Sunday, August 12, 2007
Sermon WITH VIDEO - Pentecost 11 - Hebrews 11:1-16
By faith… the key phrase in this great chapter of Hebrews 11.
By faith… Aaron trusted that however the test results came out, God was with him.
By faith… Rita knew that even though her husband died, God would never leave her.
By faith… Jennifer believed that God would give her strength to do the right thing with her unwanted pregnancy.
By faith… Edward heard God’s words of forgiveness, that Jesus paid even for that deep, dark sin from his past.
By faith… Owen laid on his deathbed, ready to go, assured that he would soon stand before the judgment and be declared righteous in Christ.
Faith is the important topic of this great faith-filled chapter of our New Testament.
First, we are given a definition of faith:
“the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen”
So faith has to do with what is not seen – that we would believe, even be certain of something that we do not see with our eyes.
This can be something that happened in the past – like creation: “By faith we understand that the universe as created by the word of God”. We have such a faith, even in the face of so many authorities, frantically trying to prove that we all came about by chance, that God is not a factor, that man and monkeys are byproducts of a process rather than creations by the very words and hands of God. Some place their faith in Darwin, or in popular scientists, some in carbon dating or geological stratification. But these are not sure places to place faith. In fact, just this week it was reported that scientists found two kinds of ancient humanoid skulls together that they once though were separated by millions of years of evolution. Back to the drawing board, I guess, for them.
By faith, we know that God the Father Almighty is the maker of heaven and earth, and of monkeys and men. Does this give us all the answers regarding the creation and evolution debate? No way. There are many questions that remain. But we take what we see (the science) and hold it accountable to what we know for certain, though we do not see.
Sometimes faith is in a past thing we haven't seen. But sometimes faith can be in a present reality that is unseen. Through the eyes of faith do we see Jesus’ body and blood truly present in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Only through faith can we see that the infant at the font has her sins washed away and receives Christ’s robe of righteousness. Only through faith can we stand over the grave of a loved one and say, “where oh death is they victory, where oh death is thy sting?”
We're not talking about what is unseen, as in, I just don't see it right now. For instance, I can't see the sun right now but I know it's in the sky, even if it's behind the clouds. The faith we mean to speak of is over and against what we do see. It flies in the face of what we see – contradicts it, even. But isn't that always God's way?
Perhaps the greatest contradiction of our faith comes when we look in the mirror. When we examine our own lives and see a poor, miserable sinner. A failure and a scoundrel. We see the real us that no one else sees behind all the layers of fakery. We see someone who is mean and selfish and petty and arrogant and vindictive and on and on. But that's what we see, with our eyes. Faith sees someone else.
Faith sees the forgiven child of God, not the scoundrel. Faith sees the person whose sins are washed in the baptismal waters, whose life is fed by the sacramental meal. Faith sees a temple of the Holy Spirit, a new creation, a holy and righteous one. All this in contrast to what our human eyes see. But we see, and more deeply and clearly, by faith.
And sometimes, quite often, faith has to do with the future. What hasn’t happened yet, but has been promised by God. We believe and trust that he will always fulfill his promises in Christ. That he who believes in me, even though he dies, yet shall he live. That at the trumpet call of God the dead in Christ will rise first. That we will be changed in the twinkling of an eye, to be like him, and that we will see him as he is. Every eye will see him, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess Jesus Christ as Lord. And the old creation will pass away as we see the new heaven and earth, and as we live there with God, who will wipe every tear from our eyes. A small sampling of the future promises to which faith clings, of which faith is assured, and in which we believe.
Now faith is not something we create, or earn, or bring to the table at all. On the contrary, our sinful nature means the very opposite of faith. We don’t want to believe what we don’t see, we need to be convinced by our own eyes. Like doubting Thomases or little scientists, all of us by nature know that seeing is believing. After all, that’s the way our world works – that’s our daily experience. Faith is foolish to the sinner, the man of the world. Why would you believe in such fairy tales, we are asked.
Or, in sin, we put our faith in the wrong things. We trust in and are assured of things which are not true or real. We put our faith in our own abilities to please God – that my good works will pass the muster of his perfect judgment. That my pitiful good works will earn eternal righteousness. That God will somehow wink at my sin, or consider it “not that bad”, and shoo me in the gate of heaven anyway.
Maybe we put our faith in the government, or in our church, or worse, in our pastors. Maybe we trust in our possessions or our prestige or our willpower. Maybe we even dabble in superstitions to deal with the uncertainty of things unseen.
But all these are wrong. There is only one God, and only one Lord Jesus Christ in whom we can truly place our faith, and not be disappointed. There is only one way we can be free from sin, and death, and all that goes with it. And it is by faith in Jesus Christ, and in his promises.
Such faith is a gift. It comes by hearing his word, and by being baptized into him. He gives the gift freely – he doesn’t give only to those who deserve it (for after all, none of us does deserve it). He gives the gift of faith, which holds onto the promises he also gives. And then he gives the fulfillment of those promises. From beginning to end, past, present and future, our salvation depends on him and him alone.
By faith… we know and trust that Jesus Christ was crucified for the sins of the world, and for my own sins. By faith… we know and trust that Jesus rose from the dead, and that we too shall rise in him. By faith… we look forward to that kingdom to come which he prepares for us even now. All by faith. And because it is from him, and in him, and not from us and in us, we are certain. We believe. We trust. We know. In Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.