Faith: God's vision on the horizon

Scripture  |  Psalm 90  |  Hebrews 11:1-3,8-9,13-16

Our NT reading for the day comes from Hebrews chapter 11. It is a reading that is fairly wordy and a little hard to follow. In it the author takes a moment to define one of our biggest theological terms… Faith. 

What is faith? 
What does it mean to be faithful? 
And how can we live out our faith confronted with difficulty of our surroundings in the world?

Part of the reason this reading is so hard to follow is that the author then goes on to support his definition of faith by systematically going through almost every major Old testament figure. Summarizing their life and lifting them up as examples of people who lived their life “by faith.” 

It is a piece of scripture that has been deemed the “faithful hall of fame” because it goes through so many people and lifts up there faithful accomplishments. But because of this, I find it hard to follow all of those different individuals and their stories. So today we are just going to focus on just one of these faithful hall of famers, the father of Isaac and Ishmael, and many countless generations to follow, today we will focus on Abraham and how he was an example of living faithfully…  

Listen now for God’s word to us in Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-9,  13-16

Now, Faith is the realization of the things we hope for, the sure conviction of what we don’t see.
The elders in the past were commended because they showed faith.

By faith we understand that the universe has been created by a word from God so that the visible came into existence from the invisible.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out without knowing where he was going.

By faith he lived in the land he had been promised as a stranger. He lived in tents along with Isaac and Jacob, who were coheirs of the same promise. He was looking forward to a city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God…

All of these people died in faith without receiving the promises, but they saw the promises from a distance and welcomed them. They confessed that they were strangers and immigrants on earth.

People who say this kind of thing make it clear that they are looking for a homeland. If they had been thinking about the country that they had left, they would have had the opportunity to return to it. But at this point in time, they are longing for a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God isn’t ashamed to be called their God—he has prepared a city for them.

 

“Now, Faith is the realization of the things we hope for, the sure conviction of what we don’t see.  The elders in the past were commended because they showed faith.”

The unknown author of our scripture today is writing to a community of early Christians who had lost hope. 

Because of their faith in Christ, because they believed in a crucified savior.. they were put at odds with their surrounding culture. They were imprisoned, they had experienced ridicule, shame, and hostility. And in the thick of this toxic environment, they had lost hope. And perhaps even worse, as their sense of hope was diminishing, they began to loose their faith and trust in Christ all together…

This letter is this author’s attempt to rekindle hope in this community. To remind them that faith matters. To remind them that having faith isn’t about our hopes for the future but our hopes for the now.

Those of you who have been keeping track of my personal life outside this pulpit, will recognize that this is the first time I have preached in a while. As many of you know, I have been away with the birth of our son Ward and I have not preached since late April! Needless to say, a whole lot has happened in my life and in our world since I was last here in this pulpit.

I remember vividly one night in a June a few days after we had made it home from the hospital. It was late, I was sitting in a dark room trying to not make any noise because I was trying to rock Ward back to sleep. And in the darkness and in the silence, a few questions came to my mind. They are questions that I think comes into the mind of every new parent, “What is this world you are coming into?” and “How are your mom and I going to prepare you for the realities of the world?” and… “is there anything that I can do to change this world for the better for you?”

Shortly after pondering these questions, while still trying to calm an upset baby, I opened my phone to read the headlines about the pulse nightclub shooting in orlando. I read about the senseless loss of life at a nightclub that was intended to be a celebration and I suddenly felt absolutely numb.

I remember holding Ward, holding this beautiful new precious life and thinking “Forget the question what is this world you are coming into… what is wrong with this world you are coming into?” 

I think I felt a lot like the people who today’s passage was written towards. I felt like an immigrant. Like the things that I believed in had put my at odds with the world.

I was a person of faith, I have hope in God’s love. I believe in Christ’s redemption of every corner of this world. I believe that the Spirit’s peace is at work unifying and uniting us into one body, but I was beginning to wonder why the world so often seemed to not reflect these beliefs.

