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Tag Archives: Hebrews 11:1-3

The Conviction of Things Unseen

(a sermon for August 18, 2019, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16)

(Note:  An audio version of this message can be heard here)

It was a small moment, but I dare say that it was one of the more enlightening moments of my summer vacation.

We’d gone up to Mapleton that day visiting both the in-laws and our son and his wife who live nearby.  Zach and Jess’ house is literally out behind where my mother and father-in-law live, and within walking distance, so I’m on my way up there when this old, dilapidated and nearly rusted-out pickup truck drives up beside me, and this old, dilapidated and nearly rusted-out man leans out of the truck window, laughs out loud and says to me (and, by the way, it being church and all, I’m cleaning this up just a little bit), “It really stinks to get old, doesn’t it?”

Now, I don’t know this guy from Adam (!) but he seemed friendly enough, so I just laughed and said, “Oh yeah, it happens to every one of us sooner or later!”  To which he replied, “Well, good for you to be out here walking… you want to stave it off for as long as you possibly can!”  I’m still just laughing, and with my Maine accent kicking in I say, “Ayuh, I figured I’d best be kickin’ that can solidly down the road!” And then the man says this: “Well, you know what, nobody should be out here walking alone… tomorrow I’m coming out to look for you so we can walk together!”  And with that, he just smiles, gives me the official “Aroostook County Wave” and roars off down the road. And as I’m watching him go I’m still laughing, but I’m thinking, how old does this guy think I am?

I mean, granted, I wasn’t exactly at my Sunday best that morning… I’m on vacation, after all, so I’m in shorts and a t-shirt; my hair’s getting shaggy and I’m sure I was sporting some beard stubble, but come on!  I know I’m 60 years old, but did I really look that… that… dilapidated?  Maybe it was the way I was walking down the road; perhaps there was a bit more maturity in my step than I intended (after all, as has been pointed out to me, I may have two new hips, but the rest of my body is still 60)!  All I can say is that apparently I was not only headed to Zach’s house, but also quite literally to the end of the road… my road!   And so when I got back I could let everybody in the family know that it was now official, because the truth of the matter had been unquestionably confirmed for me while on the journey out there on the “old town road,”  so to speak:

I’m old.

Now, don’t misunderstand me here; I’m not headed for a rocking chair just yet!  But I do have to say that for me this chance encounter “on the way” did end up serving as something of a parable, and an apt metaphor for life itself:  simply put, that we’re all on this “walk of life,” aren’t we; taking the journey step by step, mile by mile, year by year, ever and always moving toward some kind of long-term vision for the future; raising a family, having grandchildren, getting ready for retirement, trying to live your life with some kind of integrity so that when you finally do leave this world behind, it’ll be a better place than when you found it.  That’s what we do, right; that’s what our journey, and the walking, is all about!

And yet, we also know how utterly unpredictable life can be, and how quickly things can change in ways that are often wonderful but sometimes… challenging (What’s that expression; I think it’s attributed to Woody Allen, of all people: “If you want to make God laugh,” he once wrote, “just tell him about your plans!”).  So often the hard reality of life is that plans change: there’s a bad medical diagnosis, the loss of a job, a shift in a relationship status — hey, maybe you discover that you’re not as young as you used to be (!) — but at the end of the day some of the things we envision get postponed, others change as we along and a few, well, don’t happen at all.  And as far as leaving the world a better place?  Well, when we look around as we do these days to see that world that keeps spinning recklessly out of control, we can’t help but wonder if that’s even possible.

