Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
April 25, 2021
Sermon taped on Friday, April 23, 2021 at Mayberry Church
Introduction to worship
As I mentioned last week, the Session of both churches have spent time planning the future as we, God willing, come out of the COVID pandemic. Therefore, now is a good time to tackle the subject of faith. We are going to need faith to move forward. Do we believe, not just in God, but in a God who knows us and wants what is best for us?
Today, we’re returning to the book of Hebrews. Between January and early March, we covered the first ten chapters of the book. The eleventh chapter begins with a short discussion of what faith is and then, because it is not an easy word to define, provides examples. These examples come from the Old Testament. In the twelfth chapter, we end with the best example, the faith of our Savior Jesus Christ. We’ll spent three weeks looking at the examples of faith and how they can inform our lives.
Faith, Hope, and Love
The Apostle Paul in his great hymn of love, found in the 13th chapter of First Corinthians, writes: “faith, hope, and love abide. These three, and the greatest of these is love.” Of the virtues and fruits of the Spirit, faith and hope are important, but not as important as love. Maybe this is because our lives of faith and hope should result in our lives being more loving. Hopefully love is the result of the faith we have as believers in Jesus Christ.
Difference between faith and hope
That said, I think it might be helpful if I strive to differentiate between faith and hope. They certainly have similar meanings but let me propose a distinction. As Christians we have faith in a being, one that is not seen but who exists. Our faith is in the triune God: God the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. That said, we have hope in a future situation in which the Kingdom of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, is achieved in its fullness. Faith is in God: hope is in what God is bringing about. Is that a clear distinction?
But let’s go further. Hope, which rests in a future promise, “enables us to live with boldness and confidence in the present.” In other words, this circles back around. Our future hope determines our action in the present.
After reading the scripture
We live in an information age. Knowledge increases so fast that it’s mindboggling. Much of this growth in knowledge comes from the internet which allows for the sharing of ideas. Of course, there is a downside. Not all ideas are equally valid. As an example, it’s easier than ever for people to promote false ideas and conspiracy theories. Jesus’ advice to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves apply.
Because of this increase in knowledge, we have incredible information at our figure tips. We don’t even have to go to the library anymore. We can just pull out our smart phone and google what we’re looking for.
Does knowledge increase our faith?
But we’re not the first generation to wrestle with this question. The author of Hebrews, who began his great sermon speaking of how God had spoken to people in the past. But now, God speaks through a Son. Jesus Christ is truth. He’s in charge. He’s been in charge since creation. He’s THE High Priest. His sacrifice is perfect. And he’s the reflection of God’s glory. He’s the one in whom we’re to place our faith.
Looking back helps us have faith moving forward
But as our author has done before, instead of jumping in with Jesus, he first takes us into the past. The “Preacher” has us consider the lives of others who trusted and had faith in God. Knowing what God has done in the past gives us faith in the future.
The overall message of this chapter, of which we’ll spend a few Sundays, is that our faith should result in lives that trust God. This chapter consists of 18 different examples of faith. It’s a motley group that we’ll explore over the next few weeks. Yes, there are good folks in this group and there are some that raise eyebrows (such as a prostitute). We’ll get to her in a couple weeks. What’s important is that we understand how they trusted God and the difference such faith made in their lives.
Today, we start with three examples from a period of “prehistory:” Abel, Enoch, and Noah. I say “prehistory,” to indicate the time before God’s covenant with Abraham, which begins the historical journey of the Hebrew people that, for Christians, leads the birth of Jesus. During this period, things are a bit fuzzy. We have a few stories and a lot of names. These three are raised up as an example.
The first is Abel, the second son of Adam and Eve. If you read his story in the fourth chapter of Genesis, you’ll realize that he doesn’t even have a speaking part. We’re told he raised sheep while his brother Cain farmed. But Abel’s sacrifice to God was more pleasing than his brothers, which led to his brother’s anger and the murder of Abel. As I said, Abel doesn’t speak. That is, until his blood cries out from the ground. The Preacher of Hebrews makes the case that Abel, who had faith and who trusted God, still speaks.
