Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 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. 9 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. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 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. 12 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.”
13 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, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 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. (Hebrews 11:1-3;8-16 NRSV)
We memorized it in Sunday school. Some of us carry it in our wallets and billfolds. As we read it, the words come quickly to our tongues. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (verse 1)
So, what does it mean?
“The assurance of things hoped for.” “The conviction of things not seen.”
The New Living Translation reads, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.“
We believe because of what we have seen.
The author of Hebrews points immediately to Creation. God spoke creation into being. Let there be light. Let there be fishes and animals. Let us create humanity in our image. God spoke and it happened.
Think about it. I couldn’t get my teenage son to mow the lawn, but God speaks and things happen. The preacher in Hebrews is just beginning with this example. He continues by reminding us of those who have gone before us. This morning we look at Abraham.
Abraham heard God call him out of his homeland. He and Sarah were to leave family, friends and all that was familiar to them for a land of promise. They answered the call and wandered in that land all their lives. They lived in tents. Sarah gave birth to Isaac. Isaac married in that land and gave birth to Jacob and Esau. They lived in the land understanding the promise from God.
But, here’s the thing. Neither Abraham, nor Isaac, nor Jacob ever owned the land. Abraham purchased a small cave so that Sarah and he could be buried, but they never owned the land. Hundreds of years later the land would belong to the great nation founded on Abraham.
They understood themselves to be aliens. They could have returned to their homeland, but they chose to follow the promise and the vision. They ultimate promise of the future kingdom.
Abraham made lots of mistakes in judgements. Yet, he never gave up on the vision. He kept his faith by looking to the future as promised by God. Abraham saw beyond today to tomorrow — even a tomorrow that he would never see.
He lived in tents, a mere earthly existence. He looked forward to the permanent security of being with God.
Faith is what we hang onto because we’ve seen over and over and over again how good and wise and strong God is. Faith is what we cling to when life today is fraught with fighting: fighting words that lead to disharmony and acrimony; fighting words that lead to shootings and death of humanity; fighting words that deepen chasms of opinion; fighting words that get us nowhere.
Red vs. Blue. Democrats vs Republicans. The loudest voice gets heard. The most offensive are looked upon with admiration.
Bigotry. Racism. White supremacy. Ku Klux Klan. White Nationalism. White privilege.
We’re scared to death. The white majority will sink below 50% by 2045. Change is occurring at the speed of light. We can’t keep up with the information age, the twenty-four/seven news cycle. We barely have time for friends and family.
We’re scared to death. It’s no different than it’s been in the past. Every age has its own fears. Today we have terrorism. I grew up with Communism. Some of you fought a war against Fascism on three fronts.
Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish Christians who were being martyred, abused. They even dealt with “plundering of their possessions.” Now, they’re tired. They’re lagging. Some have quit attending worship. They’re losing their faith.
We aren’t being killed for our faith today, but there are some who seek to kill our faith. We aren’t being martyred, but we feel so much alone, wondering if anyone else out there believes as we do? Many have given up going to church and reading scripture. They feel as if they’ve been let down and that nobody cares. They’re tired of speaking peace in a world that strikes terror and seeks out war.
No human being, no matter how powerful, has spoken this world into being. No human being is powerful enough to wipe out your faith. Unless you allow them.
Faith is what we have today because of what we’ve witnessed in the past. Faith is what we have today because of those who have gone before us. Faith is what we have when all hell is breaking out around us. Faith is an inner sight, a vision. God has made the promise and we can count on it. We live in that promise as a response to God.
God can be trusted. God is reliable. Look for moments of grace in your own life. Look back on those you have admired and see how their faith held them in the tough times. Look at scripture. The preacher in Hebrews turned to the books of Genesis, Exodus, Judges and I & II Samuel.
Abel knew suffering, being murdered by his own brother. He gave God the sacrifice that he deserved and even today, his blood cries out for justice for all human suffering.
Enoch walked with God, trusting in his word. His inner vision gave him confidence that God really exists.
Noah trusted God when everyone else said he was being ridiculous. It made no sense to build that ark, but he did it anyway. He made the right choice and lived to tell the story.
Abraham and Sarah needed the trust demonstrated by Noah to travel into the unknown. They didn’t know where they were going, but their destination was clear.
While all hell breaks loose in the world who will listen to? There are many intriguing choices. But, before you listen to the world view, on whom do you place your trust? In whom do you live and breathe and have your being?
With faith, the inner vision, and trust in what we haven’t seen, enter the world as a resident alien and look around you. Where are the words of Jesus being spoken?
Jesus himself gave us his mission statement in the Gospel of Luke:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19 NRSV Italics mine.))
To bring good news to the poor. What would be good news to the poor? Food. A sense of purpose in all aspects of their lives. Where do you see this good news in the world? How do you embody that purpose in your life?
To proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. Who is being held back from what gives life? Where are the blind stumbling around in the darkness? Where do you see release and recovery of sight? How do you embody that purpose in your life?
To let the oppressed go free. To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Who are the oppressed? How can they be set free? Where do you see God’s favor in the world? How do you embody that purpose in your life?
Wherever you see good news and release and recovery of sight and freedom in the world, you see God at work. You see people of faith with that inner vision that allows them to see beyond this life into a new reality when God will ultimately fulfill God’s purposes.
It’s a tall order. Keeping the faith in a broken world is hard in any era. Truth be known we have a choice. We can endure the suffering by keeping faith and holding God’s vision in our sights.
Or we can become overwhelmed by the pain we’re experiencing or witnessing in others. When it’s simply too much, we can avoid the risk and lose hope. We can give up. And what will that accomplish?
We can trust God and we can trust ourselves. We can listen carefully to the worldview through the lens of Jesus’ words. We can speak out courageously on the wrongs in this world, keeping Jesus’ words in mind. Yes, we live in difficult times. Look to God and then to the saints who have gone before us.
A quotation from the books, “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint Exupéry, comes to mind: “Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” (https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Little_Prince)
What they lived for was the vision given them in faith by God and they lived for the future, living out God’s purposes in the now. Faith is the very being of God’s promise. Faith, not in the powers of this world, but in God’s kingdom in the yet and not yet.
On that we live and breathe and have our being.
All glory and honor be to God.