If you were sick and went to a trusted doctor and you were prescribed antibiotics or some form of treatment, how many would follow your doctor’s recommendations?
If you found yourself in complicated some legal mess, and had to go before a judge, would you go by yourself or would you retain a qualified lawyer?
If you had a child, would you leave her care to someone you implicitly trusted or pick a name out of the phone book or from Angie’s List or Craig's List?
Day in and day out we have to make choices. Our choices our decisions our actions are guided by the faith we have in the people we turn to. Faith, according to the author of Hebrews, “Is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith whether it’s faith in Jesus in God, or simply faith and confidence in stepping into the unknown is a fundamental law of the spiritual life. We have faith in our doctor because she has a track record of making people get better. We have faith in our teacher because we see their effectiveness from their training. Why do we have faith in Jesus? Because of the witness of the Bible, because of the power of his words and deeds, because we experience a difference in our lives that faith brings us. Faith, however, is characterized by a certainty of something we cannot entirely see, of conviction in what is not yet come to pass. And so, we have faith even when asked to make hard choices that may seem impossible to accomplish.
My friend, the Rev. Kate Dunn, recently shared that “The Letter to the Hebrews we which are studying today is actually a sermon, written to be read aloud to a congregation facing a crisis of commitment. Their growing awareness of delay, that God’s timetable is different from their own. They were questioning, if Jesus is not returning in their lifetime after all, is all this effort of faith worth it. They were losing their faith. "During this sermon, the preacher offers a dejected congregation words of encouragement that have stood the test of time.”
The preacher recalls people throughout the Biblical timeline who have chosen to participate in God’s story, beginning with Abel, and continuing with Abraham and Sarah, and continues in the later part of chapter 11 with other characters from the Old Testament. The chapter is called the Hall of Faith.” Abel and his acceptable sacrifice, Enoch who pleased God, Noah who followed God’s warning, and Abraham and Sarah, then Isaac and Jacob, who sojourned forth for a better country, strangers and foreigners on earth, as God commanded them, dying without yet achieving the promises God declared. The author of Hebrews reminds his audience, and us, that God calls us to great things, difficult things, things impossible with faith and trust. Without faith it is impossible to please God.
One of the great practitioners of faith in our generation was Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Imprisoned for 27 years as an anti-apartheid activist, were completely isolated, got little to eat and had to undertake the grueling work of pounding rocks into gravel. Through it all, he kept faith in his vision of a new South Africa.
He was released in 1990, and declared from his 27 years of suffering, to a nation still divided: “The need to unite the people of our country is as important a task now as it always has been. No individual leader is able to take on this enormous task on his own. It is our task as leaders to place our views before our organization and to allow the democratic structures to decide.”
Mandela’s words are as pertinent to us today, as we live in a divided time, a time where faith is challenged. We find our faith in Jesus who declared that the kingdom of heaven is within us and called us to realize this kingdom in our very midst. Our faith is shaped by our longing for a righteous, just and peaceful world even in the midst of stories of mass shootings, stabbings, and other demonstrations of violence and oppression. The substance of our faith asks us to conform to the reign God is establishing, a reign where we live in a society that lifts up the poor, the fatherless, the orphan, the foreigner in our midst as the scriptures repeatedly lay out for us. But the kingdom has not materialized and so we are, like the Hebrews congregation, tempted to despair.
Faith makes our lives substantial in loving as we have been cultivated and strengthened to love by the teachings of Jesus. Despite the horror of the mass shootings we witness too often, we think of the first responders, the anonymous citizens, even those individuals who gave their lives to protect others: Lori Kaye who saved her rabbi in Poway CA, Anthony Borges who put sacrificed himself to save his friends at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Parkland, most recently we recall Jordan and Andre Anchondo, who with their bullet-ridden bodies shielded the life of their two-month baby in El Paso TX. We must not forget their faith to love sacrificially for it is this faith that will enable us to painstakingly, like Nelson Mandela, to build the seemingly unobtainable kingdom of God that God insistently beckons us to.
This week our world lost a literary luminary, Toni Morrison, the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature. Morrison’s faith reminds us of the future that is calling to us, in this troubled times: Morrison writes:
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence.” We must have faith.
“Toni Morrison’s commitment to work toward a future she could imagine, even if she would not personally experience it, surely earns her a place in that great cloud of witnesses whose courage and testimony will continue to inspire and sustain.”
Who are our saints, the historical figures whose faith has buttressed your own? Who are the people we’ve known personally whose trust in God’s promises has sustained you through your own times of suffering and doubt? (Name them) I think of Rev. Fred Rogers, of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, who reminds us in times of turmoil, when our faith is challenged, to look for the helpers. Think of those first responders. Those who willingly get involved in spite of great risk to themselves. Remember during the evils of overt segregation, such as in separated pools for blacks and whites,
Mister Rogers in 1968 had on his show the black character, Officer Clemmons, cool his feet with him in a child’s wading pool. Without saying a word, Fred Rogers taught what it meant to be a faithful believer in a time of division.
This, is the faith God is planting in our weeping, hurting, often divided hearts. To trust the Journey Maker, believe in the Heavenly King, that our contribution matters even when we cannot feel the results. Let us be God’s faithful people in this time of division and this journey of Divine Love, peace and mercy we have been called to. Let us be faithful and strive to build for the Kingdom of God that Jesus gave his life for, for our salvation and our commitment to his teachings. In the midst of delay, when goodness seems lost, let us remember the witnesses of faith, let us celebrate the faith in the resurrection of the One who saw the journey through and encourages us to remain faithful. Amen