“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is also a son of Abraham.”
This sentence in our Gospel reading is perhaps the key to understanding something really important.
When we read in the Bible that someone is described as a true son of Abraham, what we are to understand is that they are someone who, like Abraham, “knows” God. And in another way it is understood to mean they are a person of “faith” – as we see in Hebrews 11. There we read that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
When a little kid was asked to explain this idea of faith, they said it means believing something you know is not true – that was their best way of understanding “things not seen.” I am not sure that is what we mean when we talk about FAITH.
As you read on through Hebrews 11, being invited into the stories of a great cloud of witnesses who are surrounding us to this very day, the thing that marks them all out as children of Abraham was their ability to step out into an unknown future – and it seems to me that the reason each and every one of them was able to do this was that they had had some kind of encounter with the Living God by which they could say they knew it would be all right.
This seems to me to be a bit of an invitation to examine this idea of faith, if it is through faith that we are united with that great cloud of witnesses whom we celebrate on All Saints Day, and it is through faith that we will one day join that same great cloud of witnesses.
There are some situations in life where it is indeed appropriate to settle for the simple answers – we do make some things complicated, don’t we?
But I want to invite you to have a look at some layers of meaning that can be added to our generally simple idea of Faith – which will mean exploring several specific ideas that are behind the one word we use in English – FAITH.
One idea we have of FAITH is that it is about BELIEVING that the things we are told, or read, about God and Jesus are true. This is a very big part of our Evangelical faith and when we are taken through a period off preparation for baptism or confirmation as an adult one of the important tasks we undertake is examining the things that the Church affirms in the creeds.
When we give assent to those things – when we say we believe they are true – that is for us a declaration of our faith. But I hope you don’t stop there in your understanding of faith.
Another big idea we have about FAITH is that it is about FAITHFULNESS. This idea is bound up in the idea of covenant and it is about the unrelenting commitment of the two parties to each other. When Israel wandered away from the Living God, taking up the ways of Canaanites and others who lived around them, the Prophets used two words to describe them – they were WHORES and ADULTERERS – because they were being unfaithful.
This kind of FAITH is about an INTIMATE COMMITMENT to each other in which we are called to trust each other completely. This is what I think the “Children of Abraham” kind of faith is about because it is in this place that we can say we know God and God knows us.
A third idea that I think FAITH embodies which is similar in English but is quite different – it’s the idea of TRUSTWORTHINESS. We use this kind of Faith when we say someone is acting in Good Faith. It means they don’t have an ulterior motive; they are not trying to trick us. When someone works in a bank, looking after other people’s money, or for an insurance company, they have to be trustworthy so that the people who own the money can have faith in them.
This is a very important thing because if someone breaks this kind of trust, if they are untrustworthy, it will take a very long time for them to rebuild people’s confidence in them – to be able to have faith in them.
Finally, I want to introduce to you the idea that FAITH is about a WAY OF SEEING things. By this I mean that as Children of Abraham we can see that God who has made all that is, has made it good and encourages us to see his life-giving power in all things. Jesus spoke if this when he referred to the birds having all they need and the lilies being more beautifully attired than Solomon ever was.
As people of faith, then, we are encouraged to see things in this particular way – that all the beauty and wonder of creation is an expression of God’s divine and life-giving presence for us. Another image we use in the Bible that in a sense explains this is the idea of being called out of darkness into light. When we stand in the light, of course we will see things differently.
So, as we think about this All Saints Day and who it is that is joined in that great cloud of witnesses, we can say surely they are all the children of Abraham, like Zacchaeus. And when we read their stories we are inspired – inspired to share their faith in all its many facets.
But I want to give you a chance for a little while now as we finish to bring to your mind those special people in your own life who are now numbered among that great cloud of witnesses. It might be a loving husband or wife whose faith was always an encouragement to you, or parents or even grand parents whose close walk with God, whose sense of intimacy with God alerted you to the idea that there was more to life. Or maybe you are thinking of a friend or colleague whose life of faith, however you understood it, was an inspiration or a challenge that called you into that same life of faith.
These are the people whom we celebrate in what was once one long feast from Halloween to All Souls Day – every year.
Let us pray.
God of saints and martyrs, today look graciously upon your people who have been called out of darkness into light. Grant unto us not what we deserve but that which you have wondrously given in Christ Jesus, the friend of sinners. By his saving love, number us among those we serve you devotedly, covering up our shortcomings with the extensive work of your Holy Spirit. Then may others be blessed because we have passed by, and your name be honoured and loved as the God of prodigious grace. For your love’s sake.