The letter to the Hebrews, a group of Jewish Christians, written by an unknown author opens chapter 11 with these words: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things unseen.“ Is it? Does that give a sense of comfort or is it just words put poetically together?
I appreciate these words by Harvey Cox, in his book `The Future of Faith’ where he writes: It is true that for many people ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ are just two words for the same thing. But they are not the same… Faith is about deep-seated confidence…[that] we usually apply to people we trust or the values we treasure.
Belief, on the other hand, is more like opinion…Beliefs can be held lightly or with emotional intensity… We can believe something to be true without it making much difference to us, but we place our faith only in something if it is vital for the way we live.”
We hear of Abraham and Sarah and the wild risk they took in leaving behind supposed security for a promise that Abraham feels God has revealed to him.
The writer of Hebrews talks about Abraham going forth in faith, but none of us were there when Abraham lay awake at night, all security left behind him thinking: `Am I insane? What the heck have I done?!’ and I’m sure Sarah was wondering a very similar thing!
But this is written long after the fact and we know the story turned out fine. If fact three major world religions claim Abraham as the `father of their faith’. Still there is the issue of verse 13 which says they all died in faith, not receiving what was promised… What? How does that inspire anyone? There is something about faith that has far reaching implications, something that goes beyond ourselves and is bigger than ourselves.
Reinhold Niebuhr, wrote, in part, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith…”
So even though these faith ancestors listed in the letter to the Hebrews, didn’t see the fullness of what was promised, something in them recognized the old world declining and the new arising and they believed God was involved in that, and was trustworthy even beyond what they could see or experience.
We seldom get to see the fullness of a dream. I have a prayer practice that acknowledges that it has taken everything up to this moment to bring me here – and that is both humbling and freeing. And what I do today, and what you do today, will affect what happens tomorrow. Our lives will be the building blocks for those who come after us.
And what I find oh so often, is that the reason I think I’m somewhere, is not really the reason I’m there. (e.g. going to the Western Women’s Conference and being rerouted to Palestine and Israel). The lessons I learn, the gifts I give and receive, are not necessarily the ones I signed up for, but they are the ones that are needed; at least that’s how I try to make sense of it, look back on it, and live into it.
Jesus disciples were no strangers to the challenge to let go of what seemed like relative security to follow this mystic, this teacher.
Jesus goes on to tell them not to worry about their daily life – what to eat, drink, wear etc. He says, “Fear not, little flock for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom, sell your possessions, give alms to the poor, don’t’ store up treasure that thieves can steal, but store up treasure in heaven.
Jesus isn’t referring to those old gospel songs that talk about a mansion just over the hilltop, and streets paved with gold. Treasure that is indestructible, and thief-proof, is to make the kingdom of heaven – the daily living God’s realm, your treasure.
Treasuring the realm of God means that with every conversation we have, we make a conscious choice between putting someone down or lifting them up, every incident that seems unfair calls forth a decision to address injustice or keep silent about it, and yes, even every box in the basement calls us to reflect – do I need this or does someone else need it more than I do?
Jesus say, Fear not little flock… but set your mind on heaven (God’s realm) because treasure and heart go together. I have heard that the phrase `Fear not’ or `don’t’ be afraid’ is mentioned 365 times in the Bible – no I haven’t personally counted, but it is does show up a lot. Admittedly it’s hard to trust when you are fearful, but that’s what faith is about. There is something to be said for `Feel the fear and do it anyway- that’s often the only way we get things done. And it’s holding on to the promise, and crazy sense that God has called us to something more, that keeps us going, even when sometimes we seem to be going in circles.
“In this teaching from Luke (12:32–40), Jesus asks us all to tone down our fretting and think about what is most important; for what we think is most important will become most important, and most influential, in our lives.
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”, is not just about finances. It is about all that we value: our relationships, our time, our work and play, what memories we play over and over. How do the things we value affect how we spend our attention, our time, money, effort or our worrying?
I invite you to find a corner of your bulletin and write three or four things that are life-values for you… it can be respect, or recreation, animal rights, or honesty.
I invite you take some time today, to prayerfully look at these words (of value) and your calendar, you cheque book or Visa statement, and consider whether your treasure and heart go together. Do you take the time/make the time to do the things your heart values? Is it reflected financially? If they don’t match up, is there something you want to work at changing? Is there a way, we as a faith community can help each other in this?
Is there someone who inspires you as one who lives the values of God’s kingdom – and what do we see those values being? In what ways have you been or could you be an inspiration to someone else?
I know I am deeply heartened by the fact that I’ve returned from holidays and you haven’t all been sitting around awaiting my return so I can tell you what to do. You’ve been doing it! You’ve gone ahead and connected with the community in awesome ways and the community has responded in kind. There is a treasure here – a treasure of loving hearts and willing hands. Let’s have faith that God is continues to call us to a ministry still unfolding. Amen.