11th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Steven D. Spencer – Pastor Messiah Lutheran Church
Text: Hebrews 11:1–3, 8–16
Grace, peace and mercy from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, AMEN!
Normally I base my sermon on the Gospel reading. But today I will be using the Epistle lesson. 1 Corinthians 13 is often referred to as the chapter of love. In the same way Hebrews 11 is commonly referred to as the chapter of faith. And it’s no wonder, the word faith occurs over 24 times in this chapter. I will be preaching about faith.
These two chapters have a lot more in common than one might think.
First, both love and faith always have an object for their intention. If a person were to say, “I love” (pause and look around) and leave it at that, it stirs us to wonder who or what do they love. In the same way you wouldn’t say, “I faith!” You might say I have faith, but then in what or whom? Faith always has an object of its intention. If love or faith has no object of its intention it automatically is turned in on its self. We call that ego or being self-centered.
Secondly, neither love nor faith is indigenous to us. They come from outside of us and are communicated to us so that we may communicate them to others. Because we are created in God’s image (the Imago dei), one of the attributes communicated to us is love. We love because we are loved, we were created to love. Have you ever noticed that when there is a complete absence of God in someone’s life that person has a great deal of trouble loving others as themselves? I believe the farther one gets away from God they have less ability to love. 1 John 4:8 says: “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love”. Faith likewise comes from outside of us. John 6:29 says "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." Faith is God’s work in us. Ephesians 2:8 & 9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast”. Faith is a gift from God, given to you in Baptism. Colossians 2:12 says: “You having been buried with Jesus in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Jesus through faith by the working of God, who raised Jesus from the dead”. Faith is God’s working in you. It was part of the imago dei the image of God. When God created man He breathed into him His spirit. But when man fell he died spiritually, he gave up the Ghost. Remember when Lazarus died? He couldn’t save himself anymore than any of us can. It was only when Jesus said, “Lazarus rise up” that Lazarus was made alive. Faith is not native to man anymore. It has to come from the outside. It comes by being in the presence of the one who gives faith. It comes by being in God’s presence. That is being In His Word, in His Sacraments, in His church, in His presence.
Thirdly, both love and faith have attributes of their existence. If you love you show concern and affection. These are byproducts of love. If you have faith, you believe, you have assurance, you have hope and you have peace. These are the byproducts of faith. That brings us to our text.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is the assurance. The King James Version it says it this way, faith is the substance. In other words, faith is the body, the core, the real essence, the matter the material the stuff of things hoped for. The New International Version says: faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is to be certain, convinced, having no doubt, being confident in what is hoped for. It’s not some sort of inert or inanimate object that is surreal and ethereal. Faith is real and it’s absolute. Faith gives confidence and assurance, it bring conviction and the realization of fact beyond all human reason.
This verse says that faith gives a person the conviction that future, promises things are as real as if they had already happened. Faith causes a person to see things as they really are, though mere human senses cannot perceive them and unregenerate minds cannot comprehend them. But by faith we know beyond a shadow of doubt of the truth.
With that said we need to understand the subject of faith can be very confusing to our modern society. People use the word faith constantly without Scriptural context. You may hear phrases such as, “Have a little faith,” or “Ya’ gotta’ believe” – faith or belief in what or whom though? The object of faith then is left up to the hearer. People seem to have the impression that a strong faith will simply bend the laws of the physics for their benefit. It seems as though people don’t really care what they believe just as long as they believe in something – just as long as that belief is sincere and heart felt. We even teach this to our children. If you don’t think we do, then you might want to go back and read that children’s story again The Little Engine that Could. Do you remember the story, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. If you just believe enough it will happen so our culture teaches. Our culture teaches us to have faith; it’s as if it requires us to have faith in faith itself. But isn’t that like being in love with love? It still doesn’t ease the lonely times does it? Faith without an author or receiver is just being turned inwards and is nothing more than a form of navel gazing.
Another popular example of this is in the Star Wars movies. In one episode a young Luke Skywalker travels to a swamp planet in order to learn from master Yoda. When Luke tries to retrieve his space ship from the swamp, he fails. Yoda, the master then retrieves the ship. At the end of the scene, Luke exclaims, “I don’t believe it!” To which Yoda replies, “That why you fail.” The idea is that Luke can do the impossible simply by believing with all his heart that the impossible is actually possible. That’s faith in faith and faith in self.
