Sunday, August 7, 2016

"What Faithful Living Looks Like: Seeking the Unseen" - Sermon, 8/6/2016

Community UMC, Quincy
“What Faithful Living Looks Like: Seeking the Unseen”
Pastor Andrew Davis
August 7, 2016
Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16
Luke 12: 32-40

11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith[a] our ancestors received approval.By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.[b]

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. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised.[a] 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
Luke 12: 32-40
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Watchful Slaves
35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he[a] would not have let his house be broken into.40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

        “I’ll believe it when I see it!” How many of you have said or heard this phrase before?  I think when it comes to things, like, let’s say sports, you’ll often hear it said.  For instance, the Sacramento Kings will make the playoffs this year…I’ll believe it when I see it.  The San Francisco 49ers will win another Super Bowl in the next five years…I’ll believe it when I see it.  The San Francisco Giants will make the World Series this year…well, based on the way they’ve been playing as of late, I’ll believe it when I see it.  You get the gist.  Same goes for fish stories too, especially when there isn’t proof in pictures.  So often I’ll read the fishing reports from Western Outdoor News and get out to one of our lakes only to catch a sunburn instead of any fish.  I’ll believe those reports when I catch something.  Or some days, I feel like Tom Cruise’s character in the 1996 movie, “Jerry Maguire” shouts, “SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!” from his office. 
It sometimes feels like we need to have proof and empirical evidence, or want to demand “show me the money” in order to believe.  In other words, seeing is believing.  There also seems to be a need for certainty in our world today, only because we live in a time where uncertainty abounds.  But, some things are just not meant to be seen.  That’s where faith and faithful living come into play, as today we embark on this new miniseries “What Faithful Living Looks Like.” These next few weeks, we will be exploring what it means to deepen our faith and life of discipleship as we explore chapters 11 to 13 in the Book of Hebrews.  We’ll be exploring what believing without seeing looks like, having faith in ALL situations, and showing faith towards God with reverence and awe.  However, we must first ask what exactly faith is?  The author of Hebrews gives a good answer right off the bat by saying that “faith is the assurance of all things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11: 1, NRSV).  It also stems from the Greek word, hypostasis which means substance, support, or foundation.[i] This assurance and conviction of the things we don’t see serves as a foundation to what faithful living looks like, but also leads us into how we can seek the unseen as we deepen our faith.  It is one of the ways that we experience the nature of faith. 
        Seeking the unseen is definitely a challenge because of that yearning for proof and certainty in order to believe.  However, the author of Hebrews gives some concrete examples of faithful living through seeking the unseen by linking the us to the story of Abraham and Sarah found in Genesis chapters 12, 15-18, 21-22, and 24-25.  I think we know the gist of the story of Abraham and Sarah, but if it’s been awhile, I’ll give you an abridged version: God calls Abraham to leave his land and promises Abraham and Sarah that they will be parents of many new generations even though they are in their nineties.  While on their journey to the promised land, Isaac is born to Sarah despite her age, then later on, Abraham is told to sacrifice Isaac when Isaac is an adolescent only to see God halt Abraham, in which Isaac then grows up and marries Rebekah, receiving the same blessings and promises from God that Abraham did. 
Amidst the vast ground covered that the author of Hebrews links with Genesis, the one thing that stands out in the example of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac is how they still believed and were still faithful to God, even though they could not see God, nor what was ahead for them.  They didn’t say “I’ll believe it when we see it, God,” or “show me the money,” but instead followed God and listened to God each step of their journey.  The same went for other characters in these stories through the rest of Genesis, particularly in Isaac and Jacob, in which the author of Hebrews says in verse 13, “all of these died in faith without having received the promises” (Heb. 11: 13, NRSV).  While God promised each person in the story a new land and a whole new city, all of them died before reaching it. 
        How true is that in our own lifetime and journey?  We do our best to be faithful to God and listening for God’s promises, even though we cannot see God and that we may not see God’s promises fulfilled in our lifetime.  Even in our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus even points that we do not know when God’s timing will pan out, particularly in Jesus’s return, even though we believe that it will happen at some point (Lk. 12: 40).  We just don’t know when.  And in this era of the desire for certainty and proof, it sometimes feels like we are under pressure to be more faithful and likewise, there are times that we may not feel faithful enough.  I know there I times where I wrestle with this. 
However, my colleagues at Discipleship Ministries, Taylor Burton-Edwards and Dawn Chesser explain that when it comes to faithful living,
faith is something that happens in the world, in the real world of our actual lives. It also means that faith is not something that happens the way “the world” typically depicts it—as some rash, “heroic” decision that changes everything from that time forward. Faithful living pursues the promises of God consistently over a lifetime.[ii]

