Summary: A challenge to take leap of faith - a risk - for God
Hebrews 11:1-3 & 8-12
This year is a leap year. 29 February is a special day which comes round only once every four years. 29 February is considered
by some as a day to do something out of the usual, such as women proposing marriage to men. Radio 4’s PM programme often does something special to make a leap year. Not so long ago they brought back Valerie Singleton as presenter for a one-off. One year they asked listeners whether they'd be prepared to take advantage of this extra day, to use it as an excuse to do something out of the ordinary.
Some of the challenges that listeners took up included a blind woman riding a bicycle; a 62-year-old woman getting her first tattoo; another listener resolved to speak mandarin for the day; someone took a roof tour of Lincoln Cathedral; one woman chose to have a cervical smear to inspire other women to do so; another finally decided the wording for her late husband's headstone; any number of PM listeners at last scattered the ashes of loved ones having put it off for years; a woman took up the hula-hoop after more than 50 years; one listener wrote a letter to his estranged brother, while another wrote a conciliatory letter to her sister with whom she had been on bad terms with for many years.
Just imagine all those amazing and exotic challenges! I wonder if Abraham and Sarah felt that way? Was their challenge from God to get up and go to a new country in their old age a welcome opportunity, or a distinctly unwelcome proposal? It’s impossible to be sure from the Bible quite what Abraham and Sarah felt about this challenge – we just can’t tell if they relished it or hated it, but what is clear is that they accepted, even though it was obviously a big risk, and they had a go at it. As it turns out, the risk was worth it and it rather paid off.
And then we meet the would-be disciples, ordinary working men, at least some of them with families, with a reasonable source of income. There were plenty of fish in the lake, and plenty of people who needed to eat. Being a Galilee fisherman in the first century may not have had the job security and pension that we came to expect in the latter part of the twentieth century, but it was as secure as anything, and a reliable source of income. And they walked away from this to follow Jesus. They didn’t seem to take a lot of persuading, so perhaps they were ready for a change and a challenge, but it was still an enormous risk. They were literally walking away from their livelihoods to follow Jesus, without knowing where it would lead them. You can’t deny they were certainly taking a risk for God.
Abraham and Sarah, and the disciples, all found themselves having to take big risks when they were challenged by God. If you like, they were taking a leap into the unknown – and we’ve n idea whether these things happened in leap years or not.
There’s a story told about a water pump in a desert. There was a letter in a baking powder tin, attached to the handle of an old pump that offered the only hope of drinking water on a very long and seldom-used trail across the desert in Nevada: "This pump is all right as of June 1932. I put a new sucker washer into it and it ought to last five years. But the washer dries out and the pump has got to be primed. Under the white rock I buried a bottle of water, out of the sun and cork end up. There's enough water in it to prime the pump, but not if you drink some first. Pour about one-fourth and let her soak to wet the leather. Then pour in the rest medium fast and pump like crazy. You'll git water. The well has never run dry. Have faith. When you git watered up, fill the bottle and put it back like you found it for the next feller. (signed) Desert Pete. P.S. Don't go drinking the water first. Prime the pump with it and you'll git all you can hold."
That’s a risk, if ever I saw one. Would you take the risk of priming the pump first, in the hope of getting water? Or would that be too great a risk, and you’d drink the water?
Abraham and Sarah, and the disciples, found themselves taking bigger risks for God than most of have to face.
In 1912 two Irish music hall players were spending an afternoon in a pub at Stalybridge. They were extolling the musical traditions of Ireland when it's said they boasted they could write and perform a song in the same day. It might have been the Guinness talking, or it could have been genius jumping out of its bag, because the song that they wrote was It's a Long Way to Tipperary, which was performed that night at the Stalybridge Grand Theatre by Jack Judge and Harry Williams. It was an overnight success that went on to gain tremendous popularity during World War I as an Allies.