Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sermon: Faith: A Matter of Love

Grace Presbyterian Church
August 28, 2016, Pentecost 15C
Hebrews 13:1-8, 14-16

Faith: A Matter of Love

I don’t know how much any of you remember about your education. I mean your education going back to elementary school or even high school. I only remember small bits and pieces here and there. Now I’m not talking about extracurricular things that happened in school, but the educational substance, the things you were actually supposed to learn in class. I’m not saying I have forgotten all that I learned, only that I don’t have much memory of the specific moment of learning it; it’s just part of the general wash of information burbling about in my brain.
There is one part of my education that, for whatever reason, I very specifically remember being instructed on: the construction of a paragraph, in particular the function of a topic sentence.
The memory is strong. Very clearly I can hear the instruction to start a paragraph with a topic sentence, and to follow that sentence with evidence to support the claim made in that sentence, or possibly further instruction or information following from that sentence. I also have pretty strong recollection of being taught that the topic sentence should ideally be strong and concise, as direct a statement as you can possibly make.
Coming to the thirteenth and final chapter of the book of Hebrews makes me wonder if its author was in those writing classes with me, or somehow received the same instruction.
In the past few weeks of sermons from this sometimes-perplexing book, we have observed that at times the book reads as much like a sermon as like a letter. This is not only because of its serious theological content and rhetorical style, but also because it is missing some of the typical structures and components of the letters we typically find in scripture. If you go back to the first chapter of the book, for example, you’ll see that there is no greeting, something that is found in every other epistle in the New Testament – whether from Paul, as most of these letters are headed, or in a couple of cases from Peter. The epistles attributed to John are structured a little differently, but aside from 1 John they also contain some kind of formally addressed greeting. But not Hebrews.
However, this final chapter of Hebrews is the place where the book is at its most letter-like. For one thing, the end of the chapter does contain some of the formal final salutation structures we see in other biblical letters. For another, the chapter follows a rhetorical pattern common to other epistles, in which the letter concludes with some final instructions and exhortations to the epistle’s recipients. Something very much like that happens here.
In this case, these final instructions are structured in a way that demonstrates something of that paragraph-writing structure I experienced back in high school. The instructions our preacher/author leaves in this final section can, when read clearly, be seen to derive from the principal instruction, or “topic sentence,” found in the very first verse of this chapter:
Let mutual love continue.”
 It’s hard to get more direct than that. You love one another? Good. Keep doing it. Keep showing love to one another. Keep doing love to one another. You have loved one another: “let mutual love continue.” After all that the Hebrews preacher has said and taught in the letter-cum-sermon, the final instruction comes down to this.
Indeed, you could argue that the rest of the chapter hangs upon this command. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,” as verse 2 says? Certainly a way to show love. Verse 3: “Remember those in prison”? Again showing love. Empathy and compassion for those suffering torturing; respecting and honoring marriage; don’t let your desires be consumed by money; these are all things that can be traced back to that basic command.
There is another really good topic sentence later, in verse 8. It might look as though the preacher has moved on to a different topic (or perhaps a different paragraph), but we can also see it in light of verse 1’s command, in this case as a truth that enables us to continue in mutual love towards one another. We can continue in love because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
Because we have a savior whose love for us, whose grace towards us, whose intercession for us never ceases; we can love one another, we can love those around us, we can love as that unchanging Jesus Christ has loved us. The love we know from Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The redemption we have from Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever – it isn’t yanked out from under us, it isn’t dependent on our “earning” it in any way, it doesn’t go away in the hard times. The forgiveness we have through Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. There will never come a Sunday when the Assurance of Pardon is excluded from the service, or is somehow altered to say “nope, sorry, you blew it too badly this time” – the forgiveness we have through Christ is constant, undying, unquenchable; the same yesterday, today, and forever. The hope we have through Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, not to be quenched by floods or suffering or fires or cancer or anything the world can throw at us.
The preacher has a few other things to say as well. Returning to a theme already expressed earlier in the sermon, he reminds his hearers or readers that the home we look forward to is not an earthly one, but that is to come, a lasting city, a heavenly city, one in the unending presence of the Holy One. Taken with what has come before in this passage – the command to love, the undying constancy of God – there’s really only one response: harking back to the previous chapter’s message on worship with reverence and awe, in verse fifteen we are reminded to praise God. Even there, though, we can’t rest on that – that’s not all; we get one more reminder not to “neglect to do good and to share what you have”; in essence, one more reminder to “let mutual love continue.”
With a few last words, the sermon/letter concludes, including a note in verse 22 that “I have written to you briefly”; I’m not sure how his readers or listeners would have felt about that claim. But in this letter, brief or not, our preacher has sought to encourage his readers to persevere in faith, pointing to their ancestors in the faith for encouragement, and reminded them of the awe and reverence due to the God they – and we – worship. And at the last the preacher brings forth the most basic and yet most significant instruction, to “let mutual love continue.”
Don’t miss the significance of that last word; continue. This wasn’t a case in which the preacher had to upbraid his audience for their failure to live into the love with which Christ loved us (as Paul often had to do in his letters). “Let mutual love continue” – keep doing what you are already doing, and go beyond.
I don’t think the Hebrews preacher would have to change his instruction much were he (or she) writing this letter/sermon to the saints of Grace Presbyterian Church, circa 2016. Having been to evenings at St. Francis House and Family Promise, fellowship time after Sunday services, a Christmas and a couple of Easters, and days like yesterday’s Service of Witness to the Resurrection and the fellowship after, I dare the Hebrews preacher to claim that love doesn’t live here, and I have no doubt that the Hebrews preacher could absolutely write to our congregation, “Let mutual love continue.” Keep on doing what you’re doing, and go beyond.
Really, that could be our charge every Sunday. Let mutual love continue. Keep doing what we’re doing, and go beyond. Living as we are in the undying, unshakable, unquenchable love of Christ, how can we do any other?
For mutual love; for Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever, Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal):
#645                  Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above
#667                  When Morning Gilds the Skies
#267                  Come, Christians, Join to Sing
#306                  Blest Be the Tie That Binds

