Sunday, August 7, 2016

Yes- We're Flawed but Faith is the Strongest Force in the Universe; Hebrews 11:1-22

Rev. George Miller
Hebrews 11:1-22
August 7, 2016

What you just heard was an expert recap of the Book of Genesis, similar to the recaps from our favorite weekly TV dramas, like Grey’s Anatomy or Game of Thrones.

“Here’s what happened previously in the Good Book: Abel made an acceptable sacrifice unto the Lord. Noah, facing a flood, fashioned a floating farm.

Abraham ambled ahead until he was able to sire a son. And Joseph jostled for justice.

Each doing so with a faith of assurance hoped for, but unseen; a faith in which they received approval from their God.”

Faith is the theme of Hebrews 11, the word mentioned almost too many times to count.

Faith rules supreme.

Faith that encourages us to be strong, to move forward no matter what pop culture says, no matter what the government threatens, and no matter if our beliefs are the same as everyone else around us.

Faith- the faith of Abel, the faith of Sarah and her husband Abraham; the faith of Joseph, the faith of Noah and his family.

Oh if we only had faith like them, things would be so great…but let’s dig a bit deeper.

Abel’s faith led him to offer God a delicious BBQ of sheep short-ribs. It was an offering that pleased God and made God very, very happy.

But…Abel’s faith also caused his brother to become angry and to kill him.

So what good is faith if it leads to your own demise?

Joseph had a faith in which he saw God active in every aspect of his life.

But those aspects included being attacked by his brothers, sold into slavery, accused of rape and jailed on trumped up allegations.

How nice that folks like Abel and Joseph had faith, but if the reward is death and detainment, wouldn’t you rather say “No thanks”?

What good is faith if it doesn’t protect you from bad times? What good is faith if it doesn’t protect you from bad people?

What good is faith if it means watching everything and everyone around you being destroyed in a flood while you watch from your floating farm?

Yet faith is perhaps the strongest force in the universe.

Faith is frail. Faith is invisible. Faith is hard to fathom.

Faith in God is what kept the Israelites going when they wandered through the wilderness. Faith is what kept the earliest Christians centered when crosses loomed large.

Faith is what made the Congregationalists cross the sea so they could seek religious freedom. Faith is what fed the Jews in the Concentration Camps even as they were being starved, annihilated and scape-goated.

I’d venture to say faith is what allowed us to see the election of a black man to the White House, the marriage of gays and lesbians, and faith is what will get us through whatever-the-heck this election-circus is.

But faith is not always easy. Faith is not always neat. Faith is not always pretty.

Faith does not involve practically perfect people.

For proof of this we don’t have to go any further than Abraham and Sarah, our spiritual grandparents.

The author of Hebrews wants us to believe that Abraham was overly obedient, a man who did as God told, who patiently waited for the promises of God to come true.

You know the promises- they would have land, they would have a family, and their family would bless all the families of the world.

Trouble is, when God made this promise to Abraham and Sarah they were already past child-bearing years and had no children of their own.

But God told them to “Go!” and go they did, although they never knew why they were going or where God was leading them.

And though Hebrews would like us to think Abraham and Sarah always had their eyes faithfully forward, this is not true.

In the 25 years it took for God’s promise to come true, Abraham and Sarah made plenty of mistakes along the way.

For starters, Abraham was an incredibly insecure husband who thought everyone wanted his wife.

So not once but twice he passed his wife off as his sister, allowing her to engage in questionable relationships with local kings.

Then there’s Sarah who gets tired of waiting for God to follow through on God’s promises, so she convinces her husband to have sex with her slave-girl Hagar.

But Sarah is notoriously jealous and insecure herself and ends up shaming her husband while abusing and exiling Hagar.

Not to mention Abraham has two sons with these two very different women, but he has no problem sending the first off into the wilderness and nearly killing the second.

Are these the family values people try to force down our throats when they talk about the biblical definition of marriage?

But here is the beauty of the Abraham and Sarah story- they were never, ever flawless. They were imperfect. They made many mistakes, poor decisions, and caused entire communities to become caught up in the consequences of their choices.

But none of this ever changed the fact that they had faith.

And it wasn’t the kind of faith in which they sat around doing nothing, expecting God’s promises to fall fully formed from the sky.

Abraham and Sarah, just like Abel, Joseph and Noah did something about their faith.

They acted. They listened. They discerned.

They did not fully understand why they were doing what they were doing. But they did.

They offered the fat of their flocks. They built boats out of cypress. They left their homeland, meeting kings, leading rescue missions and entertaining angels. They divined dreams and devised plans.

These amazing people of faith did not sit still and wait for others to save them. They did not expect God to do it all alone. Nor did they always get it right.

Abraham and Sarah made so many mistakes, but by God they made them.

Yes, they had faith that was fragile, faith that was feckless, but it was faith nevertheless.

Faith that got them through 25 years of traveling through unknown places. Faith that got them through difficult situations.

Faith that finally resulted in the promised son.

Faith, that led them to become the grandparents of a family that has indeed blessed all the families of the world.

Their faith runs through the core essence of every Jew and Christian to this very day.

That’s the thing about faith- anyone can have it, and it doesn’t mean you have to be perfect.

In fact there is not one single person in the Biblical narrative that is perfect; there is not one single person in the faith narrative that doesn’t have areas for improvement.

Even Jesus himself was questioned about how much he ate, how much he drank and who he chose to spend his time with.

Even Paul was known to go from hot to cold in an emotionally charged moment.

Even God had times in which Abraham, Moses, or the Psalmist had to remind God of what should be done.

So today, we can give ourselves a break. We can give a break to others. We can say that no one is flawless; no one is without room to grow.

We can also say that faith is a gift that gets us through, faith is a function that allows us to endure foolishness and to face our fears.

Faith is that which keeps us moving forward into the future in which the foundations are built on Jesus Christ.

When there have been jealousies and rivalries, faith is what allowed the people of God to survive.

When there have been attacks, arrests, and slavery, faith is what allowed the people of God to survive.

When there have been issues of impotence, infidelity, insecurity and insanity, faith is what allowed the people of God to survive.

When kings have confiscated land, when governments have overtaxed their people, when politicians have misbehaved, faith is what allowed the people of God to survive.

When people have been oppressed, beaten, or deprived of their humanhood, faith is what allowed the people of God to survive.

When we have nothing left in the world but our final, final breathe, faith is what will usher us into our future.

The foundation of Heaven’s kingdom is founded on faith; and in faith we shall find our comfort and our rest.

For that we can say amen and amen.

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