Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16
One summer before coming to Orange I spent time with ‘pastor’ friends on Monhegan Island off of the coast of Maine. On the backside of the island, which faces the ocean,…it gets pretty rough. The coast is practically all rock and the waves are very dangerous. You can hike on that side but there are certain parts that you just don’t go near.
Well, we were close to one of those spots. My seasoned friends, who had vacationed there for years, took me to this place where you had to do a little climbing to get to a spot where the view they told me was spectacular. But the climbing was not straight up however. It was between two boulders that had settled themselves one on top of the other.
The space was tight and you had to sit and curl and turn all the while pulling yourself upward. They put me in the middle so that I could follow one of them up and the other one was behind me so I couldn’t back out. At one point I looked down, I’m sure with a registered look of horror on my face at my friend who smiled and said to me, “There’s a sermon in here”.
He was right. There was a sermon in there and that sermon was about faith. I had to have faith that the boulders wouldn’t, after thousands of years, dislodge. I had to have faith that my friends knew the path we were on and how in the world we’d get back out of there. I had to have faith that they knew we weren’t near the area where we could get washed away to sea. I had to trust and have faith that they would take care of me. That, ultimately God would pull me up and through to the other side. That God would be there each step of the way calling me forward and promising to be faithful. And, by the way, the view was breathing.
We’ll be spending the next few weeks studying and illuminating scripture from the Book of Hebrews. The words of the book are attributed to Paul but honestly, scholars just aren’t sure that it truly is Pauleene. The location is also not known but Rome is a possible contender. The social context for our scripture is that the Jewish Christians are discouraged and demoralized because they are excluded from mainstream culture and they are really feeling the political pressure from the Jewish religious leaders. Paul argues that through Christ we have access to God, just have faith. Let us hear some familiar words as we read from the 11th Chapter of Hebrews….
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
Whether you know it or not, whether you believe it or not, you live your life in faith. Jew, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist….we all live with the hope and desire that the next moment of our life will come out ok. We don’t know what the next minute or hour will bring so we live in faith that life will be good to us in the next moment, that we will accomplish the goal that is set before us, and that we will be with people we know and love. All people live in faith, when you look at it this way. It’s kind of like going to bed with a heavy dose of faith as your sleeping aid that you will wake up in the morning.
We live by faith, we live by experience, and we live with knowledge. At the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, an exhibit on cells includes this sentence: “Any living cell carries with it the experience of a billion years of experimentation by its ancestors.” What a remarkable statement. A little scary too. To know that I am so connected to billions of years of science and evolution and ancestors and creation is for me – organic and grounding. We are connected to those who have gone before us, and as people of faith in the living God we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, our forbearers who, by faith, followed the call of God upon their life.
Abraham and Sarah our brother and sister in faith – lived by their faith. They never gave it up; when they died they died in faith not yet having reached the Promised Land. They lived by faith in a God who, at that time, few others believed in or even knew about. They were drawn and pulled, called into the future by a promise and faith – the amount of faith didn’t matter. Certainly we know that Abraham and Sarah, although they believed, sometimes doubted and laughed at God’s promise! And it is because of their undying faith that they are remembered and memorialized in the New Testament Book of Hebrews.
I feel pretty lucky then because we are fortunate to have this faith gene in our spiritual cells, our spiritual genetic map. To have three thousand years of worth of experience and knowledge in God’s promises all apart of us is grounding. We are not flashes of lightening searching to ground ourselves in something. We are grounded in the faith of Abraham, of Sarah, of Isaac, of Rebekah, on down the line.
Now I know that faith can waver. It can wax and wane like the phases of the moon because it is not theology. As author Frederick Buechner puts it, "Faith is different from theology because theology is reasoned, systematic, and orderly, whereas faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises." And it is. There are twists and turns, ups and downs that are thrown at us every day that ‘tests’ our faith.
I hear it all of the time. I’ve just gotten a bad diagnosis, where is God in all of this? A friend lost his life quite unexpectedly, where is God in all of this? My child was held back in school again, what’s wrong? Where is God in all of this? I thought God was supposed to be there for me.
This is just about the time when you’ll think ‘I’m having a crisis of faith’. But it is not. Faith and trust are steadfast in the midst of difficulties, disappointment and challenges. Faith is that lump in the throat, faith is waiting out the silences and times of unknowing, faith is throwing your hands up in air when you have no words that can convey your feelings.
Faith is what allows us to take a step forward into the future with the assurance that God was, is, and will be there. It is our trusting that God’s promise to love, cherish, care for us, provide for us is still as vibrant and steady as it was for Abraham and Sarah.
We have faith because God has been faithful to our ancestors and will be faithful to us too. Faith is being in relationship with God and placing extraordinary amounts of trust into what lies ahead. The future is open and our lives greet this reality each day. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Faith is taking the first step even though you can’t see the whole staircase.” I say faith is like crawling up between two gigantic boulders so that you can see the light.