Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-19, Genesis 15:1-6
I like to take a shower every morning. Not quite a hot shower, but someplace a little north of warm. Sometimes I probably spend more time in the shower than I should, but I really enjoy the feel of the water against my muscles and the water running down my face. I really enjoy showers.
The first house that we live in was probably built in 1920 or so, and the plumbing was not up to snuff, and sometimes I would be in the shower upstairs and, not knowing I was in there, Julia would flush the toilet downstairs. Of course what would happen is that the toilet would divert all the cold water in the old pipes away from the shower, and I would have to jump back to get out of the way of the suddenly scalding water. Other times Julia would have to wash something and so she’d turn on the hot water downstairs, and suddenly my nice warm shower was cold enough to turn my skin blue.
I couldn’t really complain when that kind of thing happened, because it kept me honest. It still does, when I think about it. It keeps me from taking my shower for granted. Living in a country and at a time when I can have hot running water just by turning a knob on a wall is an amazing thing, and it is way too easy for me to just assume that’s how it is for everybody. It’s too easy for me to take my shower for granted, so it’s probably good once in a while to be reminded of how much I really enjoy it and what it would mean to have to go without it.
When someone joins the church, we ask them to declare their faith in Christ. Faith is the very first thing we ask people to talk about in the church. Faith is the assumption that is beneath all of our worship. Faith is the cornerstone of what we do as a church. Faith is what defines us as Christians – we have faith in Christ, we are people of faith. Faith is in many ways at the center of the church.
But when we talk so much about faith, like “living your faith” and “faith versus works” and “the community of faith” and “the people of faith” and all this, when we talk so much about faith and around faith, do we really know what we’re talking about? Do we really know what faith is and what faith allows us to do?
Actually, what is faith? If faith is this big deal that is so important, what is it? What does it mean? How does faith matter in the way we live?
The writer of Hebrews has the answer for us. To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for and to be certain of the things we cannot see. Faith – to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.
What does that mean, to be sure of the things we hope for? Well, let’s look at Abraham and Sarah. God made a covenant with Abraham and Sarah. We heard a piece of that covenant in our reading from Genesis, and Hebrews talks about the covenant a bit more. A lot of things were supposed to happen as a part of the covenant: a child in their old age, a new land, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and a new nation, born of their children and their children’s children and their children’s children’s children.
Now all of these things did not happen before Abraham and Sarah died, but some of them did. No, Abraham and Sarah did not live to see the formation of Israel. They did not experience the biggest of God’s promises. But they did experience the miracle of childbirth in their own lives, at an age when it would have been impossible without God. They did live in a new land, rich and fertile, good for the crops and the flocks. They did see their flocks grow beyond their wildest dreams.
They did not see the final promise, the establishment of the new nation, but they got a glimpse of it through the other things that happened in their lives, through all these other things – the new land, the children, the riches. Abraham and Sarah saw these things happen in their life, and so they were sure that what God said would happen really would happen. They were sure of that which they hoped for.
Faith – to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.
That’s how it is with us. The kingdom of God has not yet established its control on this planet. You know it as well as I do. There is still plenty of evil and plenty of hurt and plenty of hunger. There are still lots of folks who do not walk in the light. And we are called to reach out to those folks. We are called to spread the kingdom of God.
Now that can be scary. Many of us are used to thinking of faith as something private, as something we hold deep inside. And the whole thing can feel so hopeless anyway. With all the evil in the world, how can my talking to someone help? How can my sharing with this one person make a difference in the Kingdom of God?
I have these kinds of feelings too. It’s hard sometimes to open yourself up and share about how you’ve made it through tough times because of God’s people. It’s scary sometimes to invite someone to church or something like that, because we don’t want to be rejected or turned down. Sometimes it does feel useless.
But we can do it because we’re sure of what we hope for. I have known folks who were going through things in their lives that I thought Christ and the church could help them through, and I’ve tried to talk to them about faith, I’ve tried to offer some kind of ministry, and it hasn’t really looked like I got anywhere. I’ve left some of those conversations feeling very frustrated and useless.
