Proper 14

– 7th August 2022

Reflection:

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” says the writer of Hebrews. Whilst in the Gospel Jesus says “‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

What are ‘things hoped for … things not seen’? Something that will happen or be present or exist in the future? Something good, something desirable? Something that fulfils our dreams? The fulfilment of our heart’s desire?

For me, the things hoped for would be an end of the climate crisis. A rapid replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy. A cooperative approach by all governments, nations and businesses to take action to half carbon emissions by 2030 and zero them by 2050.  A compassionate and neighbourly sharing of resources – especially finance – to ensure all communities can cope with the climate change that is already built into our future. A concerted undertaking by all parties to use nature friendly solutions, to protect and enhance biodiversity across the planet. I would be hoping for the churches to be taking a significant lead in framing this hope and galvanising all parties into action. And yes from where I am now, this is a hope for something as yet unseen. 

So do I have faith, faith that these are not empty hopes? I am really not sure. It is difficult to have such hope, such faith, when all around the problems of the climate crisis are growing and the actions being taken, diminishing. Here in the UK the current exceptionally hot and dry summer is not leading to urgent action to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, nor with action to shade and insulate buildings. Instead new permits are being handed out for the further expansion of oil and gas fields. And  money is to be paid to customers to ease for a while the increasingly expensive fuel bills – and perversely that money will maintain both the high prices and the oil companies’ profits. 

The writer of Hebrews refers us to Abraham as an example of someone who lived by faith, having very little in the way of knowing what was the hope that lay ahead. Abraham had faithfully left his family and his home country. He had travelled over mountains and through deserts, faced hunger and the threat of starvation. He had built up wealth for future generations even though he lacked a son. He had continued to pray and to worship an unseen God, a God who offered him as blue print the image that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, or as numerous as the grains of sand on the beach – in other words a vision that was too big to comprehend! Abraham had faith and Abraham kept walking along the path that lay before him, living as if that future would happen.

So maybe that is what my faith has to look like – and maybe yours too. Walking and living as if the future God promises – the future where life on earth is lived as it is in heaven – will happen. Living as is necessary for the climate crisis to be tackled. Living as is necessary for resources to be shared freely and fairly. Living as is necessary for biodiversity to be replenished. Living as is necessary for the church to give the lead. 

I shall continue to minimise by carbon footprint. I shall continue to give time and money to support those whose resources are lacking. I shall continue to live gently on the earth, protecting and enhancing the natural environment. I shall continue to speak out and challenge the church to lead the way forwards to God’s kingdom on earth. 

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
Hear the word of the Lord,
   you rulers of Sodom!
Listen to the teaching of our God,
   you people of Gomorrah!
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
   says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt-offerings of rams
   and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
   or of lambs, or of goats. 


When you come to appear before me,
   who asked this from your hand?
   Trample my courts no more;
bringing offerings is futile;
   incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—
   I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
Your new moons and your appointed festivals
   my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me,
   I am weary of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands,
   I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
   I will not listen;
   your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
   remove the evil of your doings
   from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
   learn to do good;
seek justice,
   rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
   plead for the widow. 

Come now, let us argue it out,
   says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
   they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
   they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
   you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
   you shall be devoured by the sword;
   for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Psalm 50: 1-8, 23, 24

The mighty one, God the Lord,
   speaks and summons the earth
   from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
   God shines forth. 


3 Our God comes and does not keep silence,
   before him is a devouring fire,
   and a mighty tempest all around him.
4 He calls to the heavens above
   and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
5 ‘Gather to me my faithful ones,
   who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!’
6 The heavens declare his righteousness,
   for God himself is judge.
          Selah 


7 ‘Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
   O Israel, I will testify against you.
   I am God, your God.
8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
   your burnt-offerings are continually before me. 

‘Mark this, then, you who forget God,
   or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.
Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honour me;
   to those who go the right way
   I will show the salvation of God.’

Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

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. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Luke 12: 32-40

‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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