"Do not neglect to show hospitality..."

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sermon: Faith: A Matter of Awe

Grace Presbyterian Church
August 21, 2016, Pentecost 14C
Hebrews 12:18-29

Faith: A Matter of Awe

There are moments in scripture that are so beautiful we can never forget them. Psalm 23 retains popularity across generations at least in part because its poetry and imagery are so utterly beautiful, and many of the psalms are of similar poetic beauty. The first verses of John 14 – “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” are similarly poetic and memorable. You probably can recall examples that stand out to you.
And then there are passages that are … less poetic, less beautiful, generally less appealing. Between the books of Joshua, Judges, the Samuels, Kings, and Chronicles, there are enough bloody and horrifying battles to keep Hollywood working overtime for years. The crucifixion accounts in the gospels are, aside from the theological significance of the event and the resurrection that follows, gruesome to read. And I’m just going to let you go look up Psalm 137:8-9 for yourselves.
Today’s reading from Hebrews sits in an uneasy place between those two extremes. From a scene of terror and fear, the preacher pivots to one of great hope and beauty, and the result can be a bit of whiplash for the reader or hearer. Part of the challenge is that the Hebrews preacher is trying to draw a contrast in order to make his (or her?) point, and we may need to drop back and do a little bit of context to understand what is going on here.
Our Hebrews preacher paints a picture of two mountains, one of which is Sinai, the mountain up which Moses ascended to commune with God and receive the Law back in Exodus. In this case the preacher is choosing to remind those hearing or reading of the particular terror of the scene, though not by name, in the opening verses of today’s reading. Blazing fire, tempest, darkness, gloom, and the thunderings of the voice of God so terrible that the Hebrew people begged in great fear not to have to hear it again, and which even Moses found terrifying. By contrast, the preacher paints a portrait of Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, “the city of the living God” with a lot less terrifying scene than the one painted above – angels in “festal gathering,” the “assembly of the firstborn” – those claimed in redemption by Christ – the spirits of the righteous and none other than Jesus. The image is beautiful, inviting, welcoming – anything but the terrifying scene painted at Sinai.
Now as a pastor in the United States of the 21st century, there is no good reason for me to try to promote the Christian faith, to advocate on behalf of Christian scripture, to support the Christian church by denigrating or running down any other religion. Christianity has had close to two thousand years to establish itself just fine, and it remains as much an “establishment” religion in the United States as ever, despite what certain unscrupulous politicians or preachers might tell you. If the only way I can speak for the Christian faith is by slandering or denigrating another religion, I’m in the wrong business and should probably go back to teaching music history.
The situation was quite different, however, at the end of the first century, the time at which this epistle-cum-sermon was written. Some years after the death of the apostle Paul, the fledgling movement of “followers of The Way,” as they were sometimes called, was facing difficulties both within the Roman Empire and within the Jewish synagogues of which many Christian communities were still a part. While Christians were not yet facing the worst persecution the Romans could offer, they were facing greater ostracism and criticism than in the past, due to their unwillingness to go along with the civic rituals of emperor-adoration expected of residents of the empire.
In the meantime, while in some parts of the empire the Christ-followers were organizing themselves into separate communities and churches, this wasn’t the case everywhere. And in those cases where Christians remained in the synagogue, the conflict between those who claimed Jesus as Messiah and those who did not was by now becoming intolerable and irreparable.
In that situation, a word of encouragement to the fledgling group of Christ-followers just starting to face real difficulty was needed, and if it took the form of a contrast between their old world and their new, the Hebrews preacher decided, so be it.
