Texts: Genesis 12:1-10; Hebrews 11:1-10
Date Preached: Sept 15 2109
Preached by Dr. Terry Swicegood
The CBS anchorman, Dan Rather, once said that if all the difficulties were known at the outset of a long journey, most of us would never start at all. I think he’s right.
If all the difficulties of parenting were known before, we had children, we might have second thoughts about ever having a family. As someone paraphrased Sir Walter Scott:
“Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to conceive.
If all the difficulties of a new job were known in advance, we might well might never begin.
But the most important journey of all for Christians is the journey of faith. If Dan Rather’s words hold true for most of life, do they hold true for the life of faith? If we knew at the outset where God was going to take us, would we ever want to believe at all? The scariest words in all the Bible to take to heart are Isaiah’s words in chapter 6: “Here I am, Lord, send me.”
The people who have said that have been shipped out by God to some of the strangest and most difficult and most uncongenial places you can imagine.
Hebrews chapter 11 is the defining statement in the New Testament on the dynamics of faith. The word is lifted up some 24 times. The Epistle tells us what faith is, and then we are given examples of people who lived by faith.
The Contemporary English Version of the Bible throws it at us this way: “Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see.”
Let’s break this definition down into its two component parts. “Faith makes us sure of what we hope for.” Faith gives us the conviction that the future will come to pass as God has promised.
Then the second part of the definition. “Faith give us proof of what we cannot see.” Faith is the perception of imperceptible realities. Faith leads us to believe not in some nebulous divine plan, but in specific events, people, and occurrences that are in no way visible in the present circumstances.
All faith, according to this chapter, is wholly dependent upon the validity of God’s word and God’s promises. Faith is believing, very simply, that God will do what God says he will do.
Let me give you an example. If we are facing surgery, we try to find a good surgeon. We get recommendations from our GP and our friends about a surgeon. We come to believe that the surgeon we have selected is competent, but this is not the same thing as trusting the surgeon. When we’re wheeled into the operation room on that gurney, and the anesthesiologist is ready to shoot the juice to us, that’s when we trust the surgeon. We are trusting the surgeon with our life. We are trusting her for our future.
That’s what these opening verses in Hebrews are driving at. Faith giving us certainty in what we hope for, giving us conviction of what we cannot see. When we say we have faith in God, we are saying that we trust God with our lives. We trust God for our future.
OK, enough for definitions. Let’s look at some up close and personal examples of faith. The rest of this chapter is a portrait gallery of men and women of faith. Seventeen people in all are painted here. But the largest and most prominent portrait in this gallery of faith is the picture of Abraham. He’s the real centerpiece of the chapter. There is something about Abraham that this writer wants us to know about, something specific about his faith he wants to hold up in bold relief.
“By 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.” The significant words here are the last nine: “He set out, not knowing where he was going.” God called Abraham from his home in present day Iraq to travel to the land of Canaan, present day Israel. He was 75 years old, not a time in life when we are given to new adventures. Abraham–and his wife Sarah–ventured forth, not only geographically, to a different location on the map, but also spiritually, to a different location in their world. God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would be father and mother to a great nation. And so, they believe, and off they go, not having a clue what their final destination will be. Off they go, trusting God to lead them the next step of the way.
And this is what the author of Hebrews wants us to understand about faith, and this is why Abraham is singled out as the prime example of faith. Faith is not a set of propositions to be believed. Faith is not a series of questions and answers in some Catechism. No, faith is a journey. Faith is venturing forth with God, as Abraham and Sarah did.
Biblical scholar Marcus Borg has returned to faith in Jesus after a twenty-year process of searching and exploration. He writes about his return in his book “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” As the title implies, Borg says he met Jesus again. He had met him before–met him in the church, met him as a set of beliefs to be grasped, met him as ideas to be grasped. Yet he had trouble with some of the beliefs; he struggled with some of the ideas. Later in life, Borg has come to see that Jesus comes to us, not with a set of beliefs we must understand and affirm, but Jesus comes himself, giving himself to us. Jesus comes as someone we meet. He comes to us as a friend. He comes as someone we want to follow.
If you go back to the original Greek, and examine the etymology of the word “disciple” it doesn’t mean “one who learns from a teacher”, but rather “someone who follows after someone else.” The disciples who follow Jesus accompany him on a journey, the roller coaster ride of their lives.
When you read the gospels, what you are seeing is an extended travel narrative. Jesus is always on the road, always on the move, always preaching, teaching, healing, and then heading off to a new locale.
Of course, the disciples were taken places they never dreamed on going. They had a much harder and more challenging life than they would have had if they had stayed back in Galilee fishing and mending their nets. It was a harder and more challenging life, but life with Jesus, whatever else it was, was never boring.
Think about your own life for a minute, and your relationship with Jesus. Isn’t there something within us all that resists the journey. There is something about us that wants to settle down in one place, put down roots, bolt down the furniture.
But that’s not the way it is with Jesus. He is always moving on. As Marcus Borg puts it: “Discipleship means being on the road with Jesus. It means to be an itinerant, a sojourner, to have nowhere to lay one’s head, no permanent resting place. To journey with Jesus means listening to his teaching–sometimes understanding it, sometimes not quite getting it. It can involve denying him, even betraying him.”
I don’t know about you, but that sounds a lot about the relationship I’ve had with Jesus.
Some nights I go channel surfing, and I tune in on one of those Christian t.v. stations. If I listen long enough, I will hear some tv preacher say, “Let Jesus come into your heart,” followed by an appeal to send a check to his ministry. Well, I believe in evangelism. But it’s deceptive evangelism to say, “Let Jesus come into your heart.” Instead, it is more accurate to say, “Let Jesus take you places.” For that’s exactly what will happen when we have faith in him. When we believe, we are taken on the trip of our lives.
That great and grizzled old Baptist preacher, Carlyle Marney was fond of saying. “Faith isn’t a noun. Faith is a verb.” I think Carlyle Marney was trying to say that faith is never static. It isn’t something we have and hold, but rather an activity, a never-endingmovement in response to an ever-seeking God.
The American Friends Service Committee celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1992. In its anniversary year, this Nobel Peace Prize winning organization rededicated itself to its ongoing work for peace and justice for peace and justice as the twentieth century draws down. They selected three words to mark their journey into the future: Faith, Risk, Change.
A few years ago, our Presbytery pastor, Brad Munroe, who will be preaching here next week (a treat instead of a treatment) told me about this church, that there was an opening here for an interim pastor. He asked me if I were interested. I said sure. After all I was in between failures of retirement and was ready to go at it again. So, I was interviewed by the interim pastor search committee, Noel and Katrina and Judy. They offered me the job even before they asked me a single question—my resume must have been sensational. So, I came and as you know the rest is history.
I didn’t know then what I know now. Then it was a job, 20 minutes from our home, the chance to preach, teach, and pastor, all of which I love. But the job turned out to be a call. I came to see that God needed me here, and I needed to be here, and I think most of you needed me to be here. That call was reaffirmed on the Sunday we celebrated my 50th anniversary of my ordination, the slide show put together by my wife and son-in-law to be background music, “Here I am Lord.”
Looking back now, I can see more clearly what this call was all about. God wasn’t finished with me yet, nor you. As long as we live, we are on a faith journey, responding to where God is leading us. Although most often we do not know where we will be going. God’s will be never known in prospect, only in retrospect.
But having faith in God’s will doesn’t mean that life will be easier. It doesn’t mean that our every wishwill be fulfilled, and every dream come true. But having faith means that we will discover our destiny, our true calling, our deepest vocation. Having faith means that we, like Abraham, may not know where we are going, but we are dead certain who is going with us.