Abel reminds us that our lives may not always be easy. Yet, we’re to have trust that God will hear and respond to our cries. Abel had faith, but faith doesn’t mean that things will always go well for us, at least not in this life. Our faith is in the one who died but lives and because Jesus lives, we believe that we, too, will live.
The second individual is Enoch. Again, we don’t know much about him as he only receives six verses in scripture. That’s not much for a life of 365 years. What we learn is that Enoch gave birth to Methuselah, and that he walked with God. Now that’s an interesting image, walking with God. We have the image of Adam and Eve, before the fall, walking with God in the garden. We have images of the disciples walking with Jesus in the gardens. We sing hymns like “In the Garden,” which reminds us to walk with Jesus.
Enoch had an exceptional close walk with God, for we’re told that God took him. The preacher in Hebrews adds some details, implying that his faith was pleasing to God, so he’s taken to heaven without first dying.
And then there’s Noah. He lived in a dry part of the world and was told by God to build a giant ship. He did. We can imagine how everyone ridiculed him. The idea of a flood so big that one would need a ship one and a half times the size of a football field was just too hard for comprehend. People thought he was nuts.
Noah had a choice. He could have agreed with his neighbors, whom we’re told were quite wicked. They might have invited him to their parties. Of course, he’d then have to give up building the ark. But he didn’t. He listened and followed God’s advice. Noah trusted God and was able to be saved from events that were not yet known.
Who are our examples of faith?
All these examples are of people whose faith pleased God. When we look around us, who do we see as examples of faith? And what kind of things are they able to do because of their faith?
There’s a guy I knew who sadly is no longer with us. He died from a complicated autoimmune disease that claimed his life in his late thirties. The illness took its toll on his personal life, too. His wife left him a few years before his death. Yet, he remained faithful and trusted God. He always tried to do the right thing. He took his kids fishing and to church and cared for them the best he could.
He had three children, but the last one, a girl, he privately admitted wasn’t his. This was easy to see. Yet, he treated her like the other two and spoke of the joy she brought into his life. I was amazed at his response, but he insisted that she deserved his love, too. After all, it wasn’t her fault. That’s the kind of grace faith can bring out in us.
When it was evident he would not beat the illness, he begged for more time. He just wanted to spend it with his kids. He felt he could teach his boys more about hockey and flyfishing. He wanted to see his girl grow up. Sadly, it didn’t happen, but he trusted God. I believe that he was received into Jesus’ arms when his body finally gave out.
What faith does
We place our faith in Jesus Christ. We trust that even if things don’t go our way (and remember, they certainly didn’t go Abel’s way, nor the way my friend had hoped) that God will be with us. As Paul writes to the Romans, there is nothing that can separated us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, nothing, not even death.
Having such trust in the triune God can help us endure whatever the world throws at us. We need to live as we believe. Such a life makes a statement to the world. Such an example can be a far better witness than the most eloquent sermon or the most convincing argument for the existence of God.
In closing, let me reread the opening passage of this chapter, this time from The Message translation:
The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.
 1 Corinthians 13:13.
 Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary (Louisville: WJK, 2006), 277.
 Matthew 10:16.
 While I use doubt here in comparison to faith, I would agree with Paul Tillich that the doubt is not the opposite of faith, but an element of it. See Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 25-26.
 John 18:38.
 You see this in chapter 3, where he talks about Moses before making the case that Jesus is the High Priest. In chapter 7, he speaks of Melchizedek before remaking the case for Jesus as High Priest who gives the perfect sacrifice.
 The group includes the prostitute Rahab (Hebrews 11:31).
 This was pointed out by Thomas Long in his commentary on Acts (Louisville, John Knox Press, 1994), 116.
 Genesis 4:10.
 Romans 6:8.
 Genesis 5:18-24.
 See Genesis 3:8
 Romans 8:38.