And yet… and yet, we keep walking, don’t we?  We stay on the journey, we kick that can down the road, we keep on “keeping on,” continuing to go where we are determined to go and to do what we know is right, ever and always staying true to the path that’s been set before us even if at times we’re not all that sure where that pathway’s going to end up!  We walk in faith… because, as our text for this morning has so beautifully proclaimed, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Understand, friends, that this has nothing to do with wishful thinking, which is the expectation that by some miracle that which has never happened before in our lives will come to pass; nor is it even about optimism, per se, as optimism has to do with the strength and resilience of the human spirit and the confident belief that good will triumph, eventually and finally, no matter what.  And there’s certainly a place for that; but faith is different.  Faith, you see, is all about hope: a hope that is founded in God and which is made real and vindicated because of God’s faithfulness!  Lest you think I’m just talking in circles here, let me put it another way: in the words of Craig Barnes, “Faith isn’t something we get.  It’s something that gets us.  We don’t possess it.  We are possessed by it… faith is a grace from God – a grace that changes everything about your vision of life in this world.”  So faith, then, is the assurance of things hoped for, precisely because that assurance comes from God; it’s not simply our confidence in the triumph of good, it’s our understanding that this is how good triumphs, solely by God’s faithfulness unto us!  It’s how you and I keep walking the path set before us even when we’re not at all sure of what’s ahead; for faith, beloved, is “the conviction of things unseen.”

This 11th chapter of Hebrews, of which we read just a small portion this morning, is considered one of the greatest affirmations of faith that’s found in all of Holy Scripture, and moreover a celebration of the heroes of faith who had gone on before, from Abel to Noah to Abraham to Moses and beyond, all these people who spent their lives believing in this great hope that had its source in an ever faithful God.  But what’s interesting is that if you read just prior to where we picked up the reading this morning, in the 10th chapter, you read how Paul is urging the people to not “abandon that confidence” in their own Christian faith, saying to them, “you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.”  Understand, we’re not talking about a group of people who have turned away from God, but those who have kept on, and who likely have a long way yet to go on the journey.  So, says Paul, you need to know what faith truly is; hence this grand affirmation of faith in the chapter that follows.  Actually, there are two Greek words that are used in that regard:  first, there’s upostasis, which translates as “standing under,” and speaks to “a foundation of belief,” that comes from Jesus himself; in other words, Jesus is the very picture of the “bedrock of God’s identity,” “something basic, something solid, something firm” that “provides a place from which one can hope.” (Amy L.B. Peeler, NT Professor, Wheaton College) It is, as we read, the “assurance of things hoped for.”

The other word used is elegchos, the translation of which is a bit murkier, but is probably best referred to in English as “evidence” or even “proof” of what we have difficult comprehending; that is, in the words of The Message, “our handle on that which we can’t see.”  In other words, even if on this point on your journey you’re having some doubts (I don’t know, maybe some random passer-by has suggested you’re too old to keep walking!), don’t forget there are those who have gone before who continued to stand firmly upon God’s faithfulness, and you would not want to reject that evidence!  Case in point: Abraham, who demonstrated his faith by going to the place where God called him to go, sight unseen, and who continued to be faithful, though “this great obedience never really paid off” during his lifetime, living out his days “as in a foreign land, living in tents.”(Peeler)  And yet, over time and across generations that promise would come to fruition, and Abraham “looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Likewise, the promise of descendants as many as the stars up in the heavens did not happen in exactly the way that neither Abraham most especially (!) Sarah were expecting; nonetheless, even though they were elderly and “as good as dead”Paul’s words, not mine, friends (!) – there was a child, the beginning of a great multitude of descendants.

The point is, it was by faith that Abraham and Sarah kept walking; they kept looking and moving forward, firm in the knowledge that God’s faithfulness and his sure and certain promise of a land and a home and a family.  They truly had a “conviction of things unseen,” and the question for you and me is whether we’re willing in our lives – and, might I add, in our care of the world and culture that surrounds us – to keep walking in faith despite all the disruptions that seek to keep us off track; looking forward to all signs of God’s faithfulness and love as we go.  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” and just as it has been for countless generations of the faithful, what that means for us is that no matter how “round about” the journey has seemed to become for us, “we can depend on God to see us home… [because] the destination of the journey of faith is never in doubt.” (Mark Ramsey, “Today”)  We just have to keep walking.

