This morning’s Epistle lesson is from the letter to the Hebrews. Written 65-95 years after Jesus ascended into heaven, it uses some of the most sophisticated Greek in the Christian scriptures.
Except for it’s ending, it takes the form of a sermon, instead of a letter.
It’s target audience was the second generation of Christians; having experienced both persecution for their faith, and some disappointment that the promised kingdom had not yet arrived, it seems the author was acutely aware of the vulnerability of the intended readers, and the potential for their faith to weaken.
The writing remains anonymous, with various scholars finding little hard evidence of any one author. Though anonymous, this text is a powerful support for those who may be wavering in their faith. Persuasive, supportive, encouraging, it just may have been exactly what the people needed at that time.
And, maybe it’s exactly what we need, today.
Haven’t we all felt like our faith could use some shoring up at one time or another? Haven’t we all wondered whether we had enough faith to get through a tough time? Haven’t we all found ourselves disappointed that something we had hoped for didn’t come to fruition? I know I have.
Our reading begins with a bold definition of faith: ‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ When we accept that assurance, when we have a conviction about something not observable, when we believe where we have not seen, that’s faith.
The author of Hebrews uses Abraham and Sarah as an example of faith, traveling at the request of God, not knowing where they were going, but believing in the promise God made them. And the example used today aren’t the only one we have for Abraham, or Sarah, their story gives us many examples of the strength of their faith in the face of uncertainty and risk.
From a couple too old to have children came countless generations of faithful children of God, all because Sarah and Abraham had faith.
Danish philosopher and theologian, Soren Kierkegaard coined the phrase ‘leap of faith’ to describe a religious belief in God. And we can all identify with the concept, as we have all likely taken many leaps in the living of our lives.
Acting on our faith does feel like a leap, sometimes, feels like jumping into the air without knowing what will break our fall. When we do it, we are demonstrating our faith, our belief in the assurance of things hoped for, showing the world our conviction in things not seen.
Sometimes we’re afraid to jump, sometimes we don’t give a second thought. Abraham and Sarah took the leap, several times, and God made good on God’s promise.
Can Sarah and Abraham be models for us? In our modern world, with our modern lives, can Abraham’s and Sarah’s faith be something we could emulate?
A while back, when Fairmount was still in our old building, a couple announced during joys and concerns that they had two joys to share: they were celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary, and, that they weren’t pregnant!
Aside from being just plain funny, Hugh’s comment gets to the heart of a sort of distance faithful children of God have from our biblical forebears. Are the concerns that Sarah and Abraham lived through similar enough to ours that they can serve as models for us, in our living out our faith lives?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Can a piece of writing nearly 2,000 years old, intended for a community at risk for losing its faith give us hope, give us strength when our faith falters? For me, this is a much more likely scenario. But the miracle of God’s Holy Word is that it can have a deep and powerful effect on people, long after they were written. Our faith tells us this.
God’s Word, after 2,000 years, can offer us assurance in the things we hope for, can convict us in things not seen. So it’s not a huge leap to think that on some level, even if we aren’t in our 90’s, even if we aren’t looking to have children, that Sarah and Abraham’s story can feed our faith too.
On our worst days, in our worst moments, in the throes of our deepest pain, God is there for us. God doesn’t cause those things to happen. And we are not alone.
On our best days, in the best moments of our lives, in the excitement of our joy, God is also there for us. God doesn’t cause those things to happen. And we are not alone.
On these two things alone, we could be taking leaps of faith all over the place! With God ready to catch us, we could be taking all kinds of risks to live out the good news. But do we? Not as much as we could, I’m sure.
God got Abraham and Sarah’s attention by promising them the one thing they couldn’t have: children. They did what God asked them to do because they were worried about their legacy. How does God get our attention? What would God have to promise each of us to get our attention, to get us to go where God sends us?