Even so, though, even in the midst of a word of encouragement, this preacher can’t resist a word (or two) of warning.
What does it mean, though, to “refuse the one who is speaking”? And what’s this about things shaking?
Note how verse 25 continues after that initial statement. The Hebrew people back in Exodus eventually rebelled against God and the leadership of Moses, thereby “rejecting” or refusing “the one who warned them on earth” – that is, from Mount Sinai. For that rejection, that generation of the Hebrew people were condemned to wander in the wilderness for those forty years. If that was the fate of those Hebrew people, what then the fate if this latter group of Christ-followers should refuse the God who “warns from heaven.”  To refuse the grace of God extended from Zion, the “city of the living God,” the Christ-followers would place themselves in a far more precarious position.
But still, what would it be to “refuse grace”? We might find some help in Jesus’s parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew 22. The meat of the story is familiar; the invited guests do not come, so the king charges his servants to go out and bring in everybody from the streets, and the banquet was full. But towards the end of the story, the king comes upon a guest with no wedding robe, and when the man refuses to answer, he is thrown “into the outer darkness” bringing the parable to a strange close.
Sounds harsh, admittedly. But it helps to understand one thing about wedding customs of Jesus’s time. For those who were invited to the wedding, the host of the wedding was obligated to provide a special robe to wear for the event. So there was no reason for the man to have no wedding robe, other than refusing the gift given by the wedding host.
For us, “refusing grace” might be something like, for example, deciding you don’t really have any sins that need forgiving. Deciding that the grace of Christian community, like the church, is not something you really need. Those kinds of direct refusal of the gifts of grace given by God through Christ are what the Hebrews preacher warns against.
Finally, in wrapping up this thought, the Hebrews preacher provides counsel on how to respond to God, the one who gives those graces, who welcomes us to the heavenly Jerusalem, who shakes away the impermanent so that only the unshakeable remains. As we learn what it means to receive that unshakeable kingdom, the preacher reminds us, we return our gratitude by “an acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” Here it’s useful to be reminded of the difference between fear and awe. Fear, as this passage associates with the rather terrifying scene on Sinai, is not how we are meant to approach God in Christ, really. But laying aside fear does not equal rash “buddying up” to God, it doesn’t mean Jesus is your boyfriend, and it doesn’t mean slacking off in the living out of our lives in Christ’s church in God’s world. God is still God, and we still aren’t, and we’d do well to remember that.
God is still, after all, a “consuming fire,” as the preacher lastly reminds us. Think of the “refiner’s fire” from the Old Testament, as set by Handel in the oratorio Messiah. Even as we are redeemed by God in Christ, we “aren’t there yet”; there is still sanctification to be accomplished, “being made holy” to be done in our lives. None of us who is even paying a little bit of attention in faith thinks we have got it down pat, do we? We are not perfected, and we know that. That work is ongoing in us, the burning away of those elements that drag us down into sin. And that is work that is only accomplished by the direct encounter with the refining, purifying, consuming fire that is God, a God worthy of awe.
The Hebrews preacher is packing a lot into this sermon climax, and it can be difficult to untangle. But our place is not to live in fear and terror of God. Instead, we come before God in a worship that offers praise, responds to God’s word, and does not forget that God is majestic and powerful and worthy of our reverence, as well as our trust and our obedience.
For a God worthy of reverence and awe, Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal):
#35            Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty
#813            God, My Help and Hiding Place
#405            Praise God for This Holy Ground
#442            Just As I Am, Without One Plea

