Sunday, August 11, 2019
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, for the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.
Billy Joe, a good old boy from the Deep South, stopped at a convenience store. Where he ran into Ricardo, an old buddy from New York City. Billy Joe was a mischievous sort. When no one was looking he stole 3 candy bars from a store shelf.
Walking out of the store he turned to Ricardo and bragged, Ha! Did you see what this old Southern boy did? I stole three candy bars and got away with it. Man, I’m slick. Ricardo wasn’t impressed. That’s nothing. Let’s go back to that store and I’ll show you what slick is where I come from.
So, they returned to the convenience store. Ricardo went up to the young man behind the counter and said, You want you see a fantastic magic trick? The young man said, well, I guess so. Ricardo said, Give me a candy bar.
The convenience store clerk gave him a candy bar, and Ricardo ate it. He asked for a second candy bar, and he ate that as well. He asked for the third candy bar and finished that one too. That’s it, he said. That’s the trick. The young man behind the counter was disappointed asked, but where’s the magic? Ricardo replied: Check in my friend’s pocket. You will find all three of the candy bars there. And, of course, they were there. That’s a pretty good magic trick if you disregard the ethics of it all.
Have you ever sat in a worship service and thought to yourself, Where’s the magic? I don’t mean that when you come to worship, you’re expecting a magic show with a charming magician and his beautiful assistant and rabbits that appear out of nowhere. You may wish that was going to happen this morning, but obviously it’s not. I won’t make a spectacle out of worship. However, there ought to be a sense of expectancy when you come into this room that something special is going to happen, as if you expected that on this day that you would come into the presence of God.
I believe the eleventh chapter of Hebrews has that kind of magic. In it the writer defines the meaning of faith and it’s clear that he believes there is magic in faith. He begins with a definition: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see . . .
That’s a nice sounding definition, but it’s kind of abstract. What does he mean by that, faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see? Fortunately, the writer doesn’t stop with a dictionary definition. He shows us faith in action. This is what the ancients were commended for, he continues. 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. That’s a little heavy, still. What’s seen was not made out of what was visible. But the writer is just getting warmed up. He’s taking us back to that time when God said, let there be light, and there was light.
Then, going to the first chapters of the Bible, he begins with showing how Abel’s offering to God was more acceptable than Cain’s because of his faith. Then he deals with Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph and Moses and even the harlot Rahab, and he shows us the importance of faith at work in their lives.
Then he adds the names of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets who through faith “conquered kingdoms, administered justice, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and defeated foreign armies.
It’s a chapter filled with the kind of magic only God could perform. We see that same magic in our lesson for today. The writer focuses on a 99-year-old patriarch named Abraham who discovers that his 98-year-old wife is pregnant. That’s pretty fantastic all by itself.
A 99-year-old woman, way past childbearing years, bears a child whose 100-year-old father is “as good as dead” in the words of the writer of Hebrews. If that’s not magic, I would like to know what is! But it’s not the kind of magic that a magician can perform. Its magic only God can perform. And its magic that can be seen only through the eyes of faith.
Faith is belief in God. However, it’s not just simply that God exists, but that God is present with us and is working for our best good. In other words, faith is trusting God in all things.
You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker: God is my co-pilot. That’s the kind of faith the writer of Hebrews is describing. God is our co-pilot. We won’t face anything that I can’t handle, God says to us. You might as well trust me to fly the plane.
Faith in God is like that. Don’t bring a toaster in for repair if you don’t have the faith to bring a loaf of bread. Faith is the belief that not only does God exist, but that He cares for you and will provide for your needs.
That brings us to the second thing that faith is: Since we trust God, faith is also living in obedience to God’s will. Here’s where the rubber hits the road. Abraham didn’t just believe in the existence of God. Because he trusted God, Abraham went where God told him to go and did what God wanted him to do. He obeyed God.
We ask the question, Do you believe in God? Of course, I believe in God. Everybody believes in God.
Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Well, of course I believe in Jesus Christ. I went to Sunday school. He was quite a man.
Have you ever fully committed your life to Jesus, enough so that you’ll commit all you are and all you have to him? Now hold on there, I’m not a religious fanatic, if that’s what you mean. But I’m a Christian. I believe.
Is that what it’s all about, simply saying, I believe? Somehow as I read these words from the letter to the Hebrews, as I read about the victories that were won and the persecutions that were endured, I cannot help but believe that faith is much, much more than simply saying, I believe.
The writer of James says, even the demons believe and shudder. (2:19) Faith is more than believing.
The story is told of a lazy boy who went with his mother and aunt on a blueberry-picking hike into the woods. The boy carried the smallest pail possible. While the others worked hard at picking berries, he lolled about, chasing a butterfly and playing hide-and-seek with a squirrel.
It was time to leave. So, in a panic, he filled his pail mostly with moss and then topped it off with a thin layer of berries, so that the pail looked full of berries. His mother and aunt told him I did such a good job.
The next morning his mother baked some pies, and she made a special “saucer-sized” pie just for the boy. He could hardly wait for the pie to cool. Blueberry was his favorite! He could see the plump berries oozing through a slit in the crust, and his mouth watered in anticipation.
As he sunk his fork into the flaky crust, however, he found . . . mostly moss! That’s what he had gathered and so that is what he received.
If there doesn’t seem to be much magic in the church today maybe it is because our pies are mostly moss. Faith is a total commitment of all we are and all we hope to be to God through faith in Jesus Christ.
This list of the heroes of the Old Testament provided by the writer of Hebrews is a list of people who put their lives on the line because of their convictions about God. Faith is not simply being in agreement to an idea. It’s a life-changing choice to walk where God would have you go.
But there’s one thing more we need to see: Faith is also that unshakable sense of trust that keeps us going through life’s dark and difficult valleys. All of us walk through the valley under a dark shadow at some time in our lives.
It’s like the man who had become so discouraged with life that he bought a loaf of bread at a store, then went to a railroad crossing and stretched himself out across the tracks.
A policeman saw him and rushed up to him asking, What do you think you’re doing? The man replied, waiting for the train to run over me. But why the loaf of bread? the policeman asked. The man answered, the way the trains run here, you could starve to death while waiting for one.
We all get discouraged at some time in our lives. No one is exempt. But that doesn’t mean we give up. There’s always a way out if we allow God’s Spirit to guide us. Faith is a commitment of all we are and hope to be to God. Faith is an assurance that the God who created us is with us in every battle we face. Faith is also that unshakable sense of trust that keeps us going through life’s dark and difficult valleys.
But there is one thing more found in our lesson for today: Faith is a promise that, as Abraham described it, there is a “city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
We speak far less about heaven than did our fathers and mothers. We are the secular society, our kingdom is the here and now. No wonder we have so little joy. No wonder our lives exude so little magic. No wonder so many of us fear the aging process and are haunted by the fear of death. How foolish we are to degrade the hope that the Christian possesses. How shallow we are to conclude that life ends at the grave. Faith, to really be faith, always has a forward look, a positive expectation, an unquenchable hope. Such a spirit comes from a lifetime of commitment and trust. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t come easily. There are good days and there are bad, but there’s always that belief that no matter what, life goes on.
Do you believe in God? Yes, we say, of course I believe in God. Do you have the faith that Abraham had, belief in the promises of God? Do you believe that God will always be with you regardless of the obstacles that you may face . . . even unto eternity? That’s faith.