The Letter to the Hebrews was intended for a community that was being challenged by persecution for their faith, and being challenged by disappointment that Jesus had not yet returned, as he had promised. Many of us may not be able to relate to either of those things, as we aren’t persecuted for the practice of our faith, and we may only think about Jesus’ return a couple of times a year when we’re reminded by scripture.
And yet there is obvious hope and encouragement here for us. These are words of comfort, holy words, that still ring true with God’s intentions.
We can leap. We can risk. We can get creative in the ways we live our faith lives, because whatever we do or don’t do, God has our backs. God will catch us if we stumble, and God will guide us if we lose our way.
Even if Jesus doesn’t return for another 2000 years, the truth in God’s word, in God’s love, and in God’s encouragement remains constant.
Doesn’t that make you want to leap for joy? It does for me. Amen.
I don’t know about you, but I find this morning’s gospel lesson from Luke to be reassuring, comforting, even.
At the beginning of the reading, Jesus had just finished praying, and was asked by one of his disciples to teach them how to pray the way John taught his disciples.
Jesus gives the disciples the foundation of the prayer we know today as the Lord’s Prayer.
But he also gives them a parable about a friend who needs bread to serve to an unexpected traveler. The friend knocks on the door, late at night, and asks to borrow 3 loaves of bread.
Jesus tells them that the one who was awakened refused at first, because of the late hour. But he tells the disciples that he will get up and get the bread for his friend, not because of the friendship, but because of the friend’s persistence.
He concludes this short lesson to the disciples with the reminder ‘Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.’
Sometimes, we’re afraid to ask. Sometimes we don’t have the energy to search. Sometimes we are too anxious to knock. But Jesus wants the disciples, and us, to know that we can take the risk, we can take the chance, we can trust that with persistence, God will respond.
We have our Hebrew Scripture to give us an example of this sacred persistence: Abraham knew that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was their failure to provide hospitality, but he also knew that God is a forgiving God. He engages God in a sort of negotiation, getting God to admit at the end of the section that God would not destroy the cities if one righteous person could be found.
Our reading today ends with God saying that God would save the cities for 10 righteous people, but it goes all the way down to 1. That’s bold. That’s trusting, that’s persistent!
Jesus wants us to know that we can ask, that we can search, that we can knock on any of God’s closed doors, and that with persistence, what we seek will be found, what is closed will be open to us.
But many of us are afraid of what we will find, afraid that the answer we seek isn’t actually the one we want, that the open door will reveal things we aren’t expecting.
That’s ok. Jesus says, that’s ok. When we trust God enough to ask, or search, or knock, then we trust enough to receive the answer. Jesus wants us to have the courage of our convictions in order to persist in our asking.
Life and our life experiences may have made us shy about asking for what we need. Jesus says, don’t worry about that. Insecurity about our individual prayer lives might make us afraid to knock on God’s door. Jesus says don’t worry about that. Distance from God, or Jesus, may make us leery about boldly searching for the path God leads us to. Jesus says, don’t worry about that, persist, and God will answer, God will open doors.
If, and this is a big if, we can, through our prayers and our meditations, grow to trust God like Abraham trusted God, or even trust God like the friend who knocked in the middle of the night trusted his friend to open the door and help, we will have the boldness to persist in our quest.
I think many of us don’t ask, don’t seek, don’t knock, because we’re afraid of the answer. We want a particular thing, healing maybe, or relief from something painful in our lives, and we’re afraid that the answer will be no, or not now. Jesus seems to be implying that with trust and persistence, we’ll be able to accept God’s answer, accept what’s behind the open door, even if it’s not what we had hoped for.
But Jesus wants us to ask, wants us to search, wants us to knock. That’s why he gave us his prayer. And that’s why as faithful children of God, we’re meant to seek, we’re meant to search and knock. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
Let us be so bold as to ask, seek, and knock. Let us persist in our prayers for peace, and forgiveness, and the end of violence in our world. Let us trust that with our persistence, God will provide. Amen.