Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Future tense

Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
August 7, 2016

            “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Earlier this week on Facebook, I asked people what the word “faith” means to them. Here’s what they said: 

Deep trust, 
hope without worry, 
assurance and hope even with doubt and questions, 
going where the fog meets the snow, 
a greater power at work and I have lessons to live by, 
deep trust in our Creator and yet faith without work is no good, believing that with God’s love I will be alright. 
One person answered with truth/trust/troth. 
Belief or trust in something that can’t be scientifically proven or verified,
an understanding that something is ‘so’,
that I am not walking alone…trust and belief in what I can't see but I can feel...most of the time,
the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when he has to put his foot out, assuming that a bridge or walkway will appear,
an inexplicable certainty;
The light that fills my heart even as I stumble lost in the dark; trusting that the people you love most will always be there when you need them and that those bonds can't be broken; application of our beliefs in our daily lives. 
A belief in the greater good; 
those who exemplify good deeds and the striving for behavior that reflects the appreciation for all beings. 
A love that takes your breath away. 
Believing that which you cannot see or prove. 
A belief in the power of change and continuity; 
belief that a different outcome is possible. 
Leaning your weight onto something, or someone. 

(By the way, all of these responses increase my faith in what kind of community can take place on Facebook!)

            What do you think of when you hear the word “faith”?

            Trusting in the dark.
            Acceptance - everything is going to be okay.
            Confidence in the future.

            In many of the comments trust was the word used most often—something we know can be easily broken or damaged.  The irony about words like faith and trust and hope is that there is no safe bet about them.  That first verse from the 11th chapter of Hebrews is paradoxical:  the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  We have no evidence of what will be; in fact, what we can see may fly in the face of what we hope for, who or what we trust and have faith in.  That’s what makes it faith rather than certainty. 

In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”  Well, maybe some people do.  Not me.  Not most of us.  And yet we hope anyway.  It’s almost like we can’t help ourselves.  Hopelessness is not where we want to live.  Faith, trust, hope—they speak to our vulnerable condition, but they also point to our resilience; that despite the present circumstances, we seek a homeland, we live for a better country:  the future.

            The author of Hebrews was writing to early Jewish Christians who were finding it difficult to keep the faith.  It had been a few decades since the death and resurrection of Jesus, whose expected return had not yet occurred, and the movement found itself having to defend against detractors from all sides.  People were beginning to doubt.  Following Jesus is hardly a rose garden.  It’s not easy living the way Jesus lived because who knows?  It just might, and often did, lead to the way Jesus died.   

As time went on, the early Church moved away from the center of Jesus’ ministry, which was and still is how to live, and made it more about what to believe.  If Jesus had still not yet returned, did that invalidate everything he taught and lived and died for?  Perhaps because of the present uncertainty, the movement became more future-oriented.  It was beginning to look as though God’s kingdom was an unlikely prospect.  Thus we have the assurance of a hoped-for heaven—an ultimate future we have no evidence of but one that could give comfort to and assuage the pain of the anxious here and now.

            The conundrum of our obsession with and slavery to time is that we never really get to live in the future.  Once it arrives, it becomes the present.  I think I can say with near certainty that we are all looking forward to the day after the presidential election, when all of the ads and news reports of what “he said, she said” will be over, for the time being.  But then we will be living into another future, one as yet we cannot see but we imagine and often fear it anyway.

            And so we hope, we have faith, we put our trust in what we cannot see, and we give it the power of conviction and assurance.  It’s one of the most irrational, rebellious things we can do.  We do this because it really is more about how we live our lives and our life together than what it is we believe.  How we live now influences not only the present but that future ahead of us that we may not get to see.  After all, none of us are getting out of this alive. 

            Rather than worry about or be fearful of the future, let us shape it by how we live now, that we do justice, love kindness, and make of this life a humble journey.  Let us be assured and convinced that even the smallest kindness, the most humble gift makes a difference, just as each drop of water contributes to an ocean.  Even as Jesus so lived and taught.  Amen.

Benediction – adapted from our brother, Martin Luther:

Faith is a living, well-founded confidence in the grace of God. Such confidence and personal knowledge of divine grace makes us joyful, bold, and full of warm affection toward God and all created things—all of which the Holy Spirit works in faith. Hence, let us become without constraint willing and eager to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to make sacrifices, that God may be glorified and seen through us, God who has shown toward us such grace. It is thus impossible to separate how we live from faith—yes, just as impossible as to separate burning and shining from fire.

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