Rev. Will Conner
This past week early on Tuesday morning Jaxon woke up with an ear ache. It was the most pitiful cry. But here’s the thing, I know about ear aches. When I was a kid I was on swim team, I loved the pool, and consequently summers came with a lot of ear aches.
In my adult life, I had pretty much forgotten about this until earlier this year. We went to visit Hope’s family in Louisville, KY and we stayed at the Embassy Suites. When we travel with the kids and we are going to be somewhere for a few days, it always helps out to have hotel rooms with extra space, and hopefully an extra room. So we were at Embassy Suites and they had an indoor pool. This was great, the kids loved it; their cousins came over to swim. Really, it was a lot of fun.
On the drive home, though, my ear started to hurt. This pain it just wouldn’t go away, so I thought that I would sleep on it and it would better in the morning. Well, it wasn’t better. In fact, by the morning it hurting worse, and I assumed that I had swimmers ear. I went to the doctor, I got drops for my ear, and in few days things were better.
So when Jaxon woke up with ear ache, I knew I better just take him to the doctor. So I called, made the appointment, and then took him in. It’s a good thing we did because he had an ear infection and swimmers ear— a double wammy. After going to the doctor on our way home we stopped at a taco restaurant near our home. It’s a new place, and I think they probably have the best tacos I’ve ever had. My favorite is tongue tacos. When I say this, most people react funny—but tongue is great. It doesn’t taste strong, it’s super tender, and this place cooks it amazingly well.
I eat my tacos, Jaxon eats his cheese dip, then it is time for us to leave. I’ve got get back to the house to get to work, because Tuesdays is also one of my sermon prep days. I get up to pay, reach into my pocket – and my pocket is empty. The color drains out of my face, where is my wallet? Is it at the doctor’s office, did fall out in the parking lot, is it in truck. I tell the server I can’t find my wallet and I’ve got to go look in my truck. So Jaxon and I walk out to the truck, I throw things around looking for this dang thing. NO wallet. What am I going to do? I can’t pay these people; they don’t really know me; when I tell them I don’t have any money they are going to think that I’m trying to get out of paying for our lunch.
I promised them that I would run to the bank down the street to get money and return to pay. My server told me not to worry that I could return tomorrow with my wallet to pay. I couldn’t believe that. In the midst of this crazy world this server had enough faith in me or in humanity to allow a stranger to return the next day to pay for his meal.
This thing—faith—it is something that Christians talk about all time. When we talk about religious people, we often speak of people of faith. When we are talking about world religions, we can say people of different faiths. There was a girl I went to school with named Faith. We talk about lacking faith in our political system. Often we hear that science is based on proof and then there is faith which is believe in the unprovable. I think that faith is roughly assumed to be the same as belief. Do you have faith? One might answer— Yes, I believe.
If you watch some TV preachers, though, often times you will get the message that if you have enough faith good things will happen to you. It’s the idea that only your lack of faith is keeping you from possessing health or wealth or prosperity. That if you had enough faith you could possess what whatever you want. That God wants you to rich. If you had enough faith, that medical test wouldn’t come out positive. This is the idea that it’s only because of your lack of faith that you aren’t yet healthy or wealthy.
Really there are so many messages about faith that are circulating, so over the next few weeks we are going to explore faith. As we explore faith, I want to caution you with something. Faith is like a multifaceted gem. There are so many sides and to faith and so many different variables and various ways that the Bible and the church talk about faith. There is no way that over the next few weeks that we could explore all there is about faith. So instead of trying to give some generic watery definition of faith, we going to explore a few sides to faith. And hopefully we will all have a better understanding of what faith is and how it can enrich our lives.
So today we are going to turn to Hebrews. We don’t really know who wrote Hebrews, but it’s kind of a sermon, so the writer is often called “the preacher.” In Hebrews ch11:1-3 we read:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith[a] our ancestors received approval. 3 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.
I mentioned how faith is a multifaceted gem. I think from this passage we see two really important aspects of faith that get to the heart of what it means to live as a person of faith.
When we read that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for” we see that through faith we are able to have in the present God’s promised future. Wait, wait, wait, wait – I realize that this sounds like theological mumbo jumbo. I realize that this sounds very theoretical. This idea that we can live now what God has promised in the future sounds like a great idea but it doesn’t really live up to our experience.