Then some of those times people come up later, sometimes years later, and say, “You know when you offered to pray with me? That really stuck with me, and I thought about it awhile, and I decided to see what faith might mean in my life.” Or, “I decide to go back to church”, or, “All of a sudden it just made sense to me.”
Sometimes people have said, “You know, you just seemed like you were the only person that cared. That meant a lot to me. Thank you.”
When any of those things happen, the Kingdom of God has been spread. Maybe just a little, but it’s been spread. When you try to minister to other people’s needs, whether physical or emotional or spiritual, you are planting seeds that may one day grow into a faithful, healthy, loving relationship with God and with people. You are spreading the seeds of the Kingdom.
I know that I will probably not live long enough to see the Kingdom of God fully in this world. I hope I’m wrong, but I will probably die before that happens. I can, however, see the seeds that other people have planted which are growing, and I can see some of the seeds that I’ve planted starting to sprout out a little, and I know that sooner or later the Kingdom will be here. I’m sure of it.
Faith – to be sure of the things that we hope for, to be certain of the things that we cannot see. What does it mean to be certain of the things that we cannot see?
When I started on this sermon I was having a lot of trouble. I thought I knew what I wanted to say, but it wasn’t all coming together when I tried to put it down on paper and I was getting frustrated.
So I talked to Julia, and I asked her to pray for me. And she said that she already had. Not just that she would, but that she already had.
At that moment I felt strengthened. At that moment I felt renewed. At that moment I knew that I was not alone. Julia wanted me to be finished, too. Julia wanted me to do well. And Julia was praying for me. Instead of thinking about whatever pleasant or interesting things she could have thought of, Julia was praying for me.
That meant that I’d feel God with me. Not that God would be closer to me than usual, for God’s Spirit is always present in our lives. It didn’t mean that God would change and come closer. It meant that I would change.
It meant that I would change. That my attitude, my awareness would be changed. I would be more aware of God’s presence. I would be more sensitive to God’s leading. I would try to get my words and my thoughts out of the way and let God’s words and God’s thoughts come through.
The knowledge that Julia cared and was praying for me renewed my faith. It reminded me that I am not alone, that I am part of a family – a family of faith, a family of people who share their faith in God, a family of people who care for one another and pray for one another, a family of people bound together by the bonds of love.
When you see a group of mountain climbers, they will have a rope that is tied to one person and then the next and then the next, connecting them all together. That way if one of the climbers should fall, the combined weight and strength and stability of the other climbers can be enough to save him or her. The rope that holds all of the climbers together just might save their lives.
We are mountain climbers, struggling up the side of a mountain named life. There are steep places and easy places. There are high peaks and deep valleys. There is soft grass and there are sharp rocks. Most of us will fall at one time or another. But the rope that holds us climbers together can save us when we fall.
The rope that holds us together is faith. Faith in a God who commanded us to love one another. Because those bonds of faith are here, we can lift one another up and support one another when we fall no matter what.
You can’t see the rope if you look. We don’t all look like family. We have different blood, different allergies, different parents, different tastes. We have different clothes and cars and houses and ethnic and religious backgrounds. We do not look like family. It’s nothing that you can see.
But it’s there. It’s there, and it’s real, and if you need that support you can feel it. If you start to fall, that rope will tighten up and the rest of the people here will dig in their heels to keep you from falling. Prayers will be said. Songs will be sung. Help will be offered. Love will be extended.
That’s what we try to do anyway, and it’s not because we’re blood relatives. It’s not because we are part of a secret club, or because it’s something we’re paid to do.
Love and help will be extended because of our faith, because of that faith which holds our hearts together in service to God. If you look around this room you can’t see the faith, but you know it’s there. You can’t see the rope but you’re certain that it’s there.
Faith- to be sure of the things that we hope for, to be certain of the things that we cannot see.
May we hold together our hearts and our lives with the rope of faith. May our hearts be connected to one another in mutual love and support, and connected to God in trust and belief. May we do all that we can to strengthen those connections and to strengthen our faith – to be more sure of the things we hope for, and to be more certain of the things we cannot see. Amen.