“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
People regularly want to talk with me about faith, be it their own faith or faith in general. Sometimes they aren’t quite sure even what it is. It seems a vague and elusive concept that they perceive others to have, but they cannot quite find. Let’s see if we can bring it into sharper focus by looking at two major aspects of faith. This isn’t about some abstract concept. It ties to the very essence of our nature, of your nature, of what is means to be human, to have been created by God in his image.
First, faith involves trust.
We all live every waking and sleeping moment with a large degree of trust. I know very little about how they get electricity to my home, but I trust that there is a brilliant and dedicated army of electrical engineers and linemen who bring it to us and the lights are on. And that’s just one thing of an endless list of things I don’t know that much or anything about - but I trust those that do. And when it is out, I wait for them to fix it.
The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said that the opposite of faith isn’t unbelief, it is knowledge. The more I might learn about electricity and the power grid, the less I’d have to trust it. We are all continuously trusting people and systems that we actually know very little about and we don’t tend to give that much thought, and rarely a second thought.
While faith seeks understanding, as St. Anselm famously wrote, understanding is not a prerequisite for faith. When the father of a deaf and mute child, upon hearing that faith would cure him, asked Jesus, “Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief.” Jesus did not launch into proof of God. He healed the child. It is not therefore a big step to trust that God, who loves us, has us.
Faith involves anticipation.
Life is a continuous processing of our past and each present moment in anticipation of our future. We actually live every waking moment by anticipation. You brush your teeth because you have been taught that it will help your teeth last and you anticipate that not brushing them would significantly impact your interactions with other people that very day.
Our sleeping moments involve anticipation as well. When you wake up just before your alarm, it’s because some part of your brain is tracking time and anticipating the alarm which has not yet sounded. If you wake up at 3:00 am in the morning worrying about something, your brain is churning through possibilities and scenarios even while you are not quite consciously aware of it. Consider all the actions that flow because you anticipate getting home after the service today.
It is not, therefore, a big step to anticipate that God will keep his promises, even though we don’t know how and we don’t know when.
We see these elements of trust and anticipation flowing through this passage from Hebrews (Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16). Our reading skips a few verses for brevity’s sake, but the word faith rings out 18 times in the passage. Again and again it cites promises God made to the patriarchs, and that includes the matriarchs, promises they would never see but trusted and anticipated that God would accomplish.
The patriarchs’ trust and anticipation was actualized in terms of the Jewish people and the promised land. They could look back from the first century and see in hindsight that God did keep those promises: a people beyond count and the Promised Land.
But the physical fulfillment is a mere foreshadow of the ultimate promise of the heavenly country, the heavenly city that God has already prepared for them, and for you. We trust God’s capacity to do it and that he will bring us there.
It is with all of that trust and anticipation that we approach today’s Gospel. (Luke 12:32-40) When Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock,” (I hope you realize he is talking directly to Church of the Good Shepherd.) Do not be afraid because “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
This is where we come in. We make decisions every waking moment and our subconscious processes work day and night, either with this hope and assurance in mind, or not.
It is the staking of our claim in the Kingdom of God, our assurance of things hoped for and our conviction of things unseen, that enables us to trust in God’s provision and our anticipation of his gift ahead of the provisions we gather and store.
That is the big step. It is the oldest, hardest step in history. Grasping the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen is putting his will ahead of our own. It is putting our hope in him ahead of our physical life. It is “Thy will be done” ahead of “My will be done.”
That frees us to be the agents of that Kingdom for others. It’s a foundational decision that, once made, winds up being made again and again.
We then work our whole lives to narrow the gap between our faith – our trust and anticipation of God’s grace – and the ways we actually live. That includes the ways we behave in accordance with God’s Word as it pertains to ourselves and our relationships with other people, from our closest family to a passing stranger.
Keep your lamps lit. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. Trust and anticipate him. AMEN!