+In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
I have always been a little skeptical about those dreamy, soft-focus depictions of Jesus we are used to seeing in stained-glass or on a television mini-series; Jesus is always about an inch off the ground, holding a bluebird while children dance around Him, He’s always saying things like “Fear not, little flock.” I’ll take that image today, though, “Fear not, little flock,” because next week’s Gospel reading starts with Jesus saying “I came to cast fire upon the earth.”
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” What an awesome and awe-inspiring thing to say. For all the warnings and admonitions and tough teaching Jesus gave us, He also spoke to us like a father, like His Father, with gentle encouragement, with firm assurance of the good things to come. The disciples, indeed the whole crowd Jesus was talking to, would need encouragement; what was to come upon so many of them would not be so encouraging.
Fear not, little flock. In other words, have faith. Faith is talked about a lot in the Bible but is defined only once in its pages, and we just heard that definition from Paul in his letter to the Hebrews. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” I will now confess to you that the only reason I know this Bible verse by heart is because it was quoted by C.J. Craig on the West Wing; oh, if only the whole Bible was quoted by either Lincoln or on the West Wing, I would have the whole thing memorized. Faith, to the blessed Apostle Paul, was the golden ring, the flowery crown. Paul moved from his definition of faith to those great men of old who had faith. Abel had faith, Enoch had faith, Noah had faith, and then the big one: Abraham had faith. Abraham believed God, he had faith, and that was counted to him as righteousness. Think about that for a minute: we always think of righteousness as exhibited by the otherworldly among us, those saints who seem to float like Jesus in a mini-series, those saints we always seem to see in soft-focus. But righteousness can also look like Abraham, a hard man if there ever was one, who, when God said “Do this,” he said “Alright,” and then went and did it. That’s both easier and harder than that sounds.
Talking about faith can sound a little, well, churchy; even the word faith, when not in a George Michael song, evokes faint sounds of organ music or the strange vision of so-called faith healers. Faith is not the most popular of virtues nowadays; when someone says they have faith there tends to be little response. When someone says they are spiritual, on the other hand, heads start nodding. Some people will tell me they have faith, but can’t tell me in what or in whom they have faith. I guess that is truly conviction in things not seen, or even known.
But that’s the wonder of our faith, the faith that we inherit from Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham, the faith passed to us by Peter and Luke and Paul and all the saints. Our faith is the conviction of things not seen, yes, but not things unknown. Our faith is in the God Noah heard and whose glory Moses saw, the God whom Isaiah and John and Paul laid eyes on and yet lived, our faith is rooted in Christ Jesus, whose glory we have seen, full of grace and truth. Our faith is the reward for hearing the good news of salvation in Jesus, and saying “Alright,” and then living like we meant saying that. That’s both easier and harder than that sounds, of course.
So we know what faith is and in whom we put our faith, but what does faith look like nowadays? That’s a hard question and not fully answerable in a summertime sermon, so we will look at the practice of faith this Fall in some adult education sessions. But the short answer is this: People who have faith in Jesus live like Jesus is with them all the time, because He is. Some Christians worry all the time about avoiding sin, about not breaking the law, they are fixated on not doing anything bad. And that’s OK, better that than the opposite. But through our faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit, both Jesus and His Father are always pointing us toward the good, toward doing good; not good as the absence of bad, but active good. Through faith, and in knowing that Jesus is with us all the time, we are free to do the good, to love God and our neighbor, to not worry so much about avoiding the bad, because we are preoccupied with the good. That’s what living in faith looks like from 30,000 feet; we will get into specifics in the Fall.
The first line of today’s Gospel, we’ve heard it several times now, is “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” The last line we heard from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews is this, talking about those whose faith is in Him: “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” The God who created the universe is, and this is amazing, not ashamed to be called our God, to be associated with us, with those who put their trust, their faith, their hope in Him. So come earthquake, fire, and flood, fear not, little flock: of you He is not ashamed; you are God’s good pleasure.