Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, November 15, 2019
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Faith (8/25/19)

Hebrews 11:1-3 and 29-12:3

Many people refer to Hebrews 11 as the “Faith Chapter.” The whole chapter is filled with stories from the Old Testament about the great heroes of faith from the past and what they did because of their faith.

We talk about faith a lot, but do we always understand what it means to have faith? Well, if we can’t find what faith is here, then it’s unlikely that we’ll find it anywhere. Verse 1 begins with a well known definition of faith: Faith is the assurance that hoped for things will happen. God will do what he has promised to do. Faith is not just wishful thinking. And certainly there are many in this world who would consider our faith, or any faith, to be just wishful thinking. We’re just wishing that God, you know, if there even is a God, will do wonderful things for us. And that’s okay, as long as we don’t consider our faith to be just wishful thinking. As long as we have confident assurance, then we have faith.

It continues, “The evidence of things we can’t see.” We are convinced that things we can’t see with our eyes are still real: God, angels, life after death. We are convinced they are all real, even though we, generally, never see them with our own eyes.

Why do we have faith? Well, our faith is based on the character of God and the things that he has done in the past. That’s the value of stories like these. If God did these things in the past, and if his character is eternal and unchanging, then we can have confidence that he can and will do them again.

We need to remember what God has done for us in the past, not just what he has done for others. And I know that we are good at forgetting things, all of us. We need to keep in our hearts the things God has already done for us. Do you have stories from your own experience that you can bring up at a moment’s notice? Some asks you, “What has God ever done for you?” can you recite the story from your life about the time he came through? The miracle? The answer to the pressing question? This is important, too. Yes, we know that we have these stories from the Bible about what God has done for others, but those stories will never be as meaningful to you as what God has done for you.

We also have faith because it is impossible to please God without faith. At the most basic level, God requires us to have faith in him. We must believe he is real. We must trust in the reliability of his word. We must be obedient to his word. That’s the

most basic thing we must do to be in relationship with God. It’s pretty hard to have a relationship with God if you don’t believe he’s real. Imaginary friends are great when you’re three. Not so much when you’re 30. As Hebrews says, “It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe he is real and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”

Most of this chapter deals with faith in action. What does faith look like in action? What do faithful people do? What are the results? I’m not going to deal with every single verse and every person mentioned, but I think it’s important to pick out a few representative stories.

Noah is called faithful for his willingness to obey God. He built the ark at God’s command, even though it didn’t make a lot of sense. The world had never flooded before, so why expect it to happen now?

When we think about faith, we probably think about it primarily in terms of the intellectual side. Our faith is what we hold to be true. We’re not as likely to think in terms of obedient actions because we have a different word for that: Faithfulness. But in the biblical languages, there was only one word for both. Faith and faithfulness were the same thing, two sides of the same coin. The thing that is believed and the resulting actions are one and the same. If you say, “I believe God wants all people to know him and to come into a relationship with him,” then you can’t separate that from, “I must be obedient to Christ’s command to go and make disciples of all nations.” If you just believe the first is true without acting on it, then you don’t really have faith!

The story of Abraham reminds us that faith means taking the first step without knowing where the journey ends. Too often, we want to know how the the whole story is going to play out before we get started. And that’s not faith. It’s not faith if we know where we’ll end up.

Abraham’s story also reminds us that faith means believing God can do the impossible. Abraham and Sarah had faith in God’s promise of a child, even though it was impossible for them in their old age and Sarah was unable to have children. And of course, there are other stories in this chapter of God doing the impossible. The whole Bible is full of stories of God doing the impossible. And some people try to reduce those stories to just fables or allegories and such to make the Bible more palatable to modern ears that are disinclined to believe what contradicts known science or common sense.

But that’s not faith. It’s not faith to believe that an all powerful God can only do what we expect him to be able to do!

Verse 16 reminds us that all the patriarchs were seeking something more than this world can offer: “They were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland.” Because they were “foreigners and nomads on the earth.” Faith calls us to seek what this world cannot offer. And this world can’t offer us a home if our hearts belong to God.

The story of Moses, and others, call us to keep faith even in the face of suffering. The last verses of the chapter contain many recollections of those who suffered greatly for their faith. And all of them endured “without seeing their promised reward,” because the story isn’t over yet. We can’t receive the prize until we finish the race.

Therefore, we must run with endurance, casting off every weight and sin that slows our progress and we must run with endurance the race God has set before us. But notice the line that begins chapter 12: “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” The image here is that we are running the race surrounded by all those who have come before us in faith. They are cheering us on. None of us ever run alone. We are not alone because we are part of the Body of Christ, and we are never alone because we are surrounded by the eternal body of the faithful.

We sometimes talk about how we are part of the “faith community.” Yes. In fact, we are never not a part of the faith community. The life of faith is a communal life. There is no such thing as a solitary faith because even when we are alone, we are still surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses. We are joined by the Holy Spirit to all who have run this race before us, all who run this race with us, and all who will run this race after us. So we run with endurance.

Verse of the Day...