Credit: Awe, yes, but not fear.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sermon: Faith: A Matter of Action

Grace Presbyterian Church
August 14, 2016, Pentecost 13C
Hebrews 11:29-12:2

Faith: A Matter of Action

Something major happened in the world of Major League Baseball last week. Ichiro Suzuki, now playing for the Miami Marlins, got his 3000th major-league hit last week by stinging a triple into the right-field gap against the Colorado Rockies, becoming only the 30th player to achieve that milestone in the 140-year history of the sport.
Ichiro’s case (and yes, he’s called by his first name) is a bit different than most, though. Until age 27, he played in the professional leagues in his native Japan, achieving well over a thousand hits and renown as one Japan’s best players. He was also a certifiable celebrity in his baseball-mad native country. By most definitions, he had everything an athlete could need. But instead of continuing to play in Japan and enjoying his fame and success, he maneuvered his Japanese team into posting him as available to sign with teams in Major League Baseball, where he finally signed with the Seattle Mariners. While a number of pitchers had come to the US and had success, no position player (Ichiro is an outfielder) had ever done so. Suffice to say that Ichiro broke that trend.
But why?
To say the least, Ichiro had faith in his baseball abilities. He had faith (or, in deference to last week’s sermon, he trusted) that he had the talent and intelligence to succeed in Major League Baseball whether any other Japanese hitter had or not. But he didn’t just have that faith or trust, or even belief in himself if you want to call it that; he was willing to back up that faith or trust or belief with action, putting himself on the line to prove he was as good as he believed he was. This wasn’t what most observers expected; many in MLB believed he might do o.k., but certainly most weren’t expecting him to be the major star that he has become.
Ichiro’s confidence in his abilities and willingness to back it up with action isn’t exactly like the members of the “roll call” of the “heroes of faith” we resume in Hebrews today, but it’s not a bad metaphor. Unlike Ichiro, these biblical examples of trust did not merely have to trust in their own abilities; instead, their trust was in God alone, a far more secure locus of our trust than anything we ourselves can accomplish.
The roll call resumes in today’s reading after a little more elaboration about Abraham, including that horrible moment when he was about to sacrifice his son Isaac at God’s seeming command. It’s hard to know exactly what Abraham was about in this case; was he trusting that God would indeed pull back from his command to sacrifice his son, his one heir through whom God’s promise of a great nation of descendents was to be fulfilled? Was he trusting that God would find another way to fulfill that promise, and willingly giving up his seemingly innocent son? It’s a hard story, a kind of “text of terror” that, if we’re reading scripture with any integrity at all, should make us stop short and frankly be offended by it.
Continuing, the roll call comes to Moses and his leadership of the Hebrew people out of Egypt, where we pick up a bit in the middle of the sequence. To begin anything with “By faith the (Hebrew) people … “ is actually a bit ironic, since back in chapter three of this very same sermon those same people are reprimanded for their lack of faith for their rebelliousness in the wilderness, an event that happened after the crossing of the Red Sea that is referenced in today’s reading.
There’s a warning for us here. This faith, this trust to which Hebrews encourages us isn’t a one-time thing. Since we’re in the midst of the Olympics right now I’ll borrow a track-and-field metaphor; a hurdler doesn’t get to pull up and celebrate after successfully surmounting the first hurdle. There are more hurdles on the track, and the race isn’t over until the hurdler successfully jumps all of them and crosses the finish line. Similarly, one act of trust isn’t the end of our journey of faith; the journey continues, and we have to follow it to its end, trusting God all the way and acting on that trust as God calls us forward.  
This warning is countered by the good news inherent in the inclusion in this roll call of Rahab. Do you remember Rahab, from Joshua 2? When Joshua sent spies to scope out the city of Jericho and its defenses, it was Rahab who sheltered those spies in her home and hid them from the king of Jericho’s officers. After sending them on a wild goose chase, Rahab sends the spies on with a rather remarkable confession of Jericho’s fear before the Israelites and swears the spies to safeguard her and her family (which they do in chapter 6). It’s a pretty remarkable sub-story within the greater story, and her trust in this God she would hardly have had reason to know, and her action upon it, is apparently enough to win her a place in this roll call of honor.