        In other words, it’s a lot simpler and we should not have to feel that pressure by simply being ourselves in how we live our faith, as well as showing encouragement for those who are new to the faith or seeking that relationship in faith.  Faith is something that is active, not passive.  We too participate in these same stories of faithful living centuries later as we pursue the promises of God when living a life filled with hope and in turn, sharing that hope with others and encouraging others in hope and faith.  We live faithfully by being the hands and feet of Jesus in our world, as Jesus demonstrated to us how to serve God, even though Jesus himself could not see his heavenly father.  We live faithfully by letting our actions speak louder than our words when faith is simply lived out in our everyday lives.
 However, as St. Augustine puts it, “Christians want to understand what they believe, what they can hope for, and what they ought to love.”[iii] And so, the author of Hebrews states that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” we want to understand what the nature of faith in God is and what we can hope for, even though we cannot see God.  Dan Migliorie, who is professor of theology at Princeton has a very good way to describe faith in God, even though we cannot see God by saying “faith is knowledge of and trust in the living God who ever remains a mystery beyond human comprehension”[iv] Faith is being able to seek and believe in the unseen by trusting in those promises that God gives to us.  It’s also trusting in God’s grace. 
        God indeed is a mystery and God is much bigger than we can ever comprehend or even imagine, but that is where faith comes into play and where faith necessary for us.  Sometimes we just have to go out on a leap of faith into something unknown and trust and believe that God is going to take care of it, even when we cannot see God.  I remember when I struggled with faith in my early 20’s, I had a conversation with someone about not being able to see God and wanting proof and certainty in which I was told, “that’s what faith is for.”  That’s where faith indeed comes into play.  And moving forward in faith and moving towards God’s promises, even when they’re not readily seen or whether they even happen in our lifetime is what hopefully keeps us moving and keeps us on the journey.[v]
Faithful living by seeking the unseen is “forward looking, oriented toward the future, trusting that God will keep promises made to those who believe. In other words, faith and hope are one, and life is pilgrimage.”[vi] Life indeed is a journey and my hope for you this week is to think about where you trust God in looking ahead and think about people in your own life and even people in our church through the years who have lived and served God faithfully, even amidst seeking the unseen and who still do so today.  In listening to a couple stories this last week, I think of John Ellison, our former organist who passed away last week who was faithful and generous with his time and presence.  I think of some of the homebound members that I used to visit with in their retirement home while interning in the Presbyterian Church, seeing them loving God and living faithfully even though they could not see God, just in the same way that Abraham and Sarah lived faithfully amidst not seeing God, all while trusting in God’s promises. 
        The author of Hebrews says it best by saying that “by faith, we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible” (Heb. 11: 3, NRSV).  We don’t see God, but we definitely see signs of where God is active in the world and community, particularly in good deeds that people do and in God’s handiwork around us here in Plumas County, aka “God’s Country.” We also show others what faithful living looks like when we take up good attitudes and show good deeds by living out our own faith in God for others to see and encouraging others in their journey of faith.  So perhaps, we can get past the whole notion of “I’ll believe it when I see it” because although we cannot see God directly, we can certainly see signs and actions by God, even through the people we encounter each day.  That’s how Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Enoch were able to live out their lives, as they believed God without seeing God, and continually went seeking the unseen, as faithful living is not a race, but a journey.  As we go into our new week,
·         What does faithful living look like, even in the face of adversity?

·         What does it mean to you when we go by faith without seeing what we believe in?
·         And where has your faith been challenged, yet you remained steadfast in faith? 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. 

[i] New Interpreters Study Bible Notes (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 2165. 
[ii] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Lectionary Calendar’. 2016. Accessed August 3, 2016.
[iii] Daniel L. Migliorie, Faith Seeking Understanding, 3rd. Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 2. 
[iv] Ibid., 3. 
[v] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Lectionary Calendar’. 2016. Accessed August 3, 2016.
[vi] “Commentary on Hebrews 11: 8-22” in The New Interpreters Bible Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 135.  

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