on the journey, and the people who joined them, became a new nation – Israel. Yet it was more: in him, as the Lord God promised, all the families of the earth were and shall be blessed.
Abram’s true descendants are the people of faith, the people who share the promise. They do not just take a share in the promise for themselves, they extend to others the blessing they have received by faith.
Abram’s faith was counted for him as righteousness, as he put his trust in God. As we put our trust in God, and reach out to him in faith, we too receive the gift of righteousness, and the gift of life – from the source of life.
There is a great shift here: from trusting in our own righteousness, or achievements, or performance, or worldly connections – social status, family, tribe, or nation – to trusting in God as the source of life, the source of being, identity, and meaning. Abram stepped out into a new world in faith. He became the ‘father of the faithful’, those who follow his footsteps into the promise of God. We too are now heirs of the promise – and agents of the blessing.
There is a great shift here: a call from God to turn from fear to hope. This is the legacy of faith and this is the mission of the people of God: to go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit, bringing the good news of salvation to all peoples, loving one another and loving our neighbors as ourselves. To become as numerous as the sands of the sea, as numerous of the stars: and for all of us and each of us to find our identity in the one true and living God who makes all things and gives them life, who gives life to the dead – giving the gift of new life into the lives of Sarai and Abram, raising to life Jesus his Son, raising from the tax tables Matthew to be a disciple of Christ, raising a young girl from her death bed to witness to God’s power, and calling forth in us the faith of the resurrection.
Trust in God: put your faith in him, believe and act knowing that God is present with you, guiding you every step of your own journey, from your origins onward.
‘The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse (I’ve got your back); and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
‘So Abram went, as the Lord had told him…’
This the Lord the psalm sings about, this is the nation that is blessed: the people whom God has chosen to be his own, the ones who trust in God and share the promise, the ones made righteous by faith. Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous; it is good for the just to sing praises. For the word of the Lord is right, and all his works are sure, and the loving-kindness of the Lord fills the whole earth.
We put our trust in God, and, as Herb O’Driscoll (who was with us in Ireland) puts it, ‘then, in confidence, we act.’
Faith and praise and promise: these are the life-builders. We are made right with God by God’s own gift of grace; we now live by faith. We leave behind the old world and strike out for the new: counting not for security on our own programmatic efforts but faithfully practicing the commandments of God; not trusting in old habits to define our future but by God’s merciful guidance performing those things that are right; not looking for easy answers but seeking the wisdom that comes with faithfully following the way of the living Lord.
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And Matthew arose and followed him. And with Jesus and in following Jesus he found new life, new identity, new meaning. The source of his life and of his being was the living life gift of Christ.
As Jesus sat at dinner –with tax collectors and sinners— a leader of the community burst in and kneeling, pleaded for his daughter’s life. And Jesus arose and followed him – and brought new life into the household of that man.
As Jesus was going on his way, a woman in pain quietly touched the hem of his garment. And he turned to her, and with compassion said to her, “Take heart: your faith has made you well.” And she was well; she had found health in Christ, and her life was new.
When Jesus got to the home of the community leader, the people laughed at him – for he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” But he took her hand, and the girl arose. New life had come into that house. And the word spread.
The word spread: new life comes from the living Lord. Put your faith in him. Put your trust in God. Let him heal you and make you whole. And let him guide you. Follow Jesus – follow him on the path of life. Follow the blessing way – and have a blessed day.
Lord as you have called us, makes us worthy of your calling. As we reach out to touch the hem of your garment, touch our hearts, and we shall be changed: that we may live to your glory, O Jesus, Christ our Lord. Help us to trust in you, that we may hope beyond hope, and trust beyond trust. Let the people of the world see the faith of your church; let us witness to your almighty power. Though our faith is small it is in a great God. Grant that we, by the gift of your Spirit, may help to lift up your people, to raise the fallen, and restore the sick to health. Lord, heal us and raise us up. Guide us and teach us, and lead us on the way of life, in Christ.
Closing prayer drawn from "Clouds and Glory" by David Adam (SPCK, 1998)