Still, though, you can imagine some reader sidling up to the author of this Hebrews sermon and saying, “But Rahab was … you know … she was a … a … a prostitute.” And our nervous nelly would not be wrong; Rahab was indeed a prostitute in Jericho. From this take with you this good news; as long as you still walk on this earth, it is not too late to trust in God – to place your faith in God – and to act upon that trust. And we “good Christian folk” had better realize that trust will not always be confined to our ranks. We are in no position to judge the trust of another, or to place restrictions on where that trust will show itself.
The good news in turn is followed by another word of warning. Our preacher starts to wind up the roll call by adding several more names without elaboration of their deeds, trusting the readers to recall them. Some of the names are familiar to us, or at least can be found in the Old Testament if you want to go looking, but some of what our preacher describes isn’t that familiar. Beginning at about the midpoint of verse 35, the fates of these heroes of faith take a rather darker turn, don’t they? Up to then it’s all winning wars and conquering and shutting the mouths of lions (sounds like Daniel there), but all of a sudden these fates turn a lot darker. Mocking, flogging, chains, prison; stoning, being sawn in two (!!!), being killed by sword; living in destitution, persecution, homelessness; again these are the “heroes of faith” we’re talking about here!
Real faith – genuine unalloyed trust in God and the willingness to act on it regardless of care or consequence – does not always win us any popularity medals. Anyone who tries to tell you that a life of faith is a “get out of trouble free” card is not speaking truth to you, and if that’s what you’re looking for this isn’t the place to find it. Nor does a life lived in trust in God seek to avoid them, but to endure them, to surmount them like our hurdler from earlier, and to continue to run the race. Again with the athletic metaphor! But now that metaphor is about to break down.
We are about a week into the Olympics now, and several “heroes” of the competition  have emerged. There’s the amazing gymnast Simone Biles, flying in ways humans shouldn’t be able to do. Or the swimmer Katie Ledecky, winning races by margins that television cameras can’t measure – they can either show her, or the swimmers behind her, but not both. Or the men’s swimmer Michael Phelps, who by winning his thirteenth individual gold medal across multiple years of Olympic competitions broke a record that has stood since literally before the birth of Christ. There have been amazing and unbelievable individual performances and team performances all over Rio de Janeiro.
Our Hebrews preacher, in 12:1, invites us to imagine a scene not unlike one you might see in Rio. A “great cloud of witnesses” in the culture of the time might have been a reference to the crowds gathered to watch one of the athletic spectacles of the time, whether those ancient Olympics in Athens or other competitions in other major cities of the Roman Empire. In this case, that “great cloud of witnesses” is gathered to watch … us. We are running “with perseverance the race that is set before us,” in the presence of those saints who have already run the race set before them.
But here’s where our Olympic images break down. We don’t compete with each other. We run together, so to speak, and I don’t “lose” and you don’t “lose” and if there are any medals they’re all the same color. We run, only fixing our eyes on  the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” Jesus Christ. The only glory we run for is the glory of Christ, the one whose run was one with its own humiliations, dying a death of crucifixion that was about as opposite to the glory of the stadium as it is possible to be.
All those saints who have come before us, Enoch and Abraham and Moses and Rahab and all of them, ran their race. Some of them didn’t even get to see the prize in their lifetimes. Yet as our Hebrews preacher said in last week’s reading, they saw the promises and greeted them from afar, looking forward to a “better country, a heavenly one,” a “heavenly city” God has prepared for them, prepared for us. They ran, we run, others will run the race after us. We each have our own race set before us, but we run together, all towards the same pioneer of our faith.
Let us run with perseverance. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal):
#385            All People That on Earth Do Dwell
#438            Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me
#730            I Sing a Song of the Saints of God
#543            God, Be the Love to Search and Keep Me

Credit: But we are surrounded by that cloud of witnesses...

