9th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 14 – C)
August 7, 2022
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle from Hebrews.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the idea that you have to see it to believe it. I don’t know why aliens would visit earth, but if they did, I wouldn’t just take someone’s word for it. I would have to see it for myself. I have the same attitude when it comes to Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and a tax refund. When we see the proof, we believe what we’re told. But is that really believing? Not really. Seeing something isn’t believing it exists, it’s acknowledging a fact.
To change this up a bit, are there things you don’t see that you believe exist? Sure, there are: oxygen, carbon monoxide, and the atoms that make up every solid, liquid, and gas on earth are just a few examples. Even though we can’t see them, we believe they exist. When the author of Hebrews, some think it was Paul’s friend Barnabas, says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” he isn’t talking about smaller than microscopic atoms, he’s talking about your Christian faith.
There are some in the Northwest United States who will swear that they’ve seen Bigfoot and there are those in Scotland who are convinced they sighted the Loch Ness Monster. Did they really see these creatures? Since there’s no evidence they exist, probably not. Most of these witnesses aren’t lying, rather their imaginations are playing tricks on them. Christians and non-Christians are also fooled by what they imagine God to be. In Romans 1, Saint Paul writes, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them…So they are without excuse.” I shortened those verses a bit, but the message is clear: God has made Himself known to the world, but those who lack faith refuse to see Him. They imagine God to be a figment of the Christians’ imagination. Christians see the evidence that God created the world, but then we imagine the God is somehow different than what we’ve been taught.
What I mean is that you’re taught God is in control, that you can trust Him, and, as Jesus says in the Gospel, you don’t have to be anxious. But then you look around and you see a different picture. Is God in control when flooding kills people and devastates communities? Can God be trusted when children get cancer or are abused? Can you really not be anxious when everything around you is coming down on your head? Does God really care for me like He does the birds? What you see overwhelms your faith and you imagine God must be different than what He says. After all, seeing is believing, right?
Well, let’s look at this another way and go back in time with the author of Hebrews to the Old Testament Hall of Fame. Here we’re introduced to Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah who all had one thing in common – faith in God and His promises. Six times we hear “By faith”. By faith, Abel gave the best of his flock as a sacrifice. By faith, Enoch walked with God. By faith, Noah built the Ark. By faith, Abraham picked up his family and moved to a new country. By faith, Sarah trusted she would have a child in her nineties. They’re held up as examples of faith. They trusted in what God said and they believed even when they didn’t see what God was doing at the time.
Noah spent decades building the Ark, you don’t think he wondered what he was doing when people were laughing at him? Abraham gave up the home he knew to follow a God he didn’t know to a new one. Sarah had been barren her entire life and now at 90 she was going to have a son. Kind of hard to believe, right? It would be except, we’re told this: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” They couldn’t know for sure what the future held. They couldn’t prove that God would keep His promises. They could only do one thing – have faith and trust in what they couldn’t see – God’s promises.
So, there you have it: just have faith. That’s easy enough, right? If only it was. The first thing to understand about faith is that you’re not going to be able to generate it in yourself. Rather, faith is a gift from God. Paul writes, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” What do we hear? God’s Word! Where do we receive faith and the Holy Spirit? In our baptism! God gives us the faith that we cannot obtain on our own. Don’t sit at home and worry that you don’t have faith or that you haven’t done enough work to get it. It’s yours! It’s a free!
One week after Easter, Jesus said to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” You have not seen, but you are blessed because you believe without seeing. Believe what God has done, is doing, and will do for you.
Faith is seeing in your mind’s eye God’s promises being fulfilled and kept. Faith is knowing that while you can’t see Him, He is at work in your life. Faith is seeing the heaven that waits for us, a new homeland. Faith is seeing Christ on the cross, knowing that He died for you. Faith is believing that you can see Jesus in the pages of Scripture, that you can see His gifts in baptism, that you can see His body and blood, in with and under the bread and wine. Believe that Jesus is victorious over sin yes, but also over everything else! We may not see Him, but the Holy Spirit opens our hearts and minds to the truth of what Jesus has done for us, to us, and in us.
You may not know that the saints listed in Hebrew’s Hall of Fame weren’t perfect by any means. Abraham exposed Sarah to harm to protect himself. When Abraham and Sarah didn’t conceive right away, their doubt led Abraham to have a child with Sarah’s servant. Noah got so drunk he passed out naked. Samson had a temper and made poor choices. David committed adultery and murder. God’s chosen nation whined incessantly. Having faith doesn’t mean we don’t sin! Of course, we sin! That’s why Jesus had to die! Faith doesn’t keep us from sinning, it does however bring us the forgiveness of sins! Faith takes a hold of the blood of Jesus and knows with certainty that Jesus does forgive you. He does! God who gave His Son to die for you will certainly not abandon you to your sin. The Epistle says, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” They believed in the Savior who was to come, and who did come. This is where you’re more blessed than they are – through faith you’re not looking for a Savior to come, but you know that Savior has come, and He has come for you.
Now I want to assure you that if you have doubts about your faith or if you think your faith isn’t strong enough, that’s normal. We’re sinful people and we’re tempted to doubt God’s Word and His promises. So please don’t leave here thinking that your faith isn’t strong enough for you to be loved or forgiven by God. You are! There’s an account in the Bible about a man who asks Jesus to heal his son, if He can. Jesus says, “’If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” The man then says, “I believe; help my unbelief!” The man knows he needs help so he asks for it, and then he receives it. Call on Christ, call on Him to help your unbelief, call on Him and He will hear you! As Jesus says, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” That’s you! You are part of His little flock, even if you wonder if you are at times. Vibrant faith or a struggling faith makes no difference; God’s kingdom is for you! You may not see it, but remember: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Just last month a member of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization in Ohio recorded what she claims to be the howls of a Bigfoot, possibly from a female Bigfoot calling to her babies. I find it doubtful and I don’t have the kind of faith that takes her at her word. But God and His Word? God has given you the faith, the conviction that Jesus is your Savior who lived, died, and rose again for the forgiveness of all your sins. Yes, that faith will sometimes waver and sometimes you’ll struggle, but in your time of need, God will not abandon you nor leave you to your doubts. He will preserve you and keep you for while you see your Savior with your eyes of faith now, someday you’ll see them in person and of that you can have no doubt.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen