Sunday, August 11th, 2013 – Sermon on Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16

Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
8By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old — and Sarah herself was barren — because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
13All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.”

Grace, peace, and mercy are yours from the incarnate God revealed in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Let me say that again. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Whenever I hear someone talk about why they don’t believe in God, it usually comes around to that person saying something like, “You can’t prove that God exists! Why would I believe in something I cannot see?”

And here is the thing. The Bible totally agrees with that. I mean, our reading from Hebrews for today just comes right out and says it. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. You can’t prove that God exists, he says. You can’t see God. All you can do is hope for it. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for. And to hope for something is not to be certain about it. But it is to trust it. To trust that it will be true. To…have faith in it.

So, according to Hebrews, faith is less about believing in really complicated things like the Nicene creed or the doctrine of the trinity. Faith isn’t about knowing enough information in your brain to be able to intellectually prove the truthiness of Christianity. Instead, faith is about having hope. Hope in things and promises that we cannot prove. Things we cannot see.

So that person who doesn’t believe in God…whoever they are…whether they are a teenager who is too smart for their own good, or a bitter 55-year old, or a someone who has simply been hurt too many times in life…whoever they are…they are right. We can’t prove that God exists. And we cannot see God.

All we can do is hope. And that is faith, Hebrews tells us. Faith is trusting in what you hope for.

So what do we hope for? A lot of things I suspect. Sometimes we hope for someone else to make diner because we are so sick of doing it ourselves night after night. Sometimes we hope the weekend will come quicker than Monday will. Sometimes we hope for answers from our doctors because it seems like no one knows what’s wrong with us. Some we hope for loyal friends. Sometimes, I hope Elliot will take a really long nap and the, simultaneously, I hope he doesn’t realize I need a break from him.

But what do we hope for when it comes to God? According to the Psalmist, we hope that the love of God would be in and around us. Let your loving kindness, O Lord, be upon us, even as we place our hope in you, the Psalmist says.

We put our hope in a God whose love will swaddle the world. A love that will wrap itself around all of creation, like big hug, despite the fact that so much of creation doesn’t deserve such a love. Because we mess up and fall short. We hurt each other in countlessly obvious and not-obvious ways. We let our anger get the best of us. Or we let other people’s anger get the best of us. We sit around not doing anything for people who are rejected and kicked to the curb because it is easier than standing up for them. We hate and judge others because it makes us feel better about ourselves and distracts us from the ways we disappoint ourselves over and over again. We spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need. But despite all of that, we put our hope in the promise that we are never considered worthless. That God is never finished with us. That God is never ashamed of being called our God. And that God is actually redeeming this world, and not abandoning it.

We put our hope in that. We trust in that. Even though we can’t prove it. Even though, we can’t see it. Even though some days, it can look a whole heck of a lot like none of that stuff about God loving the whole world is true.

But he is the thing – awhile back, I heard a story that completely changed the way I think about the promises of God that we can’t prove and we can’t see.

In a sermon years ago, preacher Tom Long tells the story about a man he met at a church he was newly attending. The man told him that every Monday night, he and a few others climb into the church van and go to a youth prison. Sometimes, he said, we would have a bible study but most of the time we would just play ping pong get to know the guys who were there and try to bring them some comfort and hope. I started doing that, he said, because I thought it was the kind of thing I thought Christians ought to do. But I wouldn’t miss a Monday night now because God is there and it nourishes my soul, just as God promised. And then he said this, “You know, you cannot prove the promises of God in advance. But if you live them, they are true every one.”

You can’t prove the promises of God in advance. But if you live them, they are true every one. Here is the thing. Even though we cannot prove it. Even though, we can’t even see it… we can live it. We can live as if the promises are true. We can live as if we can see it. Not so that we can be happy, happy Christians who act like we never hurt or worry or doubt or fear. Not so that it gives us betters odds on getting into heaven on the off chance that this whole Christianity-Jesus-God thing is true. We live into these hoped for promises because when we do, they actually come true. You can’t prove the promise of God’s forgiving and redeeming love for all people. But if you live it and climb into the church van every week to hang out with people in a youth prison, the promise comes true. Suddenly that invisible promise becomes visible.And you can see it.

But maybe we need a couple more examples that are closer to home. There is a promise in the Old Testament that God rejoices over us. This past week, I got to sit with a group of people from our congregation and I got to watch as they all rejoiced at the news that a member of the group had gotten a much need job. It was pure rejoicing together. If we live into the promise that God rejoices over us and we rejoice with others, then the promises of God come true.

Throughout the story of Jesus, God is revealed as always wanting to welcome the outsider. Each week a small group from our parish meets on Tuesday afternoons at Olivia’s simply for conversation and fellowship (which any of you are welcome to attend by the way). This past week a stranger over heard our conversations, and afterwards, she stopped Judy Thimsen and talked with her for 15 minutes about our churches and how she and her family were looking for a church. If we live into the promise that God welcomes the outsider and then we welcome the outsider, the promises of God come true.

Throughout Scripture, there are countless stories about God feeding those who are hungry. This past Spring, some of us volunteered for the first time at Meals of Hope, a free meal offered for anyone who is hungry at Trinity in Owatonna on Sunday nights. Ever since then, Kim Wilder and Jesse Kubista and Rueben Kubista and others have continued to volunteer there. Feeding people in Owatonna who were hungry. If we live into the promises that God wants to feed hungry people and then we feed hungry people, the promises of God come true.

At the beginning of our gospel story, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” God wants to give us the kingdom of God. Every week, we pray in the Lord’s Prayer – your kingdom come. Your kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.

All of these stories, these moments of God’s promises coming true are glimpses of the kingdom of God breaking into this world. So when Jesus says at the end of the gospel text that we should be ready for the Son of Man to come at any time, he is right. The kingdom of God is coming. It is always breaking into this world. And when we are lucky, we will catch a glimpse of it. Because it comes at unexpected moments. Like it always does. And who knows…maybe the kingdom of God will come even today. Maybe even through someone such as you. May it be so. Amen.

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