THOUGHT FOR THE DAY SUNDAY 7th August

7th August 2022

Readings

Genesis 15.1-6

15 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”

2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16

11 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.

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.

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. 9 By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Luke 12.32-40

32 ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Watchfulness

35 ‘Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will make them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or towards daybreak. 39 But understand 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. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.’

Thought for the Day

Ken Dodd said, in an interview he gave late in his life, “My body is old. My bones are old. My big toe is old. I’ve got corns that are old. I’ve got old dandruff. One or two beauty spots, but I can only tell you about those by arrangement. But inside my skull, my mind and brain, that’s about 18, I think. Or maybe 21. I’m so thankful for all the imagination that has been given to me.”

When God told Abraham, who was a hundred at the time, that at the age of ninety his wife Sarah was finally going to have a baby, Abraham came close to knocking himself out. He 'fell on his face and laughed’, we read. In another version of the story, Sarah is hiding behind the door eavesdropping, and here it's Sarah herself who nearly splits her sides - although when God asks her about it afterwards, she denies it. 'No, but you did laugh,' God says, but doesn't seem to hold their outbursts against them. Rather, he tells them the baby's going to be a boy and that he wants them to name him Isaac. Isaac in Hebrew means ‘laughter’.

Why did these two old people laugh? They laughed because they knew only a fool would believe that a woman with one foot in the grave was soon going to have her other foot in the maternity ward. They laughed because God expected them to believe it anyway. They laughed because God seemed to believe it. They laughed because they half-believed it themselves. They laughed because laughing felt better than crying. They laughed because if by some crazy chance it just happened to come true, they would really have something to laugh about, and in the meanwhile it helped keep them going.

As it happened, as we know, it did come true: and as the writer of Hebrews said,

By faith Abraham received the power of procreation, even though he was too old - and Sarah was barren - because he considered God, and his promise, to be faithful. 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.'

Faith… it’s better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Faith is not being sure where you're going, but going anyway. It’s a journey without maps.

Sometimes we may think that to be a genuine Christian we have to be certain about what we believe in. To realise this is not true should bring a smile to our hearts. 'Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith’ said Paul Tillich. Doubt is perceiving the incongruities in life as God offers it to us. Our doubts, our honest questions - God is happy to hear them, to help us find the answers, so we may grow in confidence in the promises God makes us.

Abraham and Sarah help us understand faith well. 'God is not ashamed to be called their God', Hebrews tells us - because, laughing at the wonderful incongruity of it all, they trusted God and joyfully chose to embrace the life he promised them. Ken Dodd once told an interviewer, ‘The best kind of laughter is when you make somebody else happy and make somebody else’s life a bit better. And surely that is God’s work. God doesn’t want us to be miserable.’

A funny but profound and inspirational preacher was Mike Yaconelli. Yaconelli was the pastor of a small church in Yreka, California - 'the slowest growing church in America' as he called it. He trained youth leaders, edited a satirical magazine called The Wittenburg Door, and was an international speaker. He died in a car crash aged 61, but what a life he’d lived. Yaconelli used to say,

'I want a lifetime of holy moments. Every day I want to be in dangerous proximity to Jesus. I long for a life that explodes with meaning and is filled with adventure, wonder, risk, and danger. I long for a faith that is gloriously treacherous. I want to be with Jesus, not knowing whether to cry or laugh.'

That’s what all these great people of faith do. Not knowing whether to laugh or cry, they live life to the full, because their companion in everything they do is God.

“Years ago, when I was quite a lot younger,” said Ken Dodd, “When I finished the show, beautiful young ladies used to leave a red rose or a lace handkerchief or a love poem at the stage door for me. Now all I get are Fisherman’s Friends, elastic stockings and vapour rubs.”

Now you may know that Ken Dodd was a philosopher of comedy, a serious student of the psychology of humour. He once told an interviewer, 'I think I’ve found the answer to the secret of comedy. I won’t go into too much detail for you but it’s about seeing things from a different point of view. It is the perception of the incongruity.’

The perception of the incongruity. That’s what made Abraham fall over laughing, that’s what was behind Sarah’s secret splitting-of-her sides. The perception of the incongruity. Not knowing whether to laugh or cry. It’s a way of talking about comedy. And it’s a way of talking about faith.

Those moments in your life when the laughter and the tears come together, embrace them: they’re holy moments; they’re signposts on our joyous journey of faith.

Prayer

Loving God,

for those living on the edge, in fear of the future:
bless them with a deepening sense of hope and trust in you;

for those caught up in the ways of the world,
relying on worldly treasures:
give them a blessing of release and joy in you;

for those battling with ill health:
give them the blessing of strengthening hope and healing;

for all who have the responsibility of leading your flock:
give them your blessing of wisdom and strength.

Lord, you watch and protect.
Strengthen all who are in need
with an unshakeable trust in you;
give them a glimpse of the treasures
that are theirs when they put their hope in you.
Amen.