I have shared with you before that one of my great heroes of the faith is the Rev. Dr. Fred McFeely Rogers, a Presbyterian minister better known, of course, to generations of children and families as “Mister Rogers” from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.  I could tell you about a hundred different things I loved about the man, but here’s the latest, something I just learned this week: did you know that whenever Fred Rogers made a speech to one group or another, or when he was on television apart from the “neighborhood,” and even when he was amongst Hollywood celebrities and accepting an Emmy Award for his work in children’s television, “never failed to end his remarks, not with ‘thank you very much,’ or ‘have a good evening,’ but always by saying, ‘May God be with you.’”  And not, by the way, ‘God bless you,’ because “he knew that God had already blessed them, couldn’t help but bless them, would always seek to bless them.”  No… it was always “May God be with you,” because Mister Rogers’ fervent wish, and indeed, his prayer was that each one of those hearing his words would be aware that God was with them in their lives and along their journey.

As the old song goes, “the road is long with many a winding turn.” So it is with faith, beloved… to walk in the presence of the Lord, never looking back but always moving forward, can often be a daunting task indeed.  You know, one thing that old guy in the pickup truck had right was that nobody ought to be walking alone, and there should be someone to walk along with us when we go.  But the good news is that in faith, we’re never alone on the journey. To quote another Presbyterian Church leader, the Rev. Mark Ramsey from Atlanta, “[Faith] knows the challenges of life and the strife of the world.  But God renews faith daily.  Faith gives us a home.  It gives us a road to journey toward that home.”  And as we keep walking on the journey, “God’s hope is persistent and lasting.  It goes eye to eye with hardship and keeps on hoping.”

My prayer for each one of today is that we’ll have that assurance of all the things we hope for, the conviction of what we can’t see… and that awareness of God’s presence with you along every step of the way.

May God be with you, beloved…. May God be with you!

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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FAQ’s of Faith: What About Faith?

(a sermon for February 25, 2018, the 2nd Sunday in Lent; second in a series, based on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 and Luke 17:5-10)

And the disciples said to Jesus, “Increase our faith!”  That’s all we need, Lord… just give us a little more faith, won’t you please?

As we heard our text for this morning being read, maybe your reaction was the same as mine:  here we go again!  Those shallow, self-serving, never ever satisfied disciples of Jesus, always seeking out more than what they’ve been given; always managing to respond to something as wonderful as faith by making an improbable and downright inappropriate request!  I mean, as though you could even quantify faith in such a way; building it up like you were storing up food in a pantry or hiding riches in a locked safe.  Never mind what Jesus said about having faith the size of a mustard seed being more than enough to hurl a mulberry tree into the ocean (!); once again, those disciples just don’t seem to get it!  Faith is either something you’ve got, or you don’t… right?

Of course… read around this particular portion of Luke’s gospel and you discover there may have been a little bit more to that request than what it seems.  After all, Jesus had just warned them against ever causing another person to “stumble;” that is, to create hardship or temptation in their lives.  He’d also given them the unenviable task of calling out the sins of another disciple, while at the same time making sure they always forgive when there’s repentance; even and especially if that sin happens to have been against them!  Oh, and here’s the kicker: “if that same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”

Good grief!  And understand, this was just the latest of a long series of difficult and pretty overwhelming teachings coming from Jesus!  It’s no wonder that they were asking for more faith; I have to imagine that every one of those disciples were not quietly wondering what it was they’d signed up for when they’d decided to follow Jesus!  How could anybody possibly live up to Jesus’ expectations, much less make a faithful difference in the world as his disciples without… more faith; or at least more faith than what they ever felt like they possessed!  And so, please… please Lord, “Increase our faith!”

And that we can understand, can’t we?

After all, it’s a hard world out there; most especially for any of us who would carry the banner of faith.  There are so many crucial needs in the world that are as yet unmet; so many challenges before us to do what’s right and so much conflict that gets in the way of what needs to be done.  I don’t think that any of us here would argue against the assertion that this is a world in crisis, and yet it’s also seemingly a world of decreased faith; where voices of the Spirit are being constantly drowned out by the din of hateful and divisive rhetoric coming from just about every corner of the public square.  Not to be overstate this or to sound wholly grim, friends; but these are days of confused and conflicted situations where people are both scared and scarred!  I ask you: how can there ever be enough faith to weather the storms of violence that have become all too commonplace in this society; how can we have the faith that’s necessary to truly live out Jesus’ rule of forgiveness, to say nothing of the commandment to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves? What are we supposed to do in a world like this… what about faith in times like these?