After all, what does God promise for the future. Later in the Bible in Revelation we read a vision of what God’s promised future looks like. This vision that is recorded in Revelation and gives us an idea of what God has planned for the future. And in Revelation 21:3-4 we read:
“Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
No mourning, no crying, no pain; that’s God’s plan for the future. But this confuses things even further. Look around, there is plenty of mourning, plenty of crying, plenty of pain. Preacher, what do you mean that faith allows us to have in the present God’s future?
One of my mentors in preaching, Tom Long, would say that this concept of faith has an “inward reality” and an “outward force.”
Inwardly, even though it may seem as if our lives are falling apart that the world is in chaos, faith gives us the ability to trust that God will make all things right. This inward dimension of faith says that it appears that all is going to hell and that I can’t do anything to stop it, but I trust that God will keep God’s promise. I trust that God is trustworthy; I trust that that there is hope, because God says that there is hope.
If that’s all there is, though, it seems that faith might just be a way to escape the realities of the world. It might just seem that faith is a way to deny that your spouse is abusive or that your child has a drug problem. Because if God will make it ok in the end, I guess I can just pretend that it’s ok right now. As appealing as this idea might be about faith—That I can believe that my spouse will stop abusing me. If I believe strongly enough, the disease will stop progressing. If I just think about God’s future and how much God loves me, the mountain of debt that is knocking on my door will disappear. But these promises are weak. They might keep you sane for a time, they might keep you hopeful for a time, but eventually with time they will fail. And if all your faith is bound up in good thinking, you will be lost without a drop of faith without a drop of hope to sustain you.
But this faith that we read about in Hebrews is not just a passive trust. This faith that we read about in Hebrews is not a Pollyannaish way of looking at life and the world. You see this faith, not only is it an inward reality, it’s also an “outward force.” You see as a person of faith you can’t just believe something there is action that comes with that belief.
Following this short passage in Hebrews that gives a partial definition of faith the writer tells the stories of many people of faith who are examples of what it means to live the life of faith. He tells stories of people like Abel, and Noah, and Abraham, and Sarah, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses, and on and on and on. He tells stories of these ancient women and men that possessed that faith we’ve been talking about. They possessed it, not just because they believed or had hope that God was trustworthy and was going to eventually make things right. They are examples of faith because they also acted on that faith.
Not only are we supposed to believe inwardly, but we are supposed to act on that belief. Faith as an inward reality trusts that God will bring peace. At the same time faith as an outward reality works for peace by getting to know people who are different, by speaking against the divisive nature of our presidential politics. Faith as an inward reality trusts that God is good, then acts on that trust by teaching children in Sunday School and volunteering at school to make difference in the lives of young people.
Recall my recent lunch trip to the Mexican restaurant—you know I left my wallet at home. The employees of the restaurant could have made a big deal about my mistake. After all, it quite possible that I wouldn’t return to pay the $15 for our lunch. They had every right to make a big deal and to embarrass me. Most of what we see on the news is people trying to convince you how right they are, but that’s not what happened here. Now, I have no idea about the religious convictions of the employees of the taco place, but to me they acted as people of faith. They acted as people of peace, they shared goodness with me, that serves as an example to me of this outward action of faith.
This outward faith is about working to bring God’s future into reality. This outward faith is about praying for those who are hurting. This outward faith doesn’t sit idly by as someone is mistreated at school or at your place of business. Outward faith takes inward faith and makes it a reality. It’s the kind of thing that changes the world and keeps hope alive.
If our inward faith is not matched with this outward reality, the difficulties of our lives will eventually destroy our faith or make our faith irrelevant. There was another writer in the bible named James who knew this very well. And in a letter he wrote, he said, “faith without works is dead” (2:26). Perhaps this is what he meant. Because if faith isn’t matched with actions, it really does die; it really does prove itself to be irrelevant.
If you just go to church and believe in God to make yourself feel better you are building a faith that is based only on this inward reality. Maybe it does make you feel good, but it won’t last. Because faith, without the outward reality, without the outward action, just can’t last.
So let us live the life of faith. Let us have the inward hope of faith and the outward action of faith.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.