Sermon – 8 August 2004

There is something particularly apposite about reading the story of Abraham at this time of the year.

For this is the time of so many journeyings. Holiday pilgrimages to worship the sun have their roots in the great quest – the journey of faith – the search for God.

And that all begins, in our mythology at least, with Abraham.

Let me explain.
The version of Abraham’s story which we find in the epistle to the Hebrews is, of course, a heavily edited version of the Abraham story. I preached earlier in the year on whether Abraham was indeed a good figure to look back to as the founding father of faith. I’ll not repeat all that today. Instead, I want you to think about journeys.

For the writer to the Hebrews seems to see in Abraham’s story something of an archetypal journey. Abrahams journey is the journey of faith. Abrahams journey is our journey. And it all begins with faith.

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance, and he set out, not knowing where he was going.”

How many of us would set off with God if we really knew where we were going? How many of us would take the first step of faith if we knew exactly where the subsequent steps would lead?

For journeys and quests are hard. We learn on the journey. We learn that life is suffering. That progress comes slowly. That we can make little progress without thinking of others who are also pilgrims on the way.

And until we have learned these things, we are unlikely to arrive at journey’s end.

Abraham’s story is the story of someone on the move. A reminder that if we are going to be one of God’s people, then we had better get used to being nudged on our way.

One of the key images in the bible is of a God who walks with his people. Let those of us who travel by bike and car and train and plane not forget that image of God walks with a nomad people. A God who walks with Abraham the journeyer; who moves on to find food for his flocks and water to nourish his loved ones. As Abraham walks on, God walks with him.

This idea of pilgrimage is key to me. The idea of a God who walks alongside his people is one of the core ideas in the Bible. It finds its ultimate expression in the person of Jesus – god incarnate who came to walk with the people of this earth awhile. Yet even in Abraham’s tale, we have powerfully presented to us the notion that our God is with us.

One of the things that the writer to the Hebrews is doing is delving into the pilgrim stories of the Hebrew forebears and finding in them gospel. Finding in them good news. People like Abraham kept faith with God. And discovering even more extraordinary news – God keeps faith with his people.

For that is the promise. The God who walks in pilgrimage with us will keep faith with us wherever we walk.

Abraham looked forward, we are told, keeping his eyes on the great city of God. Moving on. Moving on. Always, Abraham seems to have been moving on.

I wonder whether your own pilgrimage feels as though it is moving on at the moment.

Here are some ideas from our readings this morning which might help nudge us on a bit. For faith is nothing if it is not moving.

? Remember that our God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and that the thing which is the same is that his love is ever unfolding. Ever changing. There is always something new to learn.
? Remember along with Isaiah that God looks for justice as a sign of true faith, not ritual. (We might explore the links between justice and liturgy later in the year).
? Remember along with Jesus to be ready, always ready to meet God on the journey.
For the undercurrent that runs through this morning’s gospel reading is that there is a danger that we will miss God unless we do what we can to get ready for him.

However, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Sometimes it is hard to hear promises like that, even when they come from the lips of the Lord. Do not be afraid – for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

You see, the great pilgrimage does have a purpose. Abraham kept his eyes on the great city and moved towards it.

By faith Abraham and Sarah moved on.

Yet, in faith, Abraham and Sarah doubted. Let that not be forgotten as we read of Abraham having such great faith in God.

Abraham and Sarah doubted much on the way. Doubted so much that they laughed at God’s promises when they were told that they would have descendents beyond number.

Richard Holloway was here last week. One of the things that he has often reminded people of is that the opposite of faith is not doubt – doubt is a part of faith. The opposite of faith is certainty.

Abraham and Sarah had their doubts. And they took them with them on the journey.

And God walked with them. And had the last laugh in the end anyway.

They walked with God. They doubted God. They laughed with God. They moved on.

As we move towards God, we move towards the city of faith – the place where we belong, the kingdom of God itself.

As we move onward on our journey, we move inward into God’s kingdom.

As we move onward on our pilgrimage, we move deeper and deeper into God’s love.

As we reach the end of our quest, we will find ourselves in the place similar to the place we began. But enfolded, captured, engulfed by Love.

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