As the disciples said to Jesus, so say we: “Increase our faith!”  That’s all we need, Lord… just give us a little more faith, won’t you please?

Actually, maybe the truth is that we’re approaching this request, and indeed this “frequently asked question” in the wrong way.

I’ve always been very fond of our reading for this morning from the Epistle to the Hebrews, a small portion of a much longer exhortation – a sermon in the best sense – on the example of “real, intense, life-changing faith” shown forth by God’s people throughout history.  From Abel to Enoch to Noah to Abraham and every successive generation – men and women, shepherds and warriors, people of power and others who were utter outcasts – here were the people who had more than enough faith to face the challenges before them.  This 11th chapter of Hebrews is quite literally an eloquent and celebrative evocation of “so great a cloud of witnesses” (12:1) that surround us; and it all begins with the author (presumably Paul, though some scholars debate that) declaring that “now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

It’s a very familiar verse, to be sure; in fact, I would dare say that these are the words that a lot of us refer to when thinking about faith, or perhaps more accurately what we think about what happens in faith: that all our hopes will be fulfilled, that our prayers will be answered, and that even though things aren’t turning out the way we would wish for them to be right now, that by grace and somewhere just beyond our sight it’s all happening just the way it should.  What we’re talking about here is not simply what it is we believe about God or about life; it’s also about having “the eyes of faith” even if it doesn’t always jibe with outward appearances, or being willing to take that “leap of faith” even unto the abyss in the knowledge, however uncertain, that we’ll land safely on the other side!

And friends, I would not presume to tell you that this is a wrong assumption; truly, there have been too many times in my own life – and I’m betting in yours as well – where acting that boldly in faith has been the best (and maybe even the only!) response to whatever task or choice or challenge I’ve had to face!  So I’m not here to deny the value and importance of this aspect of our faith; but I also want to say that there’s more to faith than just that.

In that first verse we shared today, faith is referred to in two different ways and with two different words in the Greek language.  The first is upostasis, which we read as “assurance,” but is most accurately translated as “standing under.”  In other words, faith represents a “standing under,” or upon a foundation of belief; a sure and certain belief in God.  Or to put it still another way, it’s our confidence in God that leads us to stand firm in our faith.  To wit, this is how The Message translates this verse:  “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that make life worth living.”  Faith, you see, has to do with trust that God is at the foundation of everything in our lives, the knowledge that God is at work in and through all the joys, the sorrows, the challenges and yes, even the times of crisis in our lives and in our world.

The second word that’s used here in regard to faith is elegchos, which we read as “the conviction of things unseen,” but actually is better translated as “reproof,” “rebuke,” or “evidence.”  In other words, don’t doubt or reject the foundation on which you stand because the evidence of what God is doing and has always done is both powerful and irrefutable!  And that’s where Paul starts his exhortation of the faithful throughout history.  These are the stories of people for whom faith was not merely an intellectual exercise but the direct result of a trusting relationship with the almighty in any and all circumstances, even in those moments when it might seem as though God is silent or invisible.  This is about what happens when everything in life and living becomes girded on God’s movement rather than our own… so don’t dismiss those “things unseen,” for this is where God may yet be at work!

That’s where the disciples made their mistake, you see; they asked Jesus to increase their faith, but what they really needed was a means to more faithfulness.  That’s why Jesus, using that image of the tiny mustard seed, could tell them even in their overwhelmed state that they already had enough faith; and that’s why Jesus goes on to tell them a story about slaves “doing what was commanded” for the sake of the master.  Because ultimately, what makes you a disciple, what makes you strong, what makes you loving, what makes you “faith-full” is to trust in that foundation of God’s presence, power and love, and to let everything else in your life flow from that!