One more example: Peter Pan. In one famous scene, a major character, the fairy Tinker Bell is dying, but she will survive if only enough people believe in fairies. In the play the characters make a plea to the children watching to sustain her by shouting out "I believe in fairies." Of course this works in the play and Tinker Bell returns to full power. Once again, the power of faith comes to the rescue.
Now I’m not telling you to throw out your DVDs or books. But unfortunately, some people think that faith has the same power in the real world that it has in movies and fairy tales. They actually believe that mere faith by itself has power. Now, while the power of faith can be a potent force in the movies or fairy tales, faith in and of itself is not a source of power in the real world
Consider Airbus A321 the Pakistani flight that crashed killing 152 people. Everyone who died on that plane had faith. They had faith that the plane would not crash while they were on it. It would be safe to say that most people on that plane had so much faith they didn’t even think about the possibility of dying. The French Airbus has one of the best safety records. Perhaps they were thinking about their getting home or going on vacation. Perhaps they were talking with a spouse or child, enjoying a meal or movie. The people on that plane didn’t know that their faith was misplaced until it was too late. Their faith in that plane provided no salvation from the tragedy that would follow.
The power of faith is not in the faith itself, but in the object of that faith. In Hebrews 11 we read the names of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the Israelites, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel. We see that their faith was in God’s existence, God’s Word, God’s Promise, God’s warning, God’s call. In short, God is the object of their faith.
In many ways faith is like a container. In Klemet Preus’ book, The Fire and the Staff, Klemet compares faith to a trick or treat bag at Halloween. He shared his early experiences with Halloween and remembered traveling throughout the neighborhood collecting goodies. Unfortunately, when he got home, he discovered a hole in the bag. It was empty. All the goodies that people given him were gone. He realized that the key to a successful candy collection was having a trustworthy bag. The next year he took a pillowcase and had enough candy to last until Thanksgiving.
Faith is like a trick or treat bag. When you don’t have it you’re lost. When you do have it, all you think about is what is inside of it. When a person doesn’t have faith, we say, they are lost. You can’t go to heaven without faith. Faith is necessary.” But when a person believes, you stop talking about faith and only talk about Jesus. When you confess your faith, you don’t talk about how important faith is. Instead you talk about Jesus Christ and Him crucified, for you!
Faith is not a condition that a person must meet in order to earn salvation. Faith receives. Faith simply receives all the gracious promises and blessings of God. Faith is passive. It does nothing. It contributes nothing. It is like the trick or treat bag only instead of receiving sugary treats, it receives the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Saving faith is the passive recipient of God’s service to us.
So what must we do to get this faith? That’s the beauty of God’s plan of salvation. We do nothing. Remember when it comes to our salvation, God does all the work. That includes creating faith in us. That’s a good thing, because we cannot create saving faith. We cannot decide to follow Jesus. We cannot put Jesus in our heart. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to tell the Romans chapter 8 verse 7 “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile toward God, for it does not submit itself to the Law of God; indeed, nor is it even able to do so.” Paul also told the Corinthians “No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Martin Luther summarized these Bible teachings in the beginning of the explanation of the Third Article of the Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”
By the way, have you ever noticed that all of these heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 are from the Old Testament? If anyone ever asks you how God saved the Old Testament saints, this section of Hebrews is a good place to go. In Hebrews 12 verse 2 it says that Jesus Christ is the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. The faith that saved the Old Testament heroes of Hebrews 11 is same faith that saves you. It’s faith in Jesus Christ who purchased your salvation by enduring the shame of death on the cross and declared His victory by His resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven. The only difference is that the Old Testament saints looked to the future for their savior while we look into the past. We look to Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, (T) the anointed one.
All these people, the Old Testament heroes were sinners like us. If any of these sinners had to rely on their own character to save them, they would have perished. But the Holy Spirit worked faith in them and they all became heroes of the faith.
There are times that we think God cannot use us because we have made too many mistakes in our lives. The fact of the matter is that if God needed good people to do His work, then none of us would qualify. That list of Hebrews 11 includes some real scoundrels; some real seedy characters. If the Holy Spirit can work in their hearts He can work in anyone’s heart. God has the ability to transform anyone into a hero of the faith – even you and me. So we should be bold to ask God to create in us a clean and renew a right spirit within us. Grant us faith O’ Lord for Jesus sake and in Jesus name, Amen and amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN