Read on for the sermon and a video of the service.
By faith… by faith… by faith… These words pulse through today’s epistle like a heartbeat, “By faith our ancestors received…by faith we understand… by faith Abraham obeyed… by faith he stayed… by faith he received.” If we put in the verses our lectionary reading omits today, we would hear even more: faith… by faith… by faith… like the heart beat rhythm within us that keeps us alive.
We don’t know who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews. When I read the whole letter it kind of feels like it was written to people who are giving up, who are leaving the church, who are losing their faith. It’s written to people who may have made sacrifices for their faith, who may have even endured suffering, but now, these people are growing weary and losing faith in the Church, and maybe even God. I know a lot of people like this, who no longer see in the Church as connecting to the world we live in and its challenges, no longer see a passionate, heartfelt commitment to the Lord of justice and peace, of Love and life immersed in the God in whom we live and move and have our being. So, Hebrews is the sermon of a preacher to people who are heading out the door.
And this is the preacher’s message: Don’t give up. Have faith. Trust. Jesus Christ is the one in whom we can hope. Jesus Christ is the one in whom we can trust. Jesus Christ is the one in whom we can place our faith because Jesus Christ is faithful. You have not seen the future, but Jesus holds the future. Have faith in Jesus because Jesus is the faithful one.
This is why the writer’s by faith… by faith… by faith… is like the rhythm of a heartbeat.
A couple of weeks ago the theme of our worship was prayer. I said that we Christians talk a lot about pray. We do a lot of praying and when we pray we seek to be on the right ‘wave-length’ with God. In other words, we seek to flow with the everlasting flow of God’s love which permeates the whole universe and in which we live and move and have our being. ‘Put your mind into your heart and stand in the presence of God all day’.
All our readings today are about faith. We Christians talk a lot about faith too! Faith is to my mind a bit different from the things we believe in. When I was younger someone told me that faith means taking a chance. That is to say that faith means taking the chance that what we say we believe in is actually so!
In a world which is so full of pain and sin and anguish, where human beings so often treat each other with scant respect and care, at our best, we the Church are amongst those that believe in original blessing, that against all the odds or so it seems, as I regularly repeat in my preaching and writing – ‘life is stronger than death; love is stronger than hate.’ To live out our lives based on this premise is to live in faith. Today is Peace Sunday.
Verse 1 of the Hebrews reading for today states – ‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen [NRSV]’. The Greek word which the NRSV version translates as ‘assurance’ [that is having confidence about things that cannot presently be proved to be true] is ‘hypostatis’. Rather than ‘assurance’, some scholars would say ‘hypostatis’ means the ‘reality’ of things hoped for. That is to say the writer of Hebrews asserts that in faith the believer already anticipates the final outcome [the reality] of what is believed. And what NRSV translates as ‘conviction’, the Greek word ‘elegcthos’ refers not so much to conviction that something will happen. It is more about the ‘proof of things not seen’. Verse 1 then is not a trite statement about belief but rather a provocative claim that faith is the actual belief in the reality of those things that have not yet come to pass, that in Christ all that separates and injures and destroys IS (not may be, not just will be) overcome by all the unites and heals and creates. Amen!
So our epistle writer’s by faith… by faith… by faith… is encouragement to stick with the community of Christians and to stick with Jesus Christ, to trust that by living with hearts committed to Jesus, as the perfect example of what love looks like, hearts open to the future God has prepared, like our forebears in faith did, we too become inheritors of that future, a future better than anything we can ask for or imagine, a future that calls us to a confident life of faithful service as disciples of Christ.
It’s Jesus’ faith that makes the difference. Our faith in Jesus, our confidence in Jesus lets us do things we couldn’t do otherwise. What Jesus did for us, what Jesus does for us, and our sometimes tiny, mustard seed-sized faith that connects us to him, means we can hope, serve, enjoy. Jesus can see a future we can’t, but we can look for, prepare for, and do our part for. Jesus made a future for us that we couldn’t make for ourselves. God shows us a future of which Jesus is the first fruits, the first of those living fully a resurrection life, a life marked by love and meaning and possibility and peace beyond death. So stick with Jesus.
And stick with the church. The church is a place where we practice and see faith, faith that relies on the promises of God and the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, faith that stands on the belief in the reality of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.
There is faith that rebuilds relationships, even after heartbreak. There is faith that endures and carries people through incredible physical suffering and pain. There is faith that allows people to give up addictions and ask for help. There is faith that makes people keep showing up to care for children others would leave behind, faith that asks for forgiveness, faith that reconciles, faith that changes lives. Faith that can get us standing alongside and for the marginalised and oppressed, demanding peace with justice for all. Even a little bit of faith, even a little bit of openness, even a little bit of seeking and acknowledging God can lead to hope and joy and strength and peace and a future we cannot yet see, but of which we can be assured and confident.
Today is Peace Sunday. Yesterday was the 77th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. We live in a world racked in violence and war. We are those who have a faith that all that separates and injures and destroys is and will be overcome by all that unites and heals and creates. Our faith call us to work for such a vision, for such a peace. Lord make us instruments of your peace.
The writer Philips Brooks said it this way,
I beg you to live far-looking lives. Lift up your eyes and see the places afar off. You may not see all the way between, but keep your eyes forward still. The present cannot be known or done except by the future’s interpretation and inspiration. And no [one] can know the future rightly except as [they know] it in Him who is the Lord of all our lives, ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.'