The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14C)
11 August 2013
Grant to us, Lord, we beseech thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as are right, that we, who cannot exist without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Hebrews 11:1-3 (4-7) 8-16
This past Easter Day I asserted that faith is not simply believing in the unbelievable. I offered that faith is entering into relationship with something real, being connected with the power of love. In faith we are connected to the power of the God who is identified with love, real, powerful, self-giving, generous, intimate love. Each of today’s lessons explores aspects of faith and its connection with God’s promise to bring us into a fulness of relationship with him in the consummation of his Kingdom.
In our lesson from Genesis, Abraham is depicted as having an intimate, personal relationship with God. Abraham engages with God in a dialogue and God explains to him that something extraordinary will happen to him. Abraham’s belief comes not from mere acceptance of an unbelievable statement, but comes instead out of a lived relationship with God. This is the basis of all our faith. While we may not engage in the sort of direct conversation with God that we hear in this story, we still know our God and he knows us. We know him in the steadfast presence of the Church and the Sacraments. We know him in and through the goodness of Creation. We know him in each loving interaction with another person. We know him every time we open ourselves to another person and allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to be open to love. Even when things do not go our way, we still should recognise in God our companion in disappointment, our companion in suffering.
The passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews is much more explicit in its discussion of faith. It asserts the proposition that “by faith we understand that the world was created by the Word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear.” That which is seen, that which is real, those things that we experience are all connected with the mystery that is the very source of all that is. Those things with which we are in relationship in and through creation, including ourselves, are connected with that which is greater than all of us. That is to say, all the stuff of creation is related to that which is not created: the very love of God with which he is identified from before the Beginning. Our faith, therefore, is something that objectively exists because our relationship to God and to love is real and unbreakable.
Faith—the unbreakable relationship between God and Creation—is not, then, some choice to believe some crazy story. Rather it is a reality and we have the power to align ourselves with it, to accept and live into this faith, this relationship, the extended hand of trust that God continually offers. We also have the power to ignore this truth and pretend that it does not really exist.
Accepting the faith that is at the heart of how the world goes also gives us the power to begin to feel at home in God. The human soul, I believe, longs for connexion, for relationship. We long to be in relationship with other humans, we long to be in relationship with the source of all that is. Perhaps this is what Saint Augustine meant when in the Confessions he describes his younger self as “not yet in love, but in love with love.”(1) We long for love, for relationship. We long to feel at home, enfolded in love, the very love of God.
One of the most profound images for that place of faith, for that place where we are home, that place where we are intimately and inexorably connected with each other and with God is that of the City—the City of God. In fact, I have always really appreciated that this image of the Kingdom of God, a place that is “at unity with itself,” is described as city. As a twenty-first century urban Christian, I find it heartening, reassuring that the cultural forces that decry city life in favour of some bucolic utopia are at odds with this ancient image of the heavenly places.
What is it about a city that makes it an ideal image for the Kingdom of God? In the city we live in close proximity to all sorts and conditions of people, many of whom are different from ourselves. To make the city function we each need to cooperate in our various vocations, well and truly becoming members of a larger body. There is a complexity to urban life where all the parts function along side each other and with each other to make the whole work. In the city our creative achievements shine forth in art, architecture, and music. This is the vision of the ideal city, different from our own, but one that we can recognise. Exploring our City, and remembering, as Dr Towner reminded us on the feast of the Transfiguration, that the kingdom of God has already been inaugurated if not consummated, we see the possibility for relationship to explode all around us. Indeed, in its intensity the city becomes the locus of faith. If we are willing to break out of the walls of fear and routine that separate us emotionally and spiritually from our environment and our neighbours we can more fully experience the faith that real relationship creates. If we could just be brave enough to seek connection with our neighbours, we would be more fully able to live into the life of God as imagined in that heavenly city, the city for which we long, where God’s priorities rule. Can we seek in our City a place where we are truly home—in relationship with God and with our neighbours? I think this is the project to which many of us are already committed.
This search is at the heart of our relationship with God, of our faith, of our trust in God. We trust that God’s purpose, the thrust of his activity, is moving us towards such unity in love, in fulness of relationship with God and our neighbours. If our treasure is the fulness of intimate relationship with God and our neighbours, then this is where we shall find our hearts. If one’s treasure is love in connexion with God and his creation, then you do not need to worry about whether or not you have faith, as it is clear that you possess it in abundance. Gather love as your treasure, be prepared at all times for love to burst into our reality, be prepared to enable love at any moment, and you are living the life of the Gospel. Treasure love, relationship, the close-knit life of the city of God and your heart is full of faith.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
The Transfiguration of Our Lord, 6 August 2013
1. Saint Augustine, Confessions, III, i, (1).
© 2013 Andrew Charles Blume