Summary: Faith is the heartfelt conviction that things are about to get a whole lot better! It is a conviction that there is a new and better world coming! ...
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."
As many of you will remember, I have been on an ongoing search for an entirely cheery and positive text to preach on for some time now.
It might seem odd to some of you that it should be such a tak to find some Good News in the Bible to preach on, but I’ve been looking for something wholly encouraging and uplifting, and I think we find in most passages in the Bible, as in most of life, there is a mixture of joy and pain, of resurrection and crucifixion.
At any rate, my point is that this week I believe I’ve finally struck gold and found a passage that is uplifting and inspiring without a hint of negativity about it!
Mind you, I’ve had to give the Gospel reading a wide berth, where Jesus talks about how He’s going to break up families - turning son against father and father against son and mother against daughter and daughter against mother, and everybody against their mother-in-law, or so it seems! (Luke 12:53)
Yes, I had to give that a wide berth, and yet I found my wholly positive and uplifting passage in our Epistle reading today from Hebrews chapter 11, in that great chronicle of the great heroes of the faith, who accomplished wonderful and mighty and humanly impossible things through their faith!
[They] "conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight" (vss. 33-34), managed to pay off their mortgage, lose weight and keep their hair, because nothing is impossible for those who have faith!
OK. It’s not quite that. Indeed, if you read through the passage carefully, you’ll find that the bits about losing weight and keeping your hair, along with most of the trivialities that we so often get worked up about aren’t in the list. Even so, it is a mighty list of mighty struggles, all of which were overcome by the people of faith through faith, and so it is about as close to a ’you can do it’, ’power of positive thinking’ type of passage that you ever likely to get in the New Testament!
And in truth, these ancient heroes did do some amazing things through their faith, and I certainly don’t want to be little their accomplishments in any way .
Look at Abraham - one of the first characters singled out by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews. As he (or she) points out, Abraham was technically passed his used-by date when his whole adventure with God began, and yet, when he first felt the call of God upon him, he packed his bags, got back the deposit he’d put down for Sarah and himself at the old folk’s home, hopped into his caravan, and headed off into the desert! Why? "Because he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God." (Hebrews 11:10)
Look at Moses - one of the other great historical characters who gets a guernsey in this heroes of the faith team. We are told that he likewise turned his back on a stable and predictable life - indeed, that he spurned his magnificently promising future as a member of the royal family of Egypt - for the sake of a life of faith.
Indeed, the author of Hebrews goes so far as to say that Moses "considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt" (11:26) which is a beautiful way of putting it, I think.
Moses in his early life, as we know, was a privileged member of the Egyptian royal family, and as a member of that royal family, he had a very positive future ahead of him. Perhaps he himself would have become Pharaoh one day - wielding extreme executive power right across the entire known world of his time, and attaining the status of a god amongst his people.
But Moses saw that the luxurious lifestyle of the Egyptian elite was one that was built upon the enslavement of an entire section of the population, and that his wealth and luxury was only possible because of their poverty and suffering, and so he chose, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says, ’the reproach of Christ’, who likewise chose to throw in his lot with the poor and despised, rather than profit from a system that was built upon the oppression of the poor.
And why did he do it? Because he was looking forward to that city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God! He didn’t want the sort of world that the Egyptians were offering him, not at the price it came at! He dared to believe in something better, fairer, more loving, more inclusive, and so he despised all wealth and privilege in order to pursue that better world.