Faith, Faith, Faith….

A sermon preached August 8, 2010 at Southminster Presbyterian Church.

Genesis 15:1-6
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”

But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.”

He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.


Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
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.

If I were to ask you how to describe the word “faith”, I am confident there would be 100 different definitions. And that’s a good thing. It’s okay. One of the great things about being Presbyterian is that we believe, we have faith, that God intends for diversity of expression.

But part of the reason there are so many understandings of faith is that the word, itself, contains so many meanings in its definition. The dictionary defines faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something”. But the second definition “is strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.”

So, one could say, “I have complete faith that my Faith is the most faithful expression of a Faith.”

Faith is both the act of believing, and often the object of that believing.  No wonder it is so difficult to speak of.
The author of Hebrews was writing to people just like us. People who were living after the Resurrection and waiting for God’s kingdom and reign to fully break into this world of human brokenness and pain.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

And our experience of faith is just one of those things. I can’t just stand here and tell you what your faith should be, because it is a very personal thing.

What looks like faith to one person looks like foolishness to another.

About six years ago, our family was living a comfortable life in Farmington, New Mexico. Justin had a job he loved. I enjoyed only working part time and being able to spend time in the kids’ school, serving as PTA president and class volunteer. Justin’s whole family was in this same town. Life was good, by all measurements.

But I was uncomfortable. Nothing felt right.

One of my friends, who knew I had been thinking of seminary for a long time, said to me one day, “Marci, maybe the time has finally come for you to go to seminary.”

I can still picture everything about that moment because it was such a moment of truth and clarity for me.

I went home and told Justin the time had come. The next year involved applying to seminary, Justin interviewing for jobs, selling our house, saying goodbye to friends and family, and moving across the country to Georgia.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

I have a friend whose faith in Jesus Christ compels her to pick up hitch hikers. She has been known to bring these kids into her home, let them shower, give them a change of clothes and then call their parents in whatever city to let the parents know their runaway is okay before she takes them to the bus station and sends them on their way.

But she says that the Gospel compels her to look at these kids and see Jesus. And surely, if we saw Jesus on the side of the road, we’d give him a ride? And her faith tells her that Jesus wasn’t kidding when he told the disciples, “when you ministered to the least of these, you ministered to me”.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

I have another friend who recently quit her job. She doesn’t have another job yet, but she felt certain that the time was right to leave her last job to prepare for whatever was waiting for her. Many of her friends, perhaps including me, suggested, ‘you know, you could just stay in your current job a little longer until something better comes up’.  But in the time since she’s left her job, I don’t think she’s regretted her decision one little bit.

Because she has faith that the right position is out there for her.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

I could name tons of other examples of people acting on faith. And I’m sure each of you could share stories from your own life.

And I bet that there were people sitting by you who told you it was foolishness.

And the reality is that sometimes both sides of the argument are right. Sometimes they both have valid points.

The Session is dealing with one such situation right now. The Personnel Committee requested that we run an additional pledge campaign to raise money to hire a youth director. This is an act of faith, trusting that the future of our church will be stronger if we put our resources in the nurture and support of the youth of our church. But raising the extra money can also be seen as an act of foolishness. We are behind on our giving this year and running a deficit. Is it responsible of us to ask for more money?

Both sides are speaking truth. And I confess I am stuck living in both of those viewpoints. As your pastor, I feel responsible for both the financial health and the spiritual health of this congregation.

So what should we be doing?

The author of Hebrews doesn’t just define faith for us, but also gives us some reminders that we aren’t the first people being called to live in faith.

Abraham and Sarah lived in faith. If you go back and re-read Genesis, from about chapters 12 to 25, it is a testimony to their life by faith. From leaving their home and becoming wanderers in a new land to changing their names. From trusting that God would make them, as a barren couple, ancestors of all the nations, to having faith in God’s promise even as God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the son of his old age.

And their story isn’t pretty. There are times in their story when they laugh at God, when they doubt God, when they ignore God all together and try to chart their own course. But, in general, they respond in faith.

And you can just imagine that in all of those faith moments in their lives, there were well intentioned friends and family standing by, giving them different advice.

“Abraham. Why would you sell the ranch and all of these camels to become a sojourner? In this community, you are a man of wealth and importance. Where are you even going?”

“I don’t know, exactly. But God told me to go to the Promised Land and said I’ll be the ancestor of the nations.”

“But you and Sarah don’t have any children. And you’re OLD. And you just remodeled your kitchen! Sarah isn’t going to leave those granite counters without a fight!”

But the writer of Hebrews does something more than just remind us of our ancestors in faith, as important as those reminders sometime are.

Listen to the text again:

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.

Abraham and Sarah died before they ever met their great grandchildren.

They died before Israel became a nation and before the Promised Land was settled.

They died long before the shepherd boy David grew up to unite the people.

They died long before Jesus came for the salvation of human kind.

They died long before the church went from group of frightened disciples hiding in an upper room and spread to the corners of the world, even to Boise.

They died before the church stood up to advocate for the end of slavery, and for voting rights for women, and for child labor laws.

They died before the church went to stand with African American Christians in the South to show their support for the Civil Rights Movement.

They died before Southminster was founded to share God’s love in this neighborhood in Boise.

And that is something for us to remember as well. Because we are a part of a much larger narrative. Because of what Abraham and Sarah did thousands of years ago, we are here today. Because of what those who have come before us have done, we are here today.

So, how are we participating in this great faith experiment, so that people down the road will benefit from God’s love?

A little later in worship, we’ll be blessing these backpacks, which the Presbyterian Women will then distribute to schools and agencies in Boise so that kids who can’t afford to buy school supplies will have them. Over 400 children in this community will begin the school year with dignity and with the basic needs that you and I take for granted. I don’t know how long it has been since you last started a school year, but a new backpack can be a powerful thing.

You have participated in this great faith journey by supplying backpacks and school supplies to fill over 400 backpacks, even though none of these backpacks will benefit you directly.

And that’s another part of faith. Often the times we answer in faith are times that we do things to benefit someone else. Like Abraham and Sarah, who didn’t get to know their great grandchildren, we still respond in faith so that our children and our children’s children will have a better life.

More than that, we respond in faith because, like Abraham and Sarah, we are seeking to participate in bringing the Kingdom of God to this world.

And that is something worth having faith in. Because the God who has called us is dreaming a future for us that is better than anything we could dream up on our own. I want to leave you with some quotes about faith that I collected this past week.

“Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof.” Kahlil Gibran

“Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.” Oswald Chambers

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

Elie Wiesel

“I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me–that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.” 
— Anne Lamott (Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith)

“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

Thomas Aquinas

“Faith is not trying to believe something regardless of the evidence; faith is daring something regardless of the consequences”.  Sherwood Eddy

Faith is a bird that feels dawn breaking and sings while it is still dark.
                                                                           -Rabindranath Tagore

And, finally, from my Aunt Gail: “Faith is trusting that the unknown will turn out to be loving.”

Friends, may we walk in faith, trusting that the unknown future will turn out to be loving. Amen

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