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Sermon: Faith: A Matter of Trust

Grace Presbyterian Church
August 7, 2016, Pentecost 12C
Faith: A Matter of Trust

What is faith?
That might seem a strange question to ask in this case, since in the very first verse of today’s reading from Hebrews we get what has become one of the more familiar verses of scripture as a seeming definition of faith – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” or “substance of things hoped for, evidence of things not seen” if all your memorized scripture is still in the King James Version. (I hate to break it to you, but  "assurance" and “conviction” is actually a better word to correspond to the Greek here.)
It’s a beautiful verse, true. Maybe too beautiful. We hear it and get lost in the mellifluous poetry of it all and maybe we don’t always bore down into it to understand just what’s really going on.
Fortunately, the author of Hebrews (which really is in effect a sermon rather than a letter) doesn’t stop with the lovely poetry, but pushes forward to flesh out the picture of faith with a couple of further elaborations and then a whole bunch of examples.
This isn’t a bad thing, and maybe at this point it’s a particularly beneficial thing for us modern Christians, who have a habit of using the word “faith” in some strange ways.
If you go to and look up the word “faith” you get seven different definitions, some of which are clearly not quite what our preacher is talking about here and some of which might just be part of the story. The sixth and seventh definitions have to do with “the obligaion of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.” and “the observance of this obligation,” which do sound a bit like the Hebrews preacher in some parts of this chapter. The fifth definition, “a system of religious belief,” is acceptable I suppose, but we have better words for that – “theology” or “doctrine” or even “religion” itself seem closer to the mark there. And the second definition, “belief that is not based on proof,” sounds very much like our preacher here in verses 1-3.
But the sticking point comes in comparing the third and first definitions. The third definition, “belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion,” seems to be the definition we are most likely to use these days. We speak of “faith” rather often in reference to a mere assertion of belief in God. “I have faith” ends up meaning little more than “I believe in God,” or “I believe x about God.” We assert a particular set of propositions or statements about God and call that faith.
At the risk of offending, if our Hebrews preacher were to hear us use the word “faith” today, he (or she) might be tempted to borrow a line from the character Inigo Montoya in the movie The Princess Bride: “You use that word a lot. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
What our preacher is telling us in this passage, what our preacher wants us to see in the examples of Abel and his faithful sacrifice; Enoch who “walked with God” and was taken up by God without suffering death; Noah who built an ark well before any rain fell; and yes, Abraham who set out from the only home he knew and followed God to a strange new land; what Hebrews wants us to see in all of these examples (and more to come later in the chapter) has basically nothing to do with fealty to a set of doctrines or teachings. That’s not the faith that moved these ancient ancestors.
The synonym for “faith” that Hebrews wants us to hear is not “belief”; the synonym Hebrews wants us to hear is “trust.”

Abraham didn’t set out from Ur and journey into that strange land because he had memorized the Apostles’ Creed or the “Roman Road” to salvation. Abraham made that journey, followed after God with his wife and his household and his complete lack of children, because somehow in that moment of call, somehow in that moment of being called out by God to take on this strange and terrible journey, Abraham trusted God. Noah certainly didn’t build an ark in the midst of a dry season in a dry land because somebody handed him a gospel tract and told him to believe it. Noah, crazily and unbelievably, trusted God.
And this might be why the Hebrews preacher might go all Inigo Montoya on us and question how we use the word. We’re very good at asserting beliefs, we moderns, and very good at beating up on those who don’t assert the same beliefs that we do and even declaring them to be “outside the faith.” I have no doubt you can find that kind of “faith” at dozens of churches in this town. But the kind of faith that shows real trust in God? The kind of faith that steps out with zero visual evidence ready to follow the crazy and unexpected path that God sets before us? Yeah, not so much.
But that’s the faith that Hebrews urges upon us. Faith that trusts God, convicted of things not seen, not worrying about what’s behind us but set on what God points to ahead of us, faith that actually dares to encounter God instead of merely talking about God? That’s the faith of Hebrews 11. Trust is not the end point of that faith (that’s next week’s sermon), but it is its start. And that’s the faith that will matter in a faithless world.
For trust in God, Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal):
#838   Standing on the Promises
#817   We Walk By Faith and Not By Sight
#538   Hallelujah! We Sing Your Praises

#321   The Church’s One Foundation

Credit: It's not a contest...