Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 17 March 2019.
It was a dull day when Eileen and I chartered a boat in Ardrossan and sailed out for Lamlash Bay. The Isle of Arran was obscured by mist and so we had to study the chart, set a compass course, and then steer it.
It was Eileen who did the steering and brought us in. Without starting the engine and casting off from the pontoon we would never have left Ardrossan. Without steering that course we would never have made it to Lamlash Bay.
All of this demanded our actions and hence our commitment to the passage, otherwise we would have stayed tied up in Ardrossan.
This is a trivial example of having to take something in faith and act on it. True enough the chart was clear and so plotting a compass course was quite simple. But we had to let go of our sense of the land and commit ourselves to the sea. Left and right would no longer work. Now there would be port and starboard, ahead and astern, north and south, windward and leeward, as well and the direction and strength of the tide. Our old ways of seeing things and acting on them were no longer enough, even for this short sea passage.
For Abram – he was not yet named Abraham – there was also that challenge to let go of one set of assumptions and embrace another. What he could see and feel, what he could understand or work out for himself were no longer enough.
Now there would have to be new ways of seeing, understanding and trusting. The ways of trade and of the city or the camp, of keeping in with the local kings or warlords would not be enough for where he was going.
Now God had met him and Abram had been given a new personal vision and new priorities of life. Now he had a personal relationship with God, direct and intense. God spoke and Abram was listening even if he did not fully understand it.
But in looking to God for his future, Abram was doing far more than saying his prayers or hoping for an impossible future. He was not just muddling through in his life, but was now actively engaged with and committed to the things of God.
Even when he knew so little, and was having to let go of his cultural moorings in order to set a new kind of course, Abram was putting his trust in God, without reservation or hesitation. He would be tired and tested in this at times and he may falter but he never failed, and remained steadfast and sure.
This was the kind of commitment and devotion that God needed from him and as Abram committed himself to the things of God, so God already committed to Abram.
What Abram could never earn or work out for himself God was willing to give and give beyond counting or imagining. The impossible son would be born and from that son would come a mighty nation, covering the earth and extending to the very stars.
Even when Abram’s imagination and vision failed, God was going to bestow on him the blessings of a history of unimaginable wonder and also of unspeakable sacrifice.
But Abram trusted and this was enough.
Writing to the church in Philippi, Paul also pointed to their belonging to the Kingdom of God, and inheritance of heaven and to their fellowship together in Jesus Christ.
They would belong to God and they would know Him in Jesus. They would also belong to one another, and not to the world around and about them.
Their vision and their appetites, their ambitions and their glories would be of another dimension, this time in the spirit and animated by the person of Jesus Christ and none other.
They would have to let go of former things in order to make space in their lives for the things yet to come.
And so Jesus also, already in peril of His life, committed Himself to His Father’s will.
He would preach the message of God’s love and mercy, and He would perform the healings which would provide visual support for that message. The healings would be wonderful in themselves but they would point beyond themselves to deeper and more penetrating truths about the Kingdom of God.
But this was going to be a dangerous course for having committed Himself to it, there would be no credible way of going back on it.
Jesus would accept the hostility of the authorities and the mortal threat that it risked. But then He knew that His road to Jerusalem would meet its final destination and climax at the hill of Golgotha. Jerusalem was the centre of religion, of faith, of prayer and study and devotion.
But it was also a centre of self-determination and of personal agendas. It was the place where the agenda of God was going to clash fatally with the very human and universal instinct for self-centeredness and ambition and desire.
When they combined in a religious setting then this was going to be a fatal brew and political leaders in every land and generation have shown it to be true.
But this time Jesus was going to meet the clash head-on, directly and personally. Where His body might fail, God would surely raise Him up on the third day.