Or, if might borrow a verse from another verse from the gospels, one that we repeat every week here in prayer:  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10)

Not that that’s wholly, if at all, understood!   I’ve known so many people over the years – and this includes a whole lot of church people – who were convinced that the only way they could ever earn God’s love and acceptance and salvation was to aspire to perfection; that living perfect and thinking perfect and being perfect was in fact the meaning of faith, that if you fall short of this goal of perfection, the only solution to this is more faith; and that if you can only garner enough faith then you’ll be a good Christian now and eternally.

But let me just say this, quoting here the words of Charles Reeb:  “Christians are not perfect,” he writes.  “Christians are not in control.  Christians don’t have all the answers.  Christians are not better than other people.  Christians are not folks that can give the perfect theological answer to every question.

“Christians,” Reeb goes on to say, are those who have learned, like Abraham, that God can be trusted… [that] God can be trusted to give peace in the midst of the storm.  God can be trusted to take what is eveil and transform it into something good.  God can be trusted to empower you in the midst of trouble.  God can be trusted to receive you when you die.  God can be trusted!”

Faith, more than simply believing a set of ideas and much more than following a series of rituals, practices, habits and even sacraments, is ultimately trusting in God; and beloved, as Christians you and I know we can trust in God not only, as the Letter to the Hebrews proclaims, because God has been shown throughout history to be trust-worthy, but most especially because God has sent his Son Jesus to us as the ultimate assurance of everything we hope for in our lives, as well as the sure and certain evidence of that which is yet to come.  And sometimes – most times, in fact – having more faith simply comes down to it is taking up a life that is steeped in faithful living; it is to let God’s presence and power move us through challenge, doubt and all those times of feeling overwhelmed, rather than trying to make it happen through our own efforts.

It is a hard world in which we live; and sadly, there’s hardly a day in which somewhere that sad truth isn’t reinforced for us.  But we have hope for a better world; because in faith, dear friends, we trust in God.  And it’s in that faith that you and I can continue, even now in the midst of it all, to be faithful and seek to live unto that hope that is assured to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and by the on-going movement of God’s Spirit.

Let us not be overwhelmed, beloved; but let us be moved by God to do what need to be done for the sake of the kingdom: to care for those in need; to protect the vulnerable; to reach out to the lost and the lonely; to offer up friendship to those who dwell on the fringes of life and living; and to contribute, each in our own way, to what’s good and right and loving; so that we might grow as disciples and let our very lives serve as a witness to God’s presence and power all around us.

That’s what faith is about.  And for this, and so much more, may our thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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Trust in the Promises Fulfilled

IMAG0252(a sermon for October 25, 2015 – 22nd Sunday after Pentecost and Stewardship Sunday, based on Hebrews 11:1-12:2)

It has been called the most sublime definition of faith ever given, and I would tend to agree: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

In that single verse of scripture is the assertion that all the promises of God in which we have our hope are true; it is the expression of our inner certainty that the unseen things of life — things like grace, like love and even like God himself – surely exist, even when the world as we know would seem to mount evidence against it.  Faith is the capacity to believe in that which cannot always be proven by means of logical and empirical proof, but is in fact very real indeed.  As Christians, faith is our creed: faith in the presence and power of a living, loving God made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ our Savior; faith in the confidence that comes in knowing that God’s Holy Spirit is with us in the here and now; faith that even now, even in these times, God’s purpose and plan is unfolding for the sake of his kingdom to come.

When you come right down to it, friends, that’s our core belief as Christians and as the church; that’s ultimately the reason why we’re all here today!  And I suspect that most of us here can easily claim that belief as our own.  Granted, there are as many pathways to understanding what faith is all about as there are people in this sanctuary, and then some; there’s a reason that in this tradition we like to talk about how you’re welcome here “no matter where you are in life’s journey.”  So you and I might come at things from slightly different perspectives; but ultimately, we’re here out a common understanding that we want, we need, we embrace this thing called faith, which is, as we’ve heard this morning, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

The question that always arises, though, is what that means out there; how what we believe connects to how we live.  In other words, do we believe it to the extent that we’re willing to actually “step out in faith,” to actually let that faith we claim as our own guide our lives, shape our ideals and set our priorities?  Do we believe it to the extent that we’re willing to take “the leap of faith” necessary for the sake of dreams and visions, the kind of dreams and visions that come to us from God?  Do we believe enough to trust in the promises made by God that those dreams and visions will come to pass?

