This morning, we’re going to hear again from the letter to the Hebrews. If you were with us last week, you might remember that Hebrews is formatted more like a sermon than a letter—and by chapter 11, that preacher is preaching.
But before we hear from Hebrews, I want to take a moment to remind us that these stories we’re about to hear are reiterated from the Old Testament—and these are the stories we share with our Jewish brothers and sisters. In light of yesterday’s synagogue attack, it’s important for us to remember that our faith is intertwined with theirs – and although we differ in many ways, it’s even more important that we honor our shared stories, our shared faith, and our shared humanity. With that said, let us pray.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith 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.
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and ‘he was not found, because God had taken him.’ For it was attested before he was taken away that ‘he had pleased God.’ And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.
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. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 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. 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.’
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, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 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.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for—the assurance of things not seen.
This chapter has a rhythm to it: by faith, those who came long before us did great, wondrous, and impossible things. These were not things they achieved by working really hard, or climbing a ladder, or winning a competition.
Each of these faithful people heard a particular call or promise from God, said ‘yes–THAT,’ and responded in faith. They trusted that God would be faithful to those promises, and would be faithful to lead them through all the nitty-gritty stuff that would come between where they stood and where they were going.
Even when it became clear that they wouldn’t see the fulfillment of those promises in their earthly lifetime, they kept faith. They kept trusting. They passed the baton to another generation, who kept faith, kept trusting.
Behind all of those individual calls and little promises was one BIG promise – one BIG vision – redemption for the whole world.
And each of these faithful people – plus the rest of the folks named in this chapter, and millions more – played a small part in that grand promise. We’re still running the same race, living into the same vision, looking for the return of the same Savior that they looked forward to.
Because of their faith, we’re gathered here in prayer and praise.
Because of their faith, we’re leading and singing and playing and loving.
Because they built the foundation, we’ve only had to replace the roof.
Because they saw God’s promises and heard God’s call,
because they responded in faith rather than fear,
because they gave out of their abundance,
because they cared deeply for one another,
love still grows here.
Thanks be to God!
I wish – oh, how I wish I could tell you a hundred stories right now. Stories of choir practices and funeral luncheons and youth group and Bible studies and VBS from years and decades ago.
But you’re the ones who hold all those stories. You are the keepers of HPC’s history.
After worship, head on back to the K-room. (If you haven’t been there yet, just follow the hallway allllllll the way down). You’ll notice that Ethan put together a display for us – little pieces of our church family’s big story to help us remember that our family of faith didn’t just drop out of the sky one day, but has been growing and shifting and changing for almost 150 years.
Because we have this space – not just the building, but the opportunity to gather for worship and care and learning – we now join the long line of God’s faithful people who wait on the final fulfillment of God’s big promise: when, as St. Julian of Norwich put it: “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
I want to show you something: this painting lives on the wall in my office – I first saw it about a year ago, and it took my breath away. Not only because it’s gorgeous, but because of who’s in it.
The four women in long dresses are Jesus’ grandmothers—the only four women mentioned in his family tree. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba each had a story that was somehow soap-opera-worthy, and you can read those stories in the Old Testament. (If you’re not sure where to find them, let me know and I’ll point you in the right direction.)
But despite their own failures and the failures of those around them, they were also part of Jesus’ story – part of the big story of redemption and hope and God’s love taking on flesh to walk among us.
The other three women in this picture are, well, us. Just as we stand together with the greats – Abraham and Noah and Moses and David…we also stand with Tamar, who out-witted one of Jacob’s sons so she could get justice. We stand with Rahab, the faithful outsider who offered help to a group of spies. We stand with Ruth, who went searching for a home and found one with God’s people. We stand, too, with Bathsheba – who endured unspeakable tragedy, and lived.
Arm in arm, hand in hand, crown and all – this is our legacy of faith.
Go ahead and take out your puzzle pieces.
Some of you will notice that yours is a little…rough around the edges. Your pastor should not be trusted with an x-acto knife.
But remember the influential person you thought of earlier, the one who taught you something about faith, hope, or love? Maybe that person had a few rough edges, too. Maybe they had some slips, or scars. Nevertheless, God worked in and through them to bring light and love to your life – and by extension, blessing the lives of everyone you interact with.
Go ahead and write that name on your puzzle piece – just make sure you write it on the side that already has letters on it. Leave it in the offering plate, and come back next week to see how these pieces of our story fit into the big picture of God’s love.
As we hold those people in gratitude, I’ll offer us a blessing by poet Jan Richardson:
Blessing of Elijah
Make no mistake.
This blessing that comes
like hands laid
upon your head,
a mantle draped
across your shoulders:
you do not bear it
Think of it
an ancient legacy
entwining you among the strands
that weave through
generations and centuries,
that spiral with
the enduring and
of the story that has
and the One
who has claimed
and called you.
that this blessing
comes to you
signed by the blazing
you can barely imagine
and by trials
that have already tested you,
or you would not
have found your way
Lay it down,
and it will be a path for you
you never imagined
daring to cross.
Take it up,
and know the presence
of those who have passed this
on to you:
who encompass you
who enfold you
who go with you
and release you
into the keeping
of the road
that is your own
and the One
who has called