Things Unseen 8-8-10

Luke 12:32-40,  Genesis 15:1-6
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

I.                  What We Don’t See

In a phrase that confounds Christians, and non-Christians alike, we confess in Hebrews that “we do not believe what we see; rather, we believe what we do not see.”[1]  Or as Dianne Bergant surmises, “Not-seeing is believing.”  It is paradoxical that faith is not based on rational, well-reasoned thought (though there is plenty of that in our historical, reformed tradition…) but faith at its core is beyond reasoning.  It moves into the realm of experiential, of thoughts and convictions and beliefs lived out in a practical way – that is faith.

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8, 12-16

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 … 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.

 

This makes much more sense to me in a practical way.  I know that I can’t see the wind, but I can see the branches and leaves as they are gently tossed in the wind.  I know that I cannot see blood pressure (excepting medical charts, and equipment), but I can tell that my blood is still pumping when I get nervous and my cheeks get warm and red.  I know that I cannot see the love my son has for me, but I can tell he loves me when he leaves his blanket with me for safe-keeping overnight.  I know that I cannot see a person’s attitude, but I can tell it has changed (for better or worse) by the way that they carry themselves and the way that they speak.  I know that I cannot see the Holy Spirit among us, but I can tell God is present and active through the many different avenues within this church: in worship, with the kids, on the boards, in the service ministries … if you listen, you can hear, see, and feel the movement of God in this place.

It is far easier to see examples of the effects of these invisible things than to define them outright.  We can tell we are loved by the actions and words of that loved one.  We don’t see their love … we see what that love causes them to do and say.  We see examples of love, in action.  This is what the author of Hebrews does – he gives us examples of faith, in action

II.               Abraham and Sarah – called from the land of Ur

Our ancestors in the faith Abraham and Sarah were nomads in a land called Ur.  They had no real direction until the Lord made an appearance and promised them a future.  These two elderly individuals had all but lost hope, they were too old to have children and they felt certain they would have nothing to pass on to any heir – direct blood or not.  They desperately wanted to have a beneficiary; they wanted children – signs of life, signs of a future … any of this sound familiar?

This is the struggle facing this church.  Really, it is the struggle facing our whole denomination, and our global faith community.  Infertility is a touchy topic.  I guarantee that any person in this sanctuary can tell of someone who has struggled with this issue.  I have a friend who cannot bring herself to come to church on Mother’s Day because it has been such a struggle for her and her husband.  So I know this is a difficult topic for many, and would never want to make light of this struggle.  But there are meanings for us to plumb here.

Kate Huey comments on how God’s promise for many descendants is a precursor to one of many life-giving miracles.  She says, “Life comes from God, and life belongs to God, too.  Just as ‘barrenness’ (not having a child) was a sign of hopelessness in ancient times, a mark of having no future, then Abraham and Sarah’s family, the new life they experience in the birth of a child can be ‘taken metaphorically as the opening of a future.’”[2]

Abraham believes the promise that God has given him – even if he is really old and his wife is barren, he has faith.  That faith is tested again when Abraham is asked to sacrifice Isaac and he is willing to do so believing in God with amazing follow-through.  “Gary Peluso-Verdend writes: ‘To live with the assurance of things hoped for is to continue to steward the promise entrusted to the people of God over many generations … Faith has a reason, God.”

III.           Steward the Promise

I continue to be struck by the similarities of Abraham and Sarah and the church today.  We are being called to trust in a future that we may never see.  As a denomination and a church, we are aging.  Are we willing to work for a church that will no longer be ours? 

What does it mean to steward the promise?
Stewardkeep, preserve, protect 
The treasurer or trustees of an estate were servants who were to take care of money.
We are not just to keep, preserve and protect the promises of God. 
But we are also to invest, nurture, cultivate them.  
We are call also to be Stewards of Creation, which does not mean ruling over it, but caring for the earth,
cultivating it so that it will continue to be a blessing for future generations.
So to, we are called to steward the faith, the promise.
The Promise – God’s love, biblical truths, Jesus’ words and actions,
the continuity of God’s faithfulness,
the call to compassionate ministry

How do we steward the promise?  How do you invest your faith? 
Stewardship usually = talking about money, giving some to God first.
How do you make sure that you are caring for your faith in a way that it may grow and grow abundantly? 
Are you giving it air, talking about it, watering it with God’s word?
Do you invest your faith by talking with your children and grandchildren about their faith?

Faith, I have noticed, has this amazing ability to self-multiply in a very short amount of time if it is given the proper attention.  Just as I believe humans have an inborn ability to heal (physically and emotionally), I believe that faith is a creature that craves attention and time.

IV.            The Effects of Faith

As Hebrews clearly states, we cannot see faith … yet we know that faith is there and that its roots must be very deep if it is to thrive and survive.  Dianne Bergant helpfully notes, “The focus is not the seeming incredibility of the object of faith, but the need to cling to that faith even when its fulfillment is long in coming.  The followers of Jesus are told not to seek security in the realities of this world, but in the treasures that belong to the reign of God.”[3]

This, I think is what makes faith so amazing.  Cultivating and nurturing faith during the good periods of your life ensures that your faith is vibrant and strong when you need it most: when life notices you’re down and kicks you in the shins.  When a new baby has unexpected health complications, when a pastor and church are slowly getting to the same point in the call process (Burnetta), when everything goes wrong on the way to work – that is when you desperately need to know that God’s promises are true.  God loves us always, will never forsake us, will even go to a cross to die for us so we can be reunited in the heavenly realm.

Abraham and Sarah did not see their many descendants dwell in the Promised Land.  They never met Jesus.  They did not meet us, their heirs through Christ’s adoption of us … yet their faith still inspires us today to trust in God’s faithfulness and to know that God is good.  Even today, they are stewarding the promise.  Let us nurture that promise within our church just as Abraham did in his family.

God of our ancestors,  Thank you for the individuals that stewarded your promises so diligently that even today, thousands of years after they walked the earth, we speak of their faithfulness and learn from the witness of their lives.  May we be as diligent as they and as dedicated to cultivating faith in ourselves and in future generations.  Amen.


[1] Dianne Bergant, Seeing is Believing, Really?  http://www.amercamagazine.org/content/article,cfm?article_id=3696

[2] Kate Huey, Weekly Seeds, http://www.feed-your-spirit/weekly-seeds/living-into-the-promise-aug.html

[3] Dianne, Bergant, Seeing Is Believing, Really?

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