It’s a good question, and an important one; but if we’re being honest, the answer has to be… not always!   Wayne Cordeiro, in a book of his entitled Dream Releasers, actually addresses this rather nicely when he writes that “the richest place on the earth is not the diamond mines of South Africa or the gold caches of Ecuador. It is not the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, [nor] in the uranium excavations of the Balkans.”  No, “the richest plot of land on this planet is in your very own neighborhood… it’s the cemetery (!)… the graveyard,” he says, “is the wealthiest place of all creation, [because] beneath those rectangular pieces of sod lie countless unsung melodies and unwritten poems.  The grassy plots overflow with brilliant ideas that could have transformed entire communities, rehabilitated the lost and borne hope to the weary.  Our burial grounds,” writes Cordeiro, “reek with unattained successes and unrealized dreams.”

To be sure, that’s a pretty dramatic and unsettling image, but it does point up the end result of all those missed opportunities to step out in faith; all those “dreams deferred” that in time became “dreams denied.”  Who knows why it happens; perhaps it’s fear of failure, or for that matter, fear disguised as caution or prudence.  And, yes, at the end of the day a whole lot of people simply prefer the tried and true to living on the edge; they will always go with the predictable rather than with the spontaneous and adventuresome (you can’t ever get lost if you never strike out into the unknown, right?).  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you; but think of just how many lives have never caught fire because of it!  Imagine all that… isn’t… because of that kind of caution: the incredible treasures of life that stayed locked up forever; all the divine blessings that were never enjoyed; all the truths that were never given voice and the chance to take root, blossom and grow in the heart of a new believer… all because someone, somewhere along the line, had the opportunity and refused, for whatever reason, to step up, step out and take the leap of faith.

By the same token, however when one does have the faith and is willing to act on it, incredible, amazing and blessed things can happen, and do!  And this, friends, is exactly what the writer of Hebrews was trying to get across to the early church in our reading this morning; a reminder, as The Message translates it, that “this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.”

Now, what’s interesting about this Epistle to the Hebrews (of which we read an “abridged version” this morning)  is that it is addressed to those who came out of the Hebrew tradition; so rather than engaging in deep philosophical discourse as, say, the Greeks might do, the emphasis here is on history and tradition and storytelling.  So what we have here in this 11th chapter is a story of faith for the Hebrews; or more accurately, a discourse on what faith is about as defined by the stories of the people they knew:  Noah and Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob and Joseph, Moses and David and the prophets.  It’s quite literally “the telling of the tale;” the story of all that these people were able to accomplish was “by faith,” and how by their example, we learn the ways that our lives are to be shaped and directed “by faith” as well.

Take Abraham, for instance:  we are told that it was “by an act of faith [that] Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home [and that] when he left he had no idea where he was going.” [The Message]  And of course, that’s putting it mildly: as Genesis records it, Abraham was upwards of 75 years old when God calls him; at a place in his life when he had to have been feeling the need to slow down a bit!  But God tells him to go, quite literally only God knows where, leaving country and kindred and his father’s house; and amazingly, Abraham, by faith, went!  And that’s only the beginning; we’re also told that “he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents,” all the while “keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations – the City designed and built by God.”  And lest we forget, Abraham’s wife Sarah was also a part of all this, and we find out that again, “by faith” Abraham and Sarah, despite their advanced years, “were enabled” to become parents, thus fulfilling a promise God had made and beginning a line of descendants “as many as the stars in the heavens and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”

The point here is that God called old Abraham to go, and Abraham… went!  He trusted in the promises God made; he took the risk to step out in faith and he answered God’s call… and in the process, Abram also found the pathway that led to God’s righteousness and blessing.  You see, ever so slowly and sometimes in ways that seemed unlikely, incredible and even confounding, the promises made became promises fulfilled!  When old Abraham took his leap of faith nothing would ever be the same again, and so it is, says the Epistle for all of us who would have that kind of faith.

