Getting Ready for Sunday by The Rev. Dr. Samira Izadi Page

Christians often talk about faith and yet, faith is one of the most misunderstood and abused words among Christians. Faith sometimes is reduced to a set of abstract propositions about the death and resurrection of Jesus and their relationship to where we spend the eternity. Sometime faith is a magic wand that if we have it, our prayers do come true, and if our prayers do not come true, we do not have it. To some, faith is something that we possess just as we possess a car or an intellectual property. For some, faith is never put to test in extreme measures. When we read chapter 11 in the book of Hebrews, however, we get a picture that is much more comprehensive and beautiful. Faith is a spiritual reality that causes the faithful to take action, to respond, and to obey God. It grows us up into the fullness of the stature of Christ. Faith seems to be like a river that waters the seeds God has planted into our souls and develops them into fruit-bearing trees in our lives.

Faith is not an individualistic, self-serving affair. Faith always serves the purposes of God, for God has “prepared a city” in advance. (Heb. 11:16) Faith is the force behind the works of our hands and feet, hearts and minds toward the completion of that “city.”

Have you ever wondered why in Hebrews 11 we learn about all these people who had done things by faith? I think it is because faith is transmitted through the community of the faithful people of God. The testimony of other faithful initiates, encourages, up-builds, and upholds our faith. Acknowledging the saints; be it Abraham or Peter, Dr. King or St Bernadette of Lourdes, is one of the beauties of the Anglican tradition. When times get tough and our hearts restless, the example of their faith sustains ours. Post Biblical examples of the faithful saints are reminders that faithfulness is not limited to the holy figures in the Bible. Faith is available to all.

What is this “faith” by which the people in Hebrews 11 took action? While faith can be intellectually explored, explained, and adhered to, it is real only if it is known in one’s heart intimately. Several of the figures mentioned in Hebrews 11 are people who perhaps could not articulate the articles of the faith, but they had a heart-knowledge of faith. This heart-knowledge is an active and abiding trust in God and obedience to God’s direction that seems blind to the real circumstances to the outsider. This kind of knowledge has to do with the faithfulness of God. And, we know God is faithful because we have seen it throughout the history of God’s people reaching its climax through the faithfulness of Christ.

As many of you know, I have a ministry that mobilizes the Church to reach refugees. I hear testimonies of many persecuted Christians who are often new believers. Their faith is often simple and yet, sustaining because it is a heart-knowledge. Most recently, I faced a situation that was deeply personal. My sister and her husband came to faith in Iran and were subsequently insulted, threated, and physically assaulted by her husband’s family. She could have hidden or denounced her new beliefs, but “by faith,” she stood up for Christ boldly. Through her sharing, fourteen other people converted to Christianity in one month. She had to flee Iran a few days ago into Turkey, but she will be a missionary for as long as she will be there. As it turns out, God had already made provisions for her in Turkey through connections that came about randomly a few years ago with Gateway of Grace. They were amazingly exact as though coordinated and indeed, they were by God. By faith, she took actions that seemed dangerous, unwise, and costly to an unbeliever, but God had already prepared “a city.” (Heb. 11:16) By the faithfulness of God, we have a heart-knowledge of faith. I hope and pray that all of us have a by- faith story. What is yours?

The Rev. Dr. Samira Izadi Page is the Executive Director of Gateway of Grace in Dallas

Getting Ready for Sunday by the Rev. Paul Klitzke

Luke 12:13-21

Wealth is such a contentious topic.  Apparently our concern with wealth is deeply engrained in our humanity, as it seems it has been problematic for generation upon generation.  Jesus confronts our obsession with money and wealth repeatedly in the Gospels, perhaps these confrontations live on in our hearts as we read the stories still.  This abiding concern over wealth seems particularly troublesome when it comes to inheritance.  As if the struggles around wealth in society weren’t enough, quarrels over inheritance often split otherwise meaningful relationships at times.  It is disheartening to consider how many families have been fragmented over such disagreements.

Scripture offers a great deal of guidance about wealth.  The law even delineates specific expectation about inheritance.  In theory, this could help us avoid the heartbreak and anguish of sorting out it out from scratch.  However, laws are left to interpretation and can be further complicated by practical consideration.  By the law, the eldest son would inherit a double portion.  That double portion came with certain expectation too, the eldest son now held more responsibility to care for the widow and their siblings.

As Jesus is called upon from the crowd, to enforce, or at least help interpret the law, he further challenges our understanding.  As is often the case, Jesus redirects us to God and the purpose of the laws; refusing to be lured into questions and interpretation, Jesus calls the crowd to consider how wealth distracts us from God.

Jesus addresses the man directly, not quibbling over the details of the man’s particular situation, but cautioning us against greed.  The parable that follows is a stark reminder of how possessions, no matter how dearly we hold them, are fleeting.  It is easy to be deceived and put false hope in wealth, that it may make our lives easier.  Indeed, a great many things can be made easier, at least temporarily, by wealth.  But the real concern is how one can be rich toward God.

Jesus offers clear direction as to how to be rich toward God throughout the Gospel.  Follow him.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  Be known by love.  May we know the power of love to be greater than that of wealth.  May we witness to the everlasting nature of love, over and against the wealth of the world that often fades away.  May the Spirit of God unite us in the love of God, that we may be known to be rich in love and rich toward God.

The Rev. Paul Klitzke is rector of Church of the Ascension in Dallas

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This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.