Our Genesis reading takes us back to the beginnings of our faith – Abraham, or Abram as he is known here – considered to be the father of faith, even by Jews and Muslims. Abram is asked by God to sacrifice which requires and act of faith in God: When his son, Isaac is just a young boy, Abram is asked to sacrifice him to God as a burnt offering which would jeopardise his future generations. But he trusts God and puts his faith in his request.
In our Bible reading, our introduction to Abram, along with his wife Sarai, is asked to leave their land and their family and set off to a place yet unknown to them. They respond to God’s command and then continue to listen to God’s Word for further instruction on what God wanted of them. That is what faith means. To hear the Word of God and trust and then respond even though the future is unknown.
The book of Hebrews describes faith as – confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Abraham certainly had to do this. This is also what it means for us to be disciples of Jesus. To listen to what the voice from the cloud told us a few weeks ago in the Transfiguration account about Jesus: to listen to him. To hear God’s word and then to respond to what we hear even if the way forward is unclear or seemingly unpleasant.
It’s a very short direction from God to Abraham. “Go from your country and your family and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. That’s it. And even more brief is the response: So Abram went, as the Lord had told him;
Whenever I have received a call from a vacant parish I usually receive a huge folder of all the things relating to the Parish. Copies of Annual Reports. Floor plans of the manse. Services and attractions in the area. Details of the congregation and the different groups and activities they are involved in. I have 4 weeks to make up my mind. Sometimes a Pastor will visit the calling parish, look around, meet with the people and then go home and prayerfully contemplate. And then they will advise “Yes” or “No”. There was none of this when it came to Abraham’s call.
God had given him promises – “I will bless you and your descendants,”. But there was no guarantee how those promises would be fulfilled. No explanation on when they would be fulfilled – just like Abraham had to wait till he was 100 before his son Isaac would be born. Abraham went in faith which St. Paul today refers to with great admiration. “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” This belief and trust in God is at the heart of our salvation and our relationship with God which we read in our Gospel reading. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
But that step of faith is not always an easy first step. Just look at Nicodemus with all his questions. He believed in Jesus but was afraid about making that first public step of faith. Nicodemus was a leader of the Jews but he came to Jesus by night. Cloaked by darkness so no one could see him go to Jesus. Maybe there’s a bit of Nicodemus in all of us. Maybe we are that little bit hesitant of accepting where God is calling us. Nicodemus has many questions and some of them are very shallow. Such as “How can anyone be born after having grown old? But he wasn’t embarrassed to ask.
The bible is full of heroes of faith as examples for us. The book of Hebrews lists many of them:
By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did – Able ended up murdered by his brother because of it.
By faith Enoch was taken away so he did not experience death. By faith Noah built an ark to deliver his family – could you imagine the ridicule he received. Hebrews also talks about Abraham from today’s call: when he was called, obeyed and went out to a place he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, coheirs of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And Abraham’s wife – by faith Sarah, when she was unable to have children, received power to conceive offspring, even though she was past the age, since she considered that the One who had promised was faithful. Much like Mary– how can this be since I am a virgin – but accepted what the angel said
Whereas Nicodemus was hesitant, fearful of what his fellow Jews would say because of his faith in Jesus, he would go on to cast off this fear and go with Joseph of Arimathea to ask for Jesus’ body from the cross. And note also that Joseph shared his fear: Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night.
Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle in regards to your faith or lack thereof. Maybe you’re scared to take that huge leap of faith like Abraham. And remember, Abraham was likely to have been in his 70s when he received that call. Or perhaps you’re a little like Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea – afraid to share your faith or don’t have all the answers and maybe afraid to ask the questions. But remember that faith as small as a mustard seed can achieve great things for God’s kingdom. We can feel rather guilty at times about our faith.
But that’s not God’s intention. Neither was it Jesus’ intention with Nicodemus as he helped him to understand the new way that God was dealing with faith through him. And he reminds Nicodemus – and us that – God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
We don’t know what Nicodemus was thinking as he departed Jesus’ company after hearing these words about water – spirit – born again. But we know that something within him changed. And little by little, his heart opened and he was born anew, finding his way through darkness and doubt, to the cross. And there at the cross all of Nicodemus’s and Joseph’s fear would be cast off as they prepare Jesus body for burial and wait now for Jesus’ promise to be fulfilled – to rise on the 3rd day. We too now wait in faith for Jesus to fulfil his promise to us – to come and take us to be with him in Heaven. That is a journey we can take in faith.