This is where the words and images of this scripture really start to matter to me. And it starts with the author’s definition of Faith.

The author of Hebrews defines faith as “the realization of the things we hope for, the sure conviction of what we don’t see.”   Other translations use these words “the assurance of the things hoped for, the confidence in what we do not see.

Having faith is the audacious and sometimes even defiant practice of believing so strongly in an ideal, that it starts to become realized around you. 

Having faith means you start to see, what others can’t see but what God sees. 

Having faith means being assured about and confident in the things God has planned for this world, and sharing that Good news! Because we have faith we see God’s kingdom building on the foundations of this world and we can take part in the building of it.

And this is why the author lifts up the example of Abraham.

Abraham was called by God to leave his homeland so that God could bring him to a new place. A place that God would give to him and his family as an inheritance. 

God told him about this new place, God gave the vision to him, and Abraham went! He didn’t know exactly how he’d get there, or where exactly he was going, but he trusted God’s call and went. And this is the first step of faith. God provides this incredible vision and we respond. We take that step, and we follow where we feel God calling us. We journey on, walking off to that spot on the horizon that God has promised. It is a step that all of us have experienced in one way or another. It is familiar to us. Its the step that put us here in these pews. We’ve heard countless sermons about it. God calls and we respond. We take the “leap of faith.” We drop our nets and follow God into a new way of life.

The second step of faith is the one you don’t hear about that often, it doesn’t make for good soundbites or sermons, but I think it is this step that the author of Hebrews really wants to focus on.

After leaving his homeland, and journeying on, Abraham and his family arrive in Canaan, this land that God promised them as an inheritance. They arrive in that place that was once a spot on the horizon, and when they arrive it isn’t at all as they imaged. 

There are people already living there, the Canaanites. So they are forced to live there as immigrants. They have to go to the mountain range on the outskirts of town and live in their tents. The Journey had not brought them to the destination they imaged, but to the destination that God imagined. And because of Abraham’s faith in God’s destination, they were strangers in a strange land. Forced to live removed from the rest of society, pitching their tents on the outskirts of town. It would have been easy to have second guessed the vision God set for them. It would have been easy to turn around and return home. It would have been easy to close the tent doors to the reality of their situation and loose hope in God’s vision.

But Abraham did something different. Even though the journey had not led them to the destination that they had imagined, Abraham continuedto “look forward to a city that has foundations, A city whose architect and builder is God.” Friends this is the second step of faith.

Faith can put you at odds with the world around you. Faith can make you feel like you’ve set out on a journey to a spot that is eternally eluding you. Just out of sight on the horizon…

Having Faith can often put you in a tent, feeling like an immigrant in a place that God promised would be yours. And there are times where this feeling, this other-ness, makes you want to close up the doors of your tent, stare at the wall, and let go of hope.

But having faith in God means that no matter how tightly you have closed the doors of your tent, God’s vision for this world is still out there on the horizon.

Having faith means looking forward as Abraham did, and seeing the unseeable things that God only God had seen before.

In the midst of the atrocities of our world, in the midst of the hatred, corruption, poverty, violence and abuse that we see occurring on a day to day basis these days, my faith so often makes me feel like an immigrant. Like a stranger in a strange land. It becomes easy to feel like God’s love, Christ’s redemption, and the Spirit’s peace aren’t values shown in our world at all. 

The night that I was rocking Ward at 2am, learning about the shooting in Orlando was one of those nights. I needed to close the doors of my tent if only for a few hours just to grieve for our country, for the LBGT community, and for our world. 

But as soon as I awoke the next morning, amid the stories trying to understand what happened, there were stories of the goodness, there were stories of the outpouring of love, there were stories of vigils in the streets and in opera house parks, and it became easier to lift my head up, open the doors of my tent, and see on the horizon a vision of the world as God intends. A foretaste of God’s kingdom of love, peace, and hope breaking into this world.

Look out from your tents, 

and Look forward…

Look forward to a city that HAS foundations

Look forward to a city whose architect and builder is God.

Amen.