29 September 2019 Keeping theFaith MartinBaker
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, theconviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors receivedapproval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word ofGod, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. …
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out fora place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowingwhere he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had beenpromised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, whowere heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the citythat has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith hereceived power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself wasbarren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore fromone person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, "as manyas the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by theseashore."
13 All of these died in faith without having received thepromises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed thatthey were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak inthis way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had beenthinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunityto return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenlyone. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he hasprepared a city for them.
We have this list of ancient patriarchs and one or twomatriarchs in our reading today. We’ve got Abraham, Sarah and Isaac and Jacob. Infact if you read the whole of Chapter 11 there are a half dozen of these men. Rightback to Adam. There is David and Samuel and a whole lot more as well.
We know that some of these men were not particularly goodpeople. Many of them did things said things, that in truth we probably do not like hearing.
One of things that has always been of interest to Biblical scholars,is a simple question, why don’t the writers of the bible simply leave out thebad things about these people? Why are we told that Noah’s sons found him drunkand naked in his tent? Why do we have tohear that Abraham considered for a moment the plan to sacrifice Isaac, why dowe have to hear about David’s affair with Bathsheba and his plot to haveBathsheba’s husband killed? You wouldthink that over these centuries of time people would have just quietly deleted allthe bad stories and we would have only heard about the good side of thesefamous men and the woman – most of whose stories remain untold?
So some of thesepeople had children who turned out to befar from the ideal children. And whileour Bible tells us that there were often generational consequences for theirbad behaviour , God still worked through the lives of these fallible humanbeings.
And if we went around now and talked about our fathers andmothers and grandparents and various ancestors we might have some similar stories. Some of these stories would be about deephurts and pain. Some of us here have had wonderful parents that were models of faith, virtue and goodness. But others of uswill have different stories.
About a third of the ministers I trained with had fatherswho were also ministers. But I, like a good number of others came to faith as ateenager. My father like many in hisgeneration, smoked too much, drank too much. And had a profound and deepdislike for anything to do with the church or the Christian faith.
My dad died a few years ago on Boxing Day. A certain ironywas the only venue we could find to hold his funeral in that space betweenChristmas and New Year was in the Anglican Cathedral. He was something of anenvironmentalist and did not like too much money spent on such things so he wasburied in a cardboard carton and would have been very pleased to have a memberof his wider whanu write a range of complimentary and not so complimentarycomments on his casket. His funeral was conducted by his brother in law asomewhat eccentric Methodist minister. Several of his aging girlfriends were inthe congregation. I am not sure if any of them went forward to write a note ortwo.
Everyone listening to the Bible reading this morning wouldbe hearing two things: the nature offaith in God, and the reality that God’s work could be revealed, known andcelebrated in the lives of some pretty dodgy fathers. If you read the start ofthe Gospel of Matthew you will also see that Jesus genealogy included some prettyodd characters, some faithful courageous people, but also people who believedin other gods, and a whole lot of people who on occasions behaved quitebadly.
Perhaps the challenge of our Biblical writers is the samechallenge we face when we think about some of our ancestors or parents. Todiscern their love, to discern the goodness in their hearts, their hopes for us,their pride in, even in the midst of the fact that we know all too well their fallibilitiesand shortcomings.
So we listen to these words from scripture today
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, theconviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors receivedapproval. Considering what we know aboutthese fathers and mothers in our history they could not have received goodapproval by the less than perfect lives they lived. The approval came someother way. And we find that God’sapproval comes as a gift, an act of grace. It is what God is like.
So what makes this most powerful, is that the Biblicalfigures, and our ancestors in faith, with all their issues also hadthis gift called faith.
Faith is one of those words which we hear often, but perhapsdo not spend too much time reflecting upon, and yet faith is this word thatstands at the heart of our beliefs.
It is bit like the word love. We can love ice cream, and canlove God. But we mean different thingswhen we say that. We can have faith thatour car will start tomorrow, or faith that that wretched traffic light coming intoClevedon will not let some 18 wheeler forestry truck come hurtling toward uswhen we thought it was our time to go. But also faith in God. We are again talking about quite different things.
As we read through the letter to the Hebrews we find the great affirmation that we are allpart of this wonderful created universe.
We find the wonder and awe of this creation present in Jesus. The gospel of John tells us that the word of God becomes flesh and dwellsamong us.
Now we come to this point where the understanding of faithis intimately connected with the assurance of things hoped for. That creation will be redeemed, the kingdomof God, a New Jerusalem, God among mortals, a place where the former thing has past, and a new thing has happened. A place where God, justice and righteousnesswill prevail. We live in this tension between how things are, and how we believeGod intends them to be.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, theconviction of things not seen.
So we are also told that we cannot expect this faith to besupported by the culture, or the things we see happening around us. The‘conviction of things not seen ‘ we are told. Faith places us in the tensionbetween how things are, and how scriptures tell us that God intends them to be- between now and what Jesus tells us isthe Kingdom of God.
The writer of the letter is saying that our convictionscannot be based on the dominant culture, and values need to come from someother place than the things we see that are most obvious.
As we read thismorning, as we reflect on the nature of faith and hope we come across the affirmation that we arenot only on a journey but there is a destination as well.
We are told of homeland; there is a place to which Abrahamis called. "the land he had been promised" (v. 9); "the citythat has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (v. 10); we aretold "they were strangers andforeigners on the earth … seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of theland that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. Butas it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore Godis not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city forthem"
So we talk about a journey a pilgrimage but we also hear ofa destination.
Our reading today is saying that there is a home, there is aplace for you and me. A home for you, acity for you, a land for you, and for me.
With all our movement and transience.
You arrive back in New Zealand, you land at the airport surrounded bypaddocks. You have a feeling of being home.
You come down West Road and you look up the Wairoavalley
It is hard to describe in a way. But to be able to say thisis my place, this is my home, this is where I live.
In English we perhaps do not have a word for what our scripture’s is talking abouthere. But in Maori there is the lovelyword Tūrangawaewae. There is a place where we feel especially empowered andconnected. They are our foundation, our place in the world, our home.
They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared acity for them.
To be an ancestor in our faith, to stand in this history ofmen and women who are far from perfect but who yearned for a home, people in whose lives the promises of God were madereal. In recognising the future to which they were being called, they each had thisfaith that God was working in their lives to create a home for their families,for their communities.
The people who first read this ancient letter had found thattheir faith in Jesus had taken them to a dangerous place. Some of them had theirhouses ransacked and destroyed. Some had been threatened and hurt. But they also had this deep sense that inChrist they had discovered a new home. A new sense of hope and promise, a deepsense of purpose a new faith that enabled them to get through all that theywere facing.
I’d like to leave you with a little story.
My children find this hard to imagine, but when I set ofwith my backpack and traveller’s chequesto see the world when I was 21, the only contact I had with those who I knewwas those little blue aerogrammes that would arrive ahead of me at various postoffices in the cites I visited.
Those aerogrammes, those messages from home from my motherand my father were the things that I looked forward to more than anything elseon my travels.
Knowing that there is a loving father or mother that wantsthe best for you, is mindful of you enables you to do things that you perhapscould never have done alone.
So, as travellers we have these letters from home. We haveGod’s word. We have the promise of citizenship in God’s kingdom.
Our verse today: God is not ashamed to be called our God,indeed he has prepared a city for you and for me.
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.