(watch here: https://youtu.be/cV3mEWs80g8)
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.
4By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. 5By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and ‘he was not found, because God had taken him.’ For it was attested before he was taken away that ‘he had pleased God.’ 6And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.
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.
Our reading for this morning reminds me of the one about a nun who worked for a local home health care agency and was out making her rounds when she ran out of gas. As luck would have it, there was a station just down the street. She walked to the station to borrow a can with enough gas to start the car and drive to the station for a fill up. The attendant regretfully told her that the only can he owned had just been loaned out, but if she would care to wait he was sure it would be back shortly. Since the nun was on the way to see a patient, she decided not to wait and walked back to her car. After looking through her car for something to carry to the station to fill with gas, she spotted a bedpan she was taking to the patient. Always resourceful, she carried it to the station, filled it with gasoline, and carried it back to her car. As she was pouring the gas into the tank of her car, two men walked by. One of them turned to the other and said: “Now that is what I call faith!”
We’re closing our 5-week sermon series on the book of Hebrews with this wonderful passage from chapter 11. Recall that the overall goal of the book of Hebrews was to convince the early Jewish Christians of how a life serving Christ is far better than a life strictly adhering to Jewish laws and traditions. Those early Christians were somewhat hesitant in their walk with Christ. They clung to what they were familiar with–laws and traditions. It was through adhering to laws and traditions that they felt they best pleased God and stayed in right relationship with him. Of course we know that laws simply reveal our sinfulness and keep us in right relationship with each other, not God. To stay in right relationship with God, we must simply believe in Christ and follow him. But this was a radically new way of thinking for those early Christians and they needed additional affirmation. The author of Hebrews first shows how Christ is better than the law then explains how he is truly the Great High Priest, better than the traditionally recognized great high priest, Melchizedek. Christ saves us rather than condemns us the way the law does and Christ perfectly fulfills the priestly duty of serving as our intercessor with God. No priest can connect us with God as perfectly as Christ. To be in relationship with Christ is to be in direct relationship with God. Thus, he is the greatest of all priests.
So Christ is better than the law and the greatest of all priests, why shift the discussion to faith in the eleventh chapter? Unlike laws and traditions and priests, Christ is less apparent in the world today. We can read a book or listen to a speaker or visit a church and find any number of laws and traditions and priests. Much more difficult to find in a book or a speaker or a church is Christ himself. Why? Because Christ is revealed through faith and faith alone. All too often people believe they can know Christ simply by reading Scripture or visiting a church. In reality, they’re just getting to know who Jesus the man was. But Jesus the man died and was transformed into the living Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ is so much bigger than Jesus the man! Jesus Christ is the one who conquered death! Jesus Christ exists in an infinite number of people and places and times! It is impossible to fully understand who Jesus Christ is the way we can know who Jesus was. In fact, if we’re to understand anything about Christ, we must first have faith. We must acknowledge our own shortcomings and ask God to be gracious and reveal his wisdom. Having faith is nothing more than being open and receptive to God. God wants to reveal his wisdom and do great things but only for those who are willing to be open and receptive.
We heard in our reading how He did many great and mighty things for those who had faith. He saved Noah from the flood because of his faith and willingness to build an ark for no apparent reason. He saved Enoch from the pain and suffering of death because of his faith. He made Abraham the father to many nations because of his faith and willingness to go into an unknown land. They were all open and receptive to God’s will in their lives and were rewarded for it. None of them knew God’s motives, they simply obeyed and placed their trust in God’s wisdom. We can’t know God’s motives but we can be open and obey and place our trust in him.
Just as those early leaders were rewarded for their faith, so, too, are we rewarded for our faith in Christ with a better understanding of who God is. God can be everywhere, all the time, in everyone. God can be in our neighbors, in ourselves, in our lives, in the lives of others. God has always been with us and will always be with us because He can’t die. God is greater than sin and death. This is what is revealed by Christ. But only to those who have faith in Christ. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “So that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” (2:5) Human wisdom can’t reveal anything about Christ and God, only faith can. This is why it is so important to remain open and receptive to God all throughout our lives. God will reveal himself. God will guide us. God will protect us. God has a long history of revealing himself and guiding and protecting those who are open and receptive to him. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (2:8-9) God saves those who place their trust in him. And this is a gift from our good and gracious God. As Lutherans, I think we all understand the folly of works righteousness. Indeed, faith is a gift from the Spirit. Being open and receptive can, at times, require the strength of the Spirit. Let us give thanks for the gift of faith. Let us use our faith to better understand Christ. Let us heed Paul’s words in his second letter to the Corinthians, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” (5:7) Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.