“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” we hear in our reading from Hewbrews. The letter goes on to recount the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, following God, going out from their homes and dwelling in tents, facing the challenges of being childless, homeless, sometimes in danger, alone in their convictions, asked by God to make incredible sacrifices, even the sacrifice of an only son in whose future alone lay the promise of numerous ancestors, a whole world filled with his children, God’s children.
Follow me, God said to these three. Follow my promise to you. Do not be afraid Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you his Kingdom. Leave your homes, sell your possessions, do not take provisions for I will give you manna from heaven to eat, and water from the well of my Son, the lamb of sacrifice that is pleasing to me and therefore never runs dry. Follow me. You cannot look upon my face, nor can you stick your fingers yet into my wounds for it is not yet time. You see now only through a glass darkly.
Faith is the assurance provided in Christ, that we will enter eternal relationship with him, yet it is a promise we cannot fully see, that is not realized this side of the grave. The writer of Hebrews puts it like this: “All of these - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, you and I - died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted [the God of promise; the Messiah who displayed the fullness of these promises in his earthly ministry and his resurrection and ascension to his Father]. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth,” living in the world but not as though that is all there is to life. They were not forced into faith and neither are we. Rather they asked, sought, persisted in seeking God and the door was opened to see the promises of God in brief glimpses: Isaac prepared for sacrifice by his Father shows to us the ultimate sacrifice God our Father would make in substituting his Son, Jesus Christ, for Isaac’s and all of our lives. Human sin, the rejection of God’s will and way, taken on by Jesus and so overcome solely by this God and man named Jesus, giving Isaac and you and I his own life so that we might enter into God’s embrace as his children. This is the kingdom of God. This is reconciliation. This is the place, not a physical or geographic place, but a relational place, that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob pursued. This is why they left their old ways, their old safety net, their old life behind and risked following Jesus’s way instead.
In following God’s commandments, they saw in their daily lives, Abraham and Sarah, dead insofar as they could no longer naturally produce a new life, a baby, given new life through their son Isaac; in this they participate and are witnesses to all human beings dead in their natural lives because of sin, born again through the grace of adoption, a new life. In following God’s command to sacrifice his son, Abraham acted and so saw and became the primary witness to the very act of God sending his Son into the world to take on human sin so that sin would no longer condemn people to life without God (non-existence or death), hence the lamb of God that God gives to Abraham to substitute for his son. It is this faith lived out that becomes a witness to the one who saves: Jesus Christ.
Faith is not about what actions grant you salvation and what acts might condemn you. Rather Faith isn’t ultimately about you; it is about how you faith is about living in a way that points other people to Jesus.point others to God. Faith isn’t based on already having obtained certain knowledge that x or y will work out in a way that suits you. Abraham and Sarah had absolutely no knowledge that in asking for a child, they would have to bear the horrific potential of sacrificing that child, of offering him back to God. It is based on trust that God can and does deliver on his promises, and not wavering from his commands, his word, his direction to us, when this doesn’t work out how we expected or desired.
Of course all of this sounds fairly high and mighty until the rubber hits the road. It’s easy to talk about loving others until you get into a relationship with a real person who doesn’t necessarily agree with you, whom you don’t necessarily like that much, or who triggers bad experiences from your past. It’s easy to talk about self control when it’s easy for you to control certain things. But what happens when you lose control? Control of your capacities? Control of how your parish life changes after COVID, after the loss of so many dear members. It becomes much easier to fall into old ways, old habits, to get frustrated that others won’t follow suit, to not ask how God might be working in new ways and asking you to adapt and change. So you lose heart, lose momentum, judge others, lash out, gossip, triangulate a third party to corner a person you're frustrated with, all losses of self control that merely tear others, and potentially your entire community down. It’s easy to ‘have faith’ when having faith doesn’t challenge who you are. But what happens when it does? What would happen if you came face-to-face with Jesus and he asked you: did you give out of your abundance, or did you give sacrificially? How would you respond? This night, your entire life is being asked of you.
At every moment of our life we are being asked by God to be ready to witness to him. This isn’t a warning about an imminent return. So many supposed end time dates have come and gone this is now likely an internet meme. Rather, as in our Gospel lesson, we are being asked to step up as his witnesses, to act as if we are ready for his return, to not allow ourselves to be tempted by the thief - Satan - who uses our fears and anxieties and insecurities, our doubts, and all the envy, jealousy, bitterness, and grudges that grow out of them, to draw us away from speaking to people and acting towards others in ways that point to God. Faith is acting toward others with the conviction that God desires them as much as he desires you. It places on you the responsibility then, of acting toward them, as Christ has acted with you not just in your good moments, but in your most epic moments brokenness and failure to be faithful. How are you doing with that task? AMEN