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9th July 2024

Faith, the whole faith, and nothing but faith


Faith, the whole faith, and nothing but faith

Before we had children, Helen and I used to go on short breaks. We were both very busy people. Both working hard, trying to pay the mortgage, so long expensive holidays were a bit out of the question.

We mainly stayed in England. We very much like East Anglia. In fact, we have pretty much covered all of the coast from Colchester to Kings Lynn. We particularly like Aldeburgh and Southwold on the east coast and then Blakeney in the north of the area.

We did also go onto the Continent. We went to Paris and spent time on the French Belgium border visiting the First World War battlefields.

Then the kids come along and somehow time to ourselves gets lost. I am not complaining, my children, and now the grandchildren, mean the world to me. But once the family had grown up, it is nice to get back to having the time, space, and energy to do stuff we want to do.

Our first major trip away just by ourselves was to Istanbul for a few days. As a family, we had holidayed in Turkey, but always on the Aegon coast. We had never ventured to Istanbul.

Istanbul is a wonderful city. It is the only city to be in two continents, Asia, and Europe. It is the only city to have been capital of three empires, Roman, Byzantine & Ottoman.

All the history and culture that exists in Istanbul is amazing. The wonderful architecture of St Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace. The Bosporus and the Golden Horn with the ferries and shipping. The Spice Market, the colours, and the smells, really delightful.

However, whilst we were in the Spice Market, I had my camera stolen. Now to be fair to Istanbul one could be a victim of pickpockets anywhere in the world. Barcelona apparently is a pickpocket nightmare.

Despite me being a victim of pickpocketing do not be put off Istanbul, it is one of the safest cities in the world. Nevertheless, it was still a bit of a cloud, and it takes the edge off things a bit.

When I discovered that my camera had gone, we were near the Catholic Church. Instantly, the story of Paul and his handkerchiefs came to my mind.

Our first reading from Acts 19 says, “11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.

Two things about this story. First, we tend to put God into a box. We all do it. We create our own views of what God is like. Who he is and the best way for us to react to Him. What we believe and what we do. We create a box for God to live in. Then we make God fit into it.

Now I am very much, very much, a low church person. I am more Oliver Cromwell than I am the Arch Bishop of Canterbury. I cannot we doing with all this Popery. The notion of relics, or icons, or any inanimate object having some form of mystical or healing powers does not fit in with my Christianity at all. I am not having any of that sort of nonsense, thank you very much.

But this passage from Acts indicates such things can happen and have a Scriptural basis. As someone who would pigeonhole themselves as an Evangelical Christian. That is to say someone whose belief is based on the Bible and not on history or tradition or we do it this way because we have always done it this way.

From time to time a passage from Scripture will pop up and challenge me. It makes me uncomfortable in my belief in who God is and what I do. God says to me, ‘Duncan don’t put me in your box. I created you; you didn’t create me. I am who I am’.

We all put God in boxes. We all shape God into our own image. What we need to do is be open to God. Open the lid of our boxes and let God out. Allow God to shape us, not us shape God. It is a bit scary. It can be uncomfortable, very uncomfortable. But it is the way we should be.

After discovering that my camera had been stolen, I was sitting in church and I prayed that God would use the camera to bring about good. If people were healed by Paul’s handkerchief, perhaps salvation may come about through the camera. As you might imagine I struggled with this big time. The notion that a camera, or a handkerchief, may somehow bring about a miracle; but I was trying to be obedient.

However, my main problem, my biggest concern was my faith. You see, my faith is not as strong as Paul’s. Here is Paul, this colossus of the Christian faith, and here is me. Me, this forever failing, forever sinning, wayward excuse of a Christian. Do I have the faith it takes? I just do not think that I do.

In our Christian walk there is a focus on many things.

Firstly, the Church. Many of us are very busy making sure that the Church runs smoothly. There are lots of things to be done. Often all those tasks fall to a small number of people, and they get very tired. So, come on the rest of you step up and lend a hand and do your part.

The running of the Church, the maintenance of an institution, an organisation, is very important, very important indeed. However, it is not what Christianity is about.

As Christians God time and time again throughout the Bible calls his people to do what is right. To care for the poor, the outcast, the widow, and the orphan. It does not matter where we sit on the political spectrum, social justice should be written through us like a stick of rock.

The two things we are told we should not publicly talk about is religion and politics, and yet the two things we should be shouting about is religion and politics. Nevertheless, despite social justice being very important, very important indeed, it is not what Christianity is about.

Preaching the gospel, healing the sick, doing good works are all commanded by God. They are very important, very important indeed, but not what Christianity is about. Most faiths engage in and promote good works. But more often than not those faiths undertake these good works for the love of God, for the reward of God. Not, because of the love of God. Not because the reward has already been given.

Christianity is very, very, simple. It is about a relationship between God and human beings, and that relationship is built on faith; and faith alone.

Faith in Jesus. Jesus who paid the price of sin, and death did not hold him.

Faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. I will fail, you will fail. But where I cannot, you cannot, God can.

Faith in goodness of the Father. No matter what troubles us, God the Father has got a plan. A plan that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.

Our second Bible reading from Hebrews 11 says, “1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

The writer of Hebrews goes on to name great characters from the earliest parts of the Bible, Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, as examples of people who received God’s favour, not because of their deeds, their hard work, or the commitment to a good cause, but because of their faith.

Our Hebrews passage says, “6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Sometimes, we can look around and see other Christians and think, “I wish I had their faith. My faith is not as strong as their faith. They are a much better Christian than I am”. At times we all do it. But we miss the point it is not a competition. God does not have a ‘faith-o-meter’ measuring who has the most faith. Once we have faith in Jesus, we are all equal, all of us in this together.

Sometimes, we say to ourselves, ‘At times I have doubts. I am not so sure. Is all this Christian stuff for real. Are we just kidding ourselves’. Faith and doubt are two sides of the same coin. We cannot have faith, if at times we do not have a bit of doubt.

And, let us not underestimate the pressure we are under. The devil wants us to doubt, wants to work on those doubts we have. The devil never comes at us full on, he is far to cunning for that. He will find a chink in our armour, illness, the death of someone, the troubles of the world etc. etc. and he will try and undermine our belief in Jesus.

The Bible tells us that the world is not going to be kind to us. Always and in all manner of ways – on tele, in the papers, certain so-called celebrities, people we talk to, our neighbours, even our non-Christian friends are going to chip away at our faith.

And of course, we, ourselves, have put God into our own little boxes. We have shaped God into our own little images. We forget just how big and mighty God is. Of course, at times we will struggle to have faith in the God, we have turned him into. We create problems for ourselves, if all we believe in is a God we have formed in our minds

1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

4 By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous …

7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.

8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

Sometimes, the worries of the world can seem to overwhelm us and our faith is so weak.

Sometimes, our doubts and fears come crashing in, but that faint dim light of faith never goes out.

Sometimes, our faith can be hanging on by a thread. But Jesus tells us all we need is faith the size of a mustard seed, the tiniest of seeds. That is all we need.

We are a family. A family of Christian brothers and sisters. We should help each other in practical ways. We should all step up and do our part in practical ways in running the Church. But we also help each other in our faith. We come alongside each other and build each other up in our faith.

Faith keeps us going, even if we never get to see the results. We have the faith that no matter how the story of our life goes, God has got the ending sorted out; and it is a very happy ending. From our opening reading taken from Romans 8, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him”.

The final words of our Hebrews reading says, “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” By faith, God is not ashamed to be called our God, and he has prepared a city for us. Amen.