Monday, August 12, 2013

Sermon - Hebrews 11:1-16 - Pentecost 12

Hebrews 11:1-16
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Cassopolis, MI
August 11th, 2013
Pentecost 12

“The righteous shall live by faith.”

“We hold that a man is justified by grace through faith.”

“Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”

Holy Scripture has a great deal to say about faith.  In our Old Testament reading we see Abraham, that great man of faith - whose faith has served as an example for some 4000 years.  We are children of Abraham, “by faith”.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus calls his people to trust God’s provision - and chides them for being “you of little faith.”

And here, Hebrews 11, sometimes called “The Great By Faith Chapter” of the bible.  We see this parade of Old Testament figures who lived by faith.  We hear this refrain about all their good deeds done “by faith”, and how they trusted in God despite what could be seen with worldly human eyes.

Perhaps here also the clearest scriptural definition of faith:  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

The problem with believing in things we don’t see is that, well, we don’t see them.  And our Old Adam, our sinful nature, likes his eyeballs a little too much.

Of course I don’t mean just our sense of sight.  I mean our eyes and ears and all our senses, and our human reason, too.  When you have every earthly reason to believe something is one way, but someone points your nose to a passage of scripture that says just the opposite - here’s the rub.  Here’s where the devil works, to create doubt and despair.
Take creation - Hebrews says, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”  Ah, but my eyes say differently.  My ears hear all these smart people saying otherwise.  My textbook at school says it was evolution, and a purposeless big bang, and a godless process of randomness that brought about this creation.  They write books about this and make convincing TV documentaries.  And frankly, I’m a little embarrassed to admit I believe in creation sometimes, and well, maybe I doubt it, myself.

But the word is clear.  Genesis leaves no doubt, “in the beginning, God created...”  And Hebrews agrees.  And so, for that matter, does Jesus Christ.  Sin and Satan would have us doubt, but God calls us to believe what is not seen.

And this just sets the stage.  For there is so much more that is unbelievable about our faith - so much more in which to hope, so much more which is unseen.  The fact that he is creator means he sets the rules.  And where God sets a rule, a sinner will break it.  This too, we need to see:

That there is a God who judges sin.  Hard to believe that sometimes, in a culture that (if it admits there’s a god), believes in a god who doesn’t judge (and you better not, either!).  A smiling, almost senile grandfather in the sky who is either oblivious to our misdeeds, or just laughs them off like the antics of a toddler.  

But the Word of God paints a different picture entirely - one of a righteous judge who is righetous-ly angry over sin, for he is holy - and you are wicked.  He will punish the wicked, and damn the unbeliever.  He will judge the goats and say, “depart from me”.  And there, outside of his presence, will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  

Do we believe in Hell?  Do we believe in punishment for sin?  Do we believe that we are sinners?  What do we see?  Will we believe?  And yet still, believing in God’s wrath and the reality of his punishment - this isn’t really what we mean by “faith”.

But faith is needed for entirely this reason - that it trusts in what is not seen.  For faith lays hold of the promises of God in Jesus Christ.  Faith is  what grabs onto all the good things God has said - and which yet our eyes do not see.  Faith sees beyond what is seen.  Faith, your faith, a gift from God in itself... this faith saves you.   It is by faith  in Christ that we live.

This faith is rooted in Christ and his promises, that when your sin seems oh-so-great, his forgiveness is greater.  It’s faith that when you just can’t shake the guilt, the shame, you are baptized into Christ’s righteousness.  Faith - in his gifts - that you can’t see or hear or taste or smell - that in bread and wine he gives Christ’s body and blood for your forgiveness.  Faith that the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover sin - even your sin - even your deepest, darkest sin.  Washed in the blood of the lamb, even if you can’t see a speck of red on you.

Faith is especially important when life in this sinful world dumps its troubles in your lap.  When you feel so buried with sorrow and worry and calamity and when enemies surround you at every turn.  When it seems to your eyes that if there is a God, he has surely forsaken you - or has a sick sense of humor.  When despair is lurking at your door and satanic doubt twists your self-pity into anger at the Lord himself...

Have faith.  Remember to trust in what is true - even if it is not seen.
God is love.  And his love is for you.  He so loved the world, including you, that he sent Christ.  And Christ has died for you.  And Christ has won for you the victory, even over death itself!  Have faith.  He will not leave you or forsake you.  He will not treat you as you deserve.  He who has spared not his own son, how will he not also, graciously, give us all good things?

In our troubles, it is faith that chomps down on the promises of God in Christ like a bulldog clamps his jaws on a meaty bone.  Never let go of those precious promises.  They will sustain you in the fights of life, through wilderness and calamity, in the solitude of your pain, and in the din of a life with little outward peace.  In all things, God works for the good of those he loves, and who love him, in Jesus Christ.  We see it, by faith.

And for those of you who feel like you don’t have enough faith, pray with the centurion, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief”.  Remember that faith itself is unseen - a gift that is given by the Spirit (also unseen), through the Word and in the sacraments.

Be strengthened in your faith - as you hear his words and promises again and again.  Don’t be a stranger from this, his house.  Don’t ever let that baptismal water dry off for too long, but keep returning to those waters daily - in repentance, by faith.  By faith, gather at the rail, and receive the precious gifts of Christ - given and shed for you - to strengthen you in the true faith to life everlasting.

And stop looking inward to yourself.  For we do not have faith in faith.  But our faith is ultimately, and only, in Christ.  Look to Christ.  See him, by faith, in his word.  Hear him, by faith, in the words of his servant in this place - who stands in his stead and forgives your sins freely.

Those Old Testament heroes of faith - they died in that faith - never seeing the ultimate fulfillment of what was promised.  How great was their faith!  But we, too, though Christ has come, has died, has risen from the dead - we too, still look forward to a future day - a final hope, in faith.  That our Lord will return and grant us the promised homeland, that heavenly country, that city of eternal citizenship.

Live in that same faith, dear Christians.  For the hope of Abraham, and all the other men and women of faith - is the same hope we enjoy, the same one in whom we believe, and in whom we live, by faith.  In Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

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