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Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Isaiah. 1:1, 10–20, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 & Luke 12:32–40

One of my favourite movies of all time would have to be Field of Dreams. It stars Kevin Costner as ‘thirty-something’ Ray Kinsella, who was born and raised in the city, but who now lives on a farm in Iowa with his wife and young daughter. His main crop, and therefore source of income, is corn.

One day, while out working in his cornfields, Ray hears a voice that says, “If you build it, he will come.” His wife and daughter, who are both sitting on the porch of the family’s farm house, don’t hear the voice; Ray is the only person who hears it. The next day Ray is out in the cornfields again, when he once again hears the voice saying the same thing, “If you build it he will come”. As was the case the previous day, nobody else hears the voice apart from Ray. 

That same night Ray wakes during the middle of the night, and getting up he goes to the window of the bedroom and looks out onto his cornfield. There he sees a vision of a baseball field, complete with lighting towers, in the cornfield, and not only that, he is also sees the figure of a man, dressed in a baseball uniform, standing on the baseball field. 

The man is ‘Shoeless Joe Jackson’, a legendary Chicago White Sox baseball player who was thrown out of baseball following allegations that he was involved in a conspiracy to “fix” the 1919 World Series playoffs, even though his playing statistics throughout the playoffs suggested otherwise. 

Jackson was the idol of Ray’s father, with whom Ray had a tumultuous relationship until the time of his death when Ray was still a teenager. Ray had argued badly with his father before leaving to go to college, and the two never reconciled before his father died. Ray is convinced that he is meant to build the baseball field in his cornfield so that his father’s hero, Shoeless Joe Jackson, can get to come back and play baseball again.

So, trusting in his instincts, and with the support of his wife, Ray plows under his cornfield and builds a baseball field, complete with lighting towers. He naturally becomes a target of ridicule among the locals, and also among members of his wife’s family, who can’t believe that he has sacrificed the major part of his crop to build a baseball field. 

Nothing happens for many months later until one evening, when Ray and his wife are reviewing their finances and wondering how they are going to be able to keep the farm in the face of a severely reduced income, his daughter tells him there is a man in the baseball field. The man turns out to be Shoeless Joe Jackson, who brings other former (and all dead) baseball players with him to play in Ray’s field.

To cut a long story short, Ray hears the same mystery voice on two more occasions, each time with a different message. Ray trusts in the messages and does what he is instructed to do. Towards the end of the film, Shoeless Joe Jackson whispers to Ray, “If you build it, he will come”, and he gestures to a baseball player with his back to Ray. When the man turns around, Ray sees that it is his father, although he is now much the same age as Ray himself. And the film ends with them being reconciled to one another.

You might be wondering why I’ve just told you the story of the film? For me, it says a lot to us about faith and perseverance.The author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Repeat) I think we could confidently say that Ray’s character had faith. He did something that nobody else thought made any sense at all, and he persevered even though everyone else doubted. And I’m sure if somebody we knew came and told us they were going to do something similar, we would probably say they were crazy. It is something that defies all logic.

Which is probably true of what Abraham did when he packed up his family and possessions, and left his home to travel to the land of Canaan, because God told Abraham that he would bless him and make a great nation of him. Abraham was 75 years old when he left Haran on the journey to Canaan, and you can imagine that his family and servants must have thought that he was crazy to leave his home and travel to a place he had never been before, with no guarantee of what the future held in store for him. But he did it, and he persevered through several trying situations because he trusted in God.

He also trusted in God when God told him that he and his wife Sarah, who were 100 and 99 years old respectively, were to have a son together, and that Abraham would be the ancestor of many nations, and that many kings would be descended from him. The Old Testament contains the stories of these nations and kings. Nations such as Israel, and kings such as David and Solomon. Abraham placed his trust in God, and God kept His promises to Abraham, even though Abraham himself did not live to see those promises fulfilled.

There are two definitions that can be used for the term ‘faith’. One is “complete trust or confidence”, which is the type of faith demonstrated by the character of Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams, which may or may not be derived from any belief in God. The other is “a strong, religious belief not based on proof”, which is perhaps evident through people like us, who have a religious belief that there is a God, even though we can’t necessarily prove there is. I would argue that having a faith, that is, having a belief in God, makes it easier to have faith, which is to have complete trust or confidence in something or someone.

A good example of this is Martin Luther King Jr, the American Baptist minister and civil rights activist who was assassinated by white extremists in 1968. His strong faith enabled him to campaign peacefully in the Deep South of America for civil rights, in the face of violent and hateful opposition from white extremists who were against the idea of racial equality for African Americans. He was physically assaulted and thrown in jail on several occasions, and he and his family were the target of a number of death threats. But through his strong faith in God, he persevered; he had complete trust and confidence that what he was doing was the right thing.

Unfortunately, like Abraham before him, King did not live to see the fruits of his labour. However his faith, and the work that he did as a result of that faith, paved the way for the civil rights legislation that was to be passed in the years after his death. 

Another example, which is closer to home, is a conversation I had recently with someone who has doubts about the future of our church here at St Andrew’s, someone who actually went as far as to say that we may not even be here to celebrate our 100th anniversary in 4 years time. I, on the other hand, have complete trust and confidence that the initiatives we have been working on during the last two and a half years, which were all part of the Parish Mission Action Plan, will help to secure the long-term future of the parish.

People may be pleasantly surprised to hear the following statistics. When I started my ministry here in January 2017, the number of people who regularly attended worship on Sunday mornings was 38. Since then, we have seen a number of people forced into nursing homes through health issues; several people have left the parish for different reasons; and we have experienced the passing of several much-loved parishioners. So you would expect that the number of people attending regularly today would be lower than it was then. However, we actually have a total of 44 people, an increase of 6, or just over 15%. That tells me we must be doing something right.

Then if you look at the wonderful success that Mainly Music has been, the introduction of the Playgroup in April this year, the monthly Family Service, the Neighbour Day event we held in March this year, the Garrett Kato concerts in 2017 and 2018, the Good Sugar concert a few weeks ago, the Family Carols Service last year, and events such as a Nice Night’s Entertainment; not to mention the parish’s involvement with the prayer initiative Thy Kingdom Come, and the participation of people in the various Bible Study programs we have run during the last two and a half years, it is hard not to feel positive about the future of the parish. And then on top of that, is the parish’s plan to redevelop the Memorial Hall and Tennis Courts which, if it proceeds, will certainly secure the long-term financial future of the parish.

There have been times during the last two and a half years when I’ve experienced times of doubt, when I wondered if we were on the right track and doing the right things, and even though I’ve had moments of doubt, in my “heart of hearts” I’ve never stopped believing that we are doing the right things for the parish. My faith, that is my belief in God, has given me  trust and confidence that we are.

All of us will at times question ourselves regarding certain aspects of our lives, be that concerning relationships with family or friends; our work; or even what activities we give priority to in our lives. And generally speaking, I think we usually know what the right course of action is that we need to take. It comes from that feeling deep within us, call it our instinct, that thing that just feels right when we think about it. I personally believe that feeling is God’s Spirit at work in us, guiding us on the path to take.

And in those moments, our faith, that is our belief in God, enables us to persevere through difficulty, and allows us to have faith, to have complete trust and confidence that God is with us, and guiding us, on our journey through life.

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