August 7, 2016

12th Sunday after Pentecost
‘STANDING UPON FAITH’

BIBLE READING
Hebrews 11:1-16

REFLECTION

There is a story about a middle-aged woman who came to her Priest, telling him that she was afraid because her husband had threatened to kill her if she continued coming to his church. This happened so many times that the Priest, tired of hearing the same thing over and over, simply said, “Yes, my child, yes, I will continue praying for you. Have faith and the Lord will keep you safe.

“Oh, the Lord has kept me safe thus far,” the woman said, “But ... the thing is my husband now says that if I keep coming to your church, he is going to kill YOU!”

The Priest stopped for a moment and then said to the woman, ”Well, if that’s the case, perhaps it is time for you to check out that little church across the road.”[1]

Friends, this priest definitely had not only a narrow view about faith; he viewed it cheaply as well. For him, having faith was important only when it served him well and he was prepared to advise someone to abandon it when it didn’t serve him any longer, or even when it became dangerous to him.

But what does faith actually mean in the Bible?

In our reading from the letter to the Hebrews, the author of the letter sees faith, first of all, as upostasis, which is a Greek word that means ‘standing-under’. Indeed, faith for him is the foundation or the bedrock. It is a firm and solid place to stand from which one can hope.[2] It is like a platform on which we can gaze towards a better future or a road on which we walk on towards a future that God has prepared for us. Indeed, faith is the starting point from which all our efforts towards a resurrected future begin.

The second Greek word that the author used to describe faith is elegchos. It means proof or evidence. Faith is the evidence, the proof not only about the existence of God, but also about the future that God has provided for us. Faith is the assurance that that future belongs to us, even before we arrive at that future.

But, elegchos can also mean rebuke. Faith is the rebuke that we need when we are swerving away from the path that God has created for us. Faith is the reminder that we need when we forget about God’s future.

So, faith is what makes us keep going, keep striving for something better: ‘a promised land’.

“It is about believing there really is something greater and permanent towards which we are heading and that gives us the confidence to go on.
It was the God given yearning to want to be in the place where God is, in the world of God's heavenly presence.”
(Prof. William Loader)[3]

Indeed, faith is like a love letter that keeps a soldier fighting and surviving in the midst of horror and tragedy, knowing that a loved one is waiting at the end of the struggle.

There is a story about Dr. Judson, an American Baptist missionary, who was jailed in a prison in Burma. His ankles were chained and his feet were bound to a bamboo pole. One day, a fellow prisoner sneered at him saying, “Dr. Judson, what is the prospect of the locals being converted to Christianity now?” Dr. Judson quickly replied, “The prospect is just as bright as the promise of God.”[4]

Indeed, Oswald Chambers, a Scottish evangelist and teacher, once said:

“Faith for my deliverance is not faith in God.

Faith means, whether I am visibly delivered or not, I will stick to my belief that God is love.”[5]

This is what it means to have faith. To have faith is to yearn for something better despite all the setbacks that we face in life. Indeed, when we do something in faith, we ourselves may not enjoy the fruit of our effort. The future will forever belong to God, not us.

All the biblical heroes, which are mentioned in our Hebrew passage this morning, died in faith without even receiving what was promised to them. They only saw and greeted those promises from a distance. Indeed, faith will compel us to strive for a better future, but we may not get to that future ourselves. Remember, all the biblical heroes in our passage received God’s approval not because they received what was promised; but because even though they had not yet received it, they still walked in faith.

A Pastor in Pennsylvania, USA, once received a letter from a lady, asking about a former Sunday School teacher of his congregation. The teacher’s name was Mr. Steckman. The lady, who wrote the letter, recently found a Bible that was given to her by Mr. Steckman in 1959 when she was only 13 years old. Now she has become a Christian and she would like to thank Mr. Steckman for bringing her to faith. The Pastor received the letter, however, in 2009, 50 years after Mr. Steckman gave the Bible to the lady. Mr. Steckman had passed away and, just like the Biblical heroes mentioned in our Hebrew passage, he did not have the chance to witness the fruit of his simple act of faith.[6]

So, friends, having faith is to strive for what God has promised us, even though we ourselves may not be able to see or enjoy that promise. Faith, again, is the platform, the viewing deck that allows us to see what is beyond us. We may not get there ourselves, but our faith helps us know that it is there. And, it doesn’t matter whether we ourselves will get there or not because what matter is that we are taking a part, in faith, in the creation of the new world that God has promised us. Amen.

Rev. Toby Keva

[1] http://jokes.christiansunite.com/Faith/Have_Faith_My_Child.shtml

[2] Amy L. B. Peeler, Commentary on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, on www.workingpreacher.org (August 7, 2016)

[3] William Loader, First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages from the Lectionary

Pentecost 12, on http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/CEpPentecost12.htm

[4] From The Presbyterian Advance on http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/f/faith.htm

[5] Oswald Chambers in Run Today's Race on http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/f/faith.htm

[6] From a devotion by Pam Williams in the Upper Room (January 12 2011)