Sermon 8/11/19

Faith. We throw that word around all the time in this community of faith. We talk about our Christian faith. We talk about having faith in God. We encourage one another to have faith during difficult times. What is it?

(social media experiment & easel)


Faith is…

...trust

...sometimes terrifying

...hard

...complicated

...love

...for the long haul

...a personal journey

...a highly personal and unique relationship each person has with God

...firmly admitting I trust God


All of these responses, along with the Scripture selection, took me on a journey of thought on all of what defines faith.


THOUGHT 1: FAITH IS SIMILAR TO THE BLINDFOLD EXPERIMENT...

...getting that fluttery thing in your heart when you know God is with and in you even though you can’t see God

...knowing that the next step is under your foot in a dark stairway

...that which keeps the light of hope lit in the midst of the darkness

...trusting God has your path laid out for you and you just have to have the courage to walk it


I noticed that a lot of the responses online had to do with moving forward in darkness, like you’re blindfolded. It’s moving forward without seeing every step laid out.


I would be missing a great opportunity if I didn’t reference the scene in Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade. Jones is at the opening to a great chasm between two mountainsides and there seems to be no bridge between. The clue to reaching the end says that he must take a step of faith...and when he does, there is a bridge! It’s a bridge that is camouflaged by the rocks, but sure enough it’s there. He had to step, literally, into what was unseen.


In the Scripture selection, the language of “unseen” is repeated multiple times. It references people from the Hebrew Scriptures, like Noah and Abraham and Enoch, who took steps forward in life without knowing for sure what the outcome would be - except that God would be present.


And so, they took a step into the darkness because they believed God would be there. They believed God would approve of their actions. They believed God would fulfill God’s promises...even if the people didn’t see those promises fulfilled in their lifetime.


THOUGHT 2: FAITH IS KNOWING AND BELIEVING.

This made me ask the question...Is faith knowing? or is faith believing? What’s the difference? We know facts. We know that seasons change. We know that certain medicines kill certain germs. We know that 2+2=4.


But we don’t know with certainty, for example, that the Patriots will win the Superbowl in 2020, even though many of you believe they will.


We believe some things to be true, even if we don’t have hard evidence proving one way or the other. Maybe it’s a semantics thing and some of you will roll your eyes at me differentiating, but I think it’s good to contemplate what moves us between belief and knowing.


So many of the responses online used the word “know” or referenced evidence...

...knowing God’s plan is better than mine

...knowing there is a plan even when you can’t see it

...knowing you are not alone

...clinging to what you know is true even when it feels like it isn’t

...being able to hold on to the fact that God is with you

...believing with your heart what may not make sense in your head

....believing in the goodness of God - despite all apparent evidence against it

...allowing God to become evident in us by becoming fully conscious of the God within

...accepting something as true even though it can not be scientifically proved b/c you know in your heart it is right and true


To be fair, for people who do believe the Patriots will win another Superbowl, they aren’t pulling that belief out of nowhere. It has been done in the past and it is something the team will likely promise this Fall. Their beliefs and/or knowing about the future are influenced by the past and present.


THOUGHT 3: FAITH IS A BRIDGE BETWEEN PAST-PRESENT-FUTURE TO HOPE

I love Kathryn Matthew’s (ucc.org, Sermon Seeds) reflection on this aspect of faith. She highlights how the author of Hebrews uses stories from the community’s past. The author uses these stories of ancestors acting in faith in order to encourage a present group of people through their struggles and instill in them faith, or belief, in a future filled with God’s presence. Diane Bergant stated that the author of Hebrews “links the religious journey of his Christian audience with the sojourn of their ancestor in faith.” (Preaching the New Lectionary Year C)


The author creates a bridge of faith and hope by using stories of past promises fulfilled to demonstrate God’s provision and give hope for the future. A few of the online responses were

...essential for hope

...assurance of hope


Faith can draw on past happenings to deepen our belief in hope for the future. Faith is a bridge across generations.


I feel like every family has that grandparent or uncle that was, or is, THE example of a person of faith. Right? My grandmother is definitely that person. I could easily write a Ruth Elwood version of Hebrews 11 with “By faith, Ruth survived the Great Depression and lived modestly in reverence to her God. By faith, Grandma Ruth moved to Virginia, unsure of the community she would build, but assured of God’s presence.”


We learn from others’ stories of faith. “It's the experience of real people in a real relationship with God that can help us to grasp the meaning of faith, more than a precise or scholarly theological definition.” (Matthews, ucc.org, Sermon Seeds)


As Frederick Buechner puts it, "Faith is different from theology because theology is reasoned, systematic, and orderly, whereas faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises." (Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons) Many of us here have academically studied “the faith.” And I think we would agree that out of all the ponderings of all the super smart people in all the centuries in all the world, nothing tops those personal experiences of “woah, that was God.”


Those stories propel us to have faith when we’re faced with our own darkness or uncertainty.

(“propel” makes me think of…)


FINAL THOUGHT: FAITH IS A VERB

...a verb, calls you to action - to love, to witness for social justice, to trust that even beyond the current problem God will see you through

...the same as fear, except action [is taken] instead of being paralyzed


Frederick Buechner asserts "that the madness and lostness we see all around us and within us are not the last truth about the world but only the next to the last truth." “Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch" (Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons). He’s saying that faith propels us to action, so that the present truth we see in the world is not the final truth.


At the end of Scripture, there is a reference to a new city - an eternal home. “This New Jerusalem was a powerful image for a homesick people…[who] knew the bitter taste of exile, and the longing for homecoming. It is a powerful image for us, today, as well, in every experience of loss, alienation, and injustice.” (Matthews, ucc.org)


What do you envision to be the last truth for this world? What do you believe - what do you trust - what do you have faith can happen in this world, as Jesus has taught us? THAT is what you should act toward.


One of the responses online was that faith is a choice, particularly that faith is a “choice like love.” Love is certainly a choice on many days, it doesn’t always come easily. It is a choice that requires effort to intentionally act in love toward a person on the days they are annoying you.


Similarly, our faith sometimes requires effort - to act toward what we believe to be true. Our faith is a verb that is easier some days than others.


Friends, faith is a bridge - moving us from the stories of our past to the assurance of a future we cannot yet see. It propels us to take action toward and put effort into crossing that bridge and reaching that future, a future filled with God’s promises of grace and love for all.


Scripture: Hebrews 11:1-16

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