But that said, we need to understand that “that kind of faith” amounts to more than mere philosophizing:  as Sarah Dylan Breuer writes, “Having faith is not about trying to convince yourself that you are convinced of something.  You don’t know you have enough faith when the needle doesn’t leap on a lie-detector test as you say, ‘My journey will birth a people, and we will have a home.’  You know you’ve got faith when, however your heart pounds as you do it and whatever fears you have, you take the next step toward the desert.  Your heart will follow your feet, and you will become more fully the person God sees as your true identity.”

Faith, you see, is acting on what God has promised, even when it doesn’t immediately look promising!  Faith is clinging to God with all your might, knowing that even when we don’t see God, God is there and helping us through.  Faith is stepping out into darkness when God has promised not to let you fall.  Faith is building a boat when the skies are clear and blue with no storms in sight; and yet God says, “Get ready, it’s about to start raining.”  Faith is moving everything you have to follow God’s call, giving generously and sacrificially of that which God has given you if that is where God is leading you.  Faith is knowing in your heart of hearts that the promises God has made will become the promises that God has fulfilled; and so, knowing that, you can go forward, you can take the risk; trusting that it will happen in by God’s intent and in God’s good time.

Friends, may I just say to you that that’s the kind of faith that you and I need to embrace… as persons, as people… and as the church?

Every year as we return to this process of stewardship and begin planning for the church in the coming year, by necessity we end up talking about a whole lot of unknowns.  As much as we might try to predict what’s going to happen next year, how much things are going to cost or how much money is going to come in in 2016 – and led by our trustees, we do a pretty good job of that, I think (!) – in the end, we really can’t know what the future’s going to bring; we can never fully predict what kind of twists and turns the road ahead might take!  So, yes… what we do here today, in making a pledge, or setting a budget, or embracing and committing to, a dream and vision for ministry we share… it all does require from us a true leap of faith.

We don’t know everything that’s going to happen, or how it will all unfold, or how long it’s going to take us to get to where we want to be!  But we do know this, because we’ve seen it; we’ve felt and experienced it together in our life together.  And it’s that in and through all of it, God has been working, God has been moving, God has been speaking, and God has been leading us on the journey.  The promises that God has made are slowly, surely and in ways that have been exciting, sometimes unexpected, and always amazing to behold, are becoming the promises God has fulfilled.

And in this we can trust.

Beloved, it is by faith that we move boldly into the future as God’s people.  It is by faith that we can answer the Lord’s call to love and service in the world.  And it is by faith that we go into those places where the spirit leads, strengthened and emboldened to do our part, each one of us, in bringing God’s kingdom to fruition.  And the thing is that have this ministry of love and hope, you and I here in this wonderful church; but God’s purpose for us is still unfolding, and there is so much for us to do… for those who are lost, those who are lonely, those who stand in the need of mercy and assurance, for a world crying out for justice and true peace.

Our church was gathered as a congregation back in 1842 (says so on the stone out front!); and this place is filled with history; from the first 44 members who met in a worship service led by the Rev. Timothy Morgan to the 120 we have on the rolls today.  It’s a history filled with praise and song, love and care, Sunday School kids and bean “suppahs;” our people have shared moments of incredible joy, and we’ve been there for one another in times of unspeakable tragedy.  And that history goes on… you are part and parcel of that history, and as your pastor I am blessed to be a part of it as well.  And the thing is, “our story” is only just beginning, and our journey “by faith” goes on, starting today, bringing a legacy of faith, service and love to the next generation of believers.  And so, given that we are surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses,” who have in so many ways made us who we are here on Mountain Road, let us truly “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

For your stewardship of time, and talent, and treasure… For your ongoing ministries of care, and service and Christian love… And for the ways, by faith, you continue to trust in the promises made and fulfilled…

Thank you… and thanks be to God!

AMEN AND AMEN!

c. 2015  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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