Time after Pentecost, Lectionary 19
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which appear.
Itís all about faith. This is an easy statement to make, but it is much harder to live it. After all, what is faith? How do we define something so intangible, so incomprehensible? The scriptures are filled with faith stories, and we all have our own stories to tell, but can we really define what it is? And what happens when our actions are faithless? Does this mean we donít have faith?
We know that Abram had faith. The Old Testament and the Epistle lesson remind us of that. He trusted God and followed Him out of the world He knew into a world he did not know. He left his home and his people to become a nomad, to journey to a strange and foreign land because a God he didnít know called him. There is nothing reasonable about Abramí story, at least from our point of view. How do we react to those who say ďGod told me to do this?Ē Usually we laugh or ridicule them, or we reject the notion that God might speak to an individual in such a specific way.
I wish God would talk to me with such clarity. Iíve been asking Him what He wants me to do for as long as I can remember. Iíve sought His will on my career, my family, my future. Sometimes I think I know whatís Heís saying, but most of the time I just muddle through. Iím not very patient, you see, and so when things donít fall into place as soon as I think they should, I begin to second guess myself. So, even now as I wander through each day with the faith I have, I wonder if Iím headed in the right direction. God does not always seem as clear to me as He seems to have been to Abram. Could I leave my home and family like Abram to follow this God? Iíd like to say ďYes, I have that much faith,Ē but Iím not quite that confident.
But thatís the point of our scriptures today: it isnít about how much faith we have, it is about trusting in God even when we feel like we are faithless. It is comforting to see this story of Abram from Genesis 15, because even in this text that is quoted so often lifting up Abram for his faith, we see the reality of Abramí faithlessness. He trusted God even while He doubted God. Abram is saying, ďOh Lord, how can you possibly give me anything since you havenít yet given me a son?Ē No gift or blessing really makes sense to Abramí world view if he has no heir to which it can be passed.
He was an old man and his wife Sarai was an old woman. There was no hope. There was no way that they would ever have children. As the text continues, we see Sarai and Abram taking Godís promise into their own hands. Abramís faith was credited to him as righteousness, and in the next breath Abram trusted in the human ability to get things done.
Can you imagine how outrageous the promise in todayís Old Testament lesson must have seemed to Abram? He was old and childless, but God was promising him more offspring than he could ever count. Donít forget, though it is possible easy for us to count the stars in the night sky above our cities, Abram did not have light pollution to block all but the brightest stars. If youíve ever climbed to the top of the mountain or viewed the sky far from the city, you know that the number of stars that Abram saw was significantly larger than what we can see. It would be difficult to even determine how many generations it would take to guarantee such a large number of offspring.
But thatís the point. It isnít about that which is tangible. It isnít about flesh and blood. Faith is about living in Godís promises. We wonít do it perfectly. Weíll doubt. Weíll be afraid. Weíll try to take matters into our own hands. But our failure doesnít negate that which God has already done. Our righteousness is not dependent on our ability to stand firmly in the promises of God; the righteousness in which we dwell is from God. He covers us; we simply live under that cover. When we do fail, God is near to reassure us with His mercy and a reminder of His promises.
The writer of Hebrews tells us, ďNow faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.Ē How would you describe faith if you were questioned by a child or a non-believer? We might want to define faith according to our earthly understanding, but faith isnít about anything tangible. Unfortunately, those who do not have faith need something to grasp. They want to take it in their own hands, do something to be worthy of the promises of God. They want to come up with human explanations for everything they see, even though we know that not everything we see has come from human power.
The thing about Abram is that he was constantly looking ahead. The writer of Hebrews tells us that if Abram had looked back, he could have returned to the life he left behind. But Abram continued to go ahead even when he had doubts. Even his mistakes were about moving forward, not returning to the past. He believed that God had plans and he wanted to be a part of the fulfillment of those plans. He believed in Godís word, even if it seemed ridiculous. He believed in God.
Jesus doesnít make living in that faith easy. He tells us in todayís Gospel lesson, ďSell that which ye have, and give alms; make for yourselves purses which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief draweth near, neither moth destroyeth.Ē Perhaps we have not been given the command to leave behind our family and our homeland, but God does want us to let go of the things that we think define us. For Abram, family and land meant everything, but he left it behind on a quest he could not see clearly. He didnít leave everything behind. He took his household, his livestock, his servants. It was not just one man and his wife who set off from Ur that day, it was an entourage of many carrying food, clothes and possessions.
God is not necessarily asking us, as the monks in the middle ages often assumed, to give up everything for His sake. He is calling us to turn away from our old life and follow His quest into His promises. He is calling us to discover the things in our life that are keeping us from living freely in His grace. It might just be our money, or our homeland, or our career. It might just be the houseful of stuff we have collected or that car in the garage. It might be those bank accounts that donít seem to be big enough or that wish we are desperate to see fulfilled. Our treasures donít have to have any value to others; our treasures are those things that pull us outside the cover which God has built for us to dwell. Our treasures are the things in which we trust.
Though we might not talk about having faith in our jobs or our houses or our homes, when those things get in the way of our dwelling in Godís grace, they become the gods of our life. Sadly, we donít realize that it is in chasing those things that we experience doubt and fear. We become afraid that we wonít be able to hold on to our things. We doubt the Word we heard because we do not see it coming to fruition the way we might expect. The righteousness which we have been given is muddied by our self-righteousness.
But Jesus reminds us that Godís Word is true. He shows us that God is pleased to share His grace with us. But He also reminds us that we donít know when we will see it fulfilled. Abram (Abraham) never saw the reality of Godís promise. He never had more offspring than he could count, yet he believed God would make it happen. He never lived in the Promised Land, but he believed that his children would one day inherit that promise. He looked forward to the day when it would be fulfilled, even though it would not be in his lifetime. We look forward to a day when Godís later promises are fully realized, but we may have to die before they are complete. That doesnít make the promises less valid; it makes our faith true. We believe not in what we can see and touch, but in what God has said.
It is there weíll find peace. The psalmist says, ďFor our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy name.Ē Weíll fail. Weíll try to take matters into our own hands. Weíll doubt and weíll fear. But the righteousness we have is a gift from God, a gift that is accompanied by the faith weíll need to stay in Godís grace. It is all about faith, but even more: it is all about the God in whom we believe. For He has framed the world by His Word, and His Word gives us the confidence to keep moving forward toward that which He has promised. We may not see it today, or tomorrow, or in this life, but God is faithful even when we are faithless.
May we always remember that the righteousness with which we have been credited is not something we have to pursue or earn or deserve, but it is something in which we dwell by faith. Thanks be to God.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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