Sermon, Pentecost 9th C, Sunday August 11, 2019.
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
How are you going in the confidence stakes at the moment; bit shaky, or rock solid? And what about conviction; what are you very convicted of when it comes to living life? What would you never compromise; Your support of your elderly parents; your unwell partner; your study program, your search for a partner in life, your continued relationship with someone you love, your hard work to continue your career, your commitment to serve in God’s mission here….
From where do confidence and conviction come? Faith: that is the source of confidence and conviction, says the Hebrew’s writer.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and conviction about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
Faith in what? Faith in things we are already confident in ((because we already have them) even though they are unseen. What are these ‘unseen things” we already have?
This writer tells us to look at people who have lived in these unseen things with unshakable faith for the confidence and conviction we need to live as God’s loved people in the here and now.
I reckon these words in Hebrews 11 are like a Co-Op catalogue. It is a list of goodies on offer at very good value that will bring great benefits to you.
But here, the goodies are free and there is really only one ‘goody”, and that is faith in Jesus and all his gifts of grace already yours.
This catalogue tells you that faith in Jesus’ forgiveness, his rule, his grace, his power for living is the only commodity that will get you through not just a cold night (new heater), or a cooking session (new fry pan), or a night watching the telly (couch, TV), but Jesus in all his fullness and with all his gifts will get you through suffering, pressure, darkness and even death itself.
This catalogue has seventeen examples of faith from five stages in the story of God’s people.
There are three stories from three very early people (Abel, Enoch and Noah) who are shown to be like Jesus; four stories from the life of Abraham as a picture of what it is to be a faithful person/community of God, three stories from three later patriarchs (Jacob and etc) as what it is to be heirs of God’s blessing, four stories from the life of Moses again, as being like Jesus, and three stories from the Exodus and later journey into the land as examples of how God saved people from slavery and evil. It is the best catalogue you would ever get in your mailbox! You’ve got mail now!
All those people and their stories hinge around that gift called “Faith”; mentioned about twenty times in the chapter.
It would be easy to believe that we are being told to simply try harder at having faith in Jesus. All these people of old lived in faith. So should you. So, try harder to believe!
But that is actually NOT what this catalogue of faith says (what a relief!). Just the opposite. This catalogue does not ask you to do more or try more or buy in more to Christianity. It is a catalogue that shows you what God GIVES YOU in good faith so you can live by faith in him. And this catalogue is also like an instruction manual. It tells us how to receive this gift of faith.
Faith here is a GIFT to be received, a future already begun, a city already under construction, a new country already here – all by Jesus’ death and resurrection for us.
Faith is to be received, as these people of old received it, not achieved by their own or our own magnificence!
The writer is convinced that God makes your faith, not you. You don’t have to try harder to have more faith. We only need to receive the stories of faith and trust these ‘things unseen’.
But how? By HEARING the Word of God – words like these;
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command.
Abraham, when called (by the Lord) to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went. God creates and calls by his Words.
Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. God shapes the rise and fall of us all by words.
For he (Abraham) was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. God’s words design and construct us.
Sarah, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. Families and futures exist and continue by God’s words of promise.
But it is so easy to look elsewhere than God’s word for confidence and conviction to live life.
It would have been the easier option for the people to whom this Hebrews writer writes. They live in small communities living in mildly or maybe hostile communities where their faith in Jesus brings them isolation and alienation.
I think we can relate to this. We tend to search our own past and our own inner strength more than Jesus’ words of promise.
We would rather stay in the dodgy country we already know because at least we know it and can control it a bit more than this future promised country we can’t fully see. At least we know our way around our town. Who knows what would happen to us if we went to another city like Sydney or London or New York?!
Maybe we tend to look backwards too. Not at what God has done (as this writer does) but at what we have done or where our family has come from and the like.
As you hear these stories of faithful people of long ago you notice that they deliberately chose to live with their heart in a home not here. They saw themselves as lifelong resident aliens in the world.
Their confidence and conviction did not stem from any nostalgic ‘looking back to the good old days’, or ‘the good old country’ for which they longed to return one day.
They did not even cling nostalgically to their family or national or immigrant heritage, they longed for something far better than that.
Friends, we are being urged to trust Jesus for our heart and our home that is in the unseen things and the unseen person from which they come; thing and a person who is largely misunderstood or dismissed most.
We are being called to actually trust these unseen things of God because Jesus has said them, done them and promised them.
Things like forgiveness, hope, the Spirit’s power, and the grace of our heavenly Father (Hebrews 11:1). These are already now available to us (Hebrews 6:18). They are things that will be fully inherited by us at the close of the age (Hebrews 6:11).
They are the very good things (Hebrews 9:11), which are also the better things than we can manufacture within and in this old country (Hebrews 6:9).
They are heavenly realities or spiritual powers (Hebrews 9:23), such as the world to come (2:5) and the age to come (6:5), complete salvation from our idolatry, weakness, sin, guilt, shame, dying, suffering…. (2:3; 6:9; 9:28).
They are the everlasting eternal inheritance given in Baptism and sustained by His Word (9:15). They are our true heavenly homeland (11:14, 16), the heavenly city (11:10, 16; 12:22; 13:14), the unshakable kingdom (12:26), the holy things in the heavenly sanctuary (8:2; 9:8, 12; 10:19), and the heavenly place of rest (4:1–11).
Where are you looking to find some confidence and some conviction to deal with whatever you need to deal with? Are you putting real trust in things you can see (and control) or the one whom you cannot see, and his marvelous but unseen gifts only received by faith and no other way?
Are you even looking anymore? Are you unsure where to look? Are you simply tied to your own story, your own family story, of the past in general?
Maybe you have stopped looking some time ago and are just going through the outward motions for lack of better ideas?
Friend, no need to be ‘past bound’ so much. No need to look only within yourself to find the confidence and conviction you need to climb the mountain before you.
No need to be so tied to your ow story or your family story to not be captured and made alive by Jesus’ story and Jesus’ gifts that bring you into his present and give you a solid future.
No need to try harder to believe. Simply receive more of God’s Word and let him give you faith by which to live by faith and its gifts of confidence and conviction.
Unlike it was for them the new country is close. Jesus is here. Our future in his love and acceptance is here now in part, one day in full.
Seek the confidence and conviction you long for and need that comes from faith by hearing these stories of faithful people and receiving the gift of faith from the word of this Saviour. He is your confidence and conviction to live now as you journey on to the better country already real and ready.
And one more thing: God is not ashamed of you?
God says to them and us that “I am not ashamed” to associate with you.
God is proud of any person of faith (even mustard seed sized faith!) in Jesus. God is proud “to be called your God” (Heb 11:16).