Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
May 2, 2021
Introduction at the beginning of worship:
Again, this week, we’re talking about faith. Too often, we think of faith meaning we have arrived. It’s as if faith is our purpose. However, the definition of faith we read last week, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” doesn’t support such an idea. Having faith is not the end, it’s the beginning. It’s what led Abraham to leave his home at an old age.
Sadly, however, many people believe that faith is the end all. The same is true with the idea of being “born again,” which Jesus’ speaks of in John 3. If someone can just be born again, we think, they have it all together, as if they’ve arrived.
Developing faith is a process
Birth isn’t something we achieve and then is quickly over. In fact, if you think about it, we don’t achieve birth. It takes parents and a nine-month gestation period of which we don’t have any control. And once we come into the world as a child, we’re helpless. We can’t move or feed ourselves. Birth is just the beginning of a growth process, which makes it a perfect metaphor for a life of faith.
Likewise, faith is a growth process as we step out of our comfort zones. Faith requires movement as we grow into a trusting relationship with God. We can look back, as the author of Hebrews does, to see how others trusted God.
Looking back to see God’s guidance
We can also look back into our lives and see where God had been present when we were in need. Such knowledge of God’s work in the past informs our faith. And as we grow in faith, we also grow as disciples. And that’s what the church is to be about, making disciples.
Like the early church, we’re called to live with confidence that God has things under control. We’re not to be in a hurry. Making disciples is not done in an instant. Helping God bring forth the kingdom takes more than a few volunteer hours. We’re talking about investments of lifetimes of people who, trusting and working with the Holy Spirit, help others mature as Christians. We need to remember that we’re just vessels who need to be open to the Spirit, as we live as disciples.
After the reading of scripture
I tend not to be superstitious and place little trust in premonitions. However, on my first solo cross-country trip, something happened. I still find it strange. I entered unfamiliar territory, as I left Missouri and crossed into Kansas on I-70. I had flown over the country several times before this trip, but the vast lands between Missouri and the West Coast were unfamiliar.
Around mid-day, I drove up on a familiar look car, going slightly below the speed limit. This was in 1988. The car was two-toned ‘55 Buick. A red body, a black roof, and lots of shiny chrome. I gave my turn signal and moved into the left lane to pass. When I pulled beside the car, I looked over. Not only was this car identical to the first car I remember my parents owning, but the driver also looked eerily familiar.
He had dark black hair, black frame glasses, and wore a white t-shirt and a beige hard-shelled jungle hat. His left arm hung out of the rolled down window. He saw me taking a second look, nodded, and smiled.
The man looked just like my dad when he was younger. My dad wore the same style hat when we fished at Dunk’s pond. He had the same glasses. I wonder what had happen to that car which my dad had traded in 25 or so years before. As I sped on down the highway, I kept glancing into my rear-view mirror, thinking about my dad and wondering about this man who could have been his twin.
A bit later, I pulled off the freeway, into the small town of Paxico. Main Street consisted of a few stores and buildings on the northside of the road. The Southern Pacific tracks paralleled Main to the south, between the town and the freeway. There was a small bar and grill, where I retreated from the intense sun and heat. It was dark and cool inside. I ate a burger and listened in to farmers in overalls at the bar, drinking a beer and expressing their hope they’d soon get some rain. Thirty minutes later, I was back on the road.
In the distance, huge thunderheads, reminiscence of the cowboy song, “Ghost Riders of the Sky” loomed. Soon, lightning streak across the sky and even inside an airconditioned car, I could tell the outside temperature dropping. Then came the wind and I had to hold tight to wheel. Next, I entered the darkness, which came with pounding rain and hail. I could barely hear the radio. I slowed down.
It was over, as quickly as it started. The highway stretched into the west and steam rose from the wet asphalt. And out of that haze, I saw the car again, that ’55 Buick. I would pass him several more times over that afternoon and again the next morning, before I turned north to pick up I-80 for the drive across Wyoming.
We are never alone
Unlike Abraham, I knew my destination. I was heading first to Idaho, where I would spend the summer running a camp, then on to Virginia City, Nevada for a year internship. But it was a bit unnerving for I was in a strange country and I knew no one. Yet, that ’55 Buick, whose driver could have been my dad, reminded me that I really wasn’t alone. No, my father was not with me, but our Father in heaven was there.
Heading out without a destination
I like the Fredrick Buechner quote I included in this week’s bulletin. “Faith is not being sure of where you’re going, but going away.”That’s Abraham, heading westward, through the desert. And, in a way, it was me, as I went to seminary and then accepted an internship out West, in a strange land where, at first, I felt as if I was a foreigner.
Abraham and his descendants
Our passage for today speaks of faith as a journey as we look back into the past. The Preacher of Hebrews is rather fond of Abraham. This is the fourth time he’s made an appearance in this sermon known as the Epistle to the Hebrews. But it’s not just about Abraham, for he brings in his wife, Sarah, and his son, two of his grandsons, and one of his great-grandsons. Isaac, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph are mentioned.
God made a promise to these ancestors of our faith, but none of them saw the promise fulfilled. They, like us, are transients in the world, knowing that the true home for which they long is that city God prepares….
Growth by steps
The thing we learn about all of them is how they grew in faith. Abraham took one step of faith leaving his home to become a Bedouin, wandering around the ancient Near East. He took a second step of faith when he refused to hold back anything required by God. This including Isaac, the only son of Sarah and the heir of the promise.
Each of the patriarchs showed faith by extending their blessing to their children. Joseph, the last we hear of, displays faith by requesting his bones be taken out of Egypt and buried in the Promised Land. That wouldn’t be for another four hundred years. Speaking of faith being of that we cannot see…
We are just passing through
Like our ancient ancestors, we, too, are only passing through this life. Yet, we’re to have faith in what God is doing in our world. It’s easy to think that things are going downhill, but we, as followers of Jesus, lay our hope, not in the ways of the world, but in the ways of God.
Where is God working today?
Where do we see God working the world today? While most congregations and denominations in America are declining, the church is growing by leaps and bounds in Africa and Asia. Perhaps, we have too long thought of ourselves as God’s gift to the world, that we have forgotten that God’s ways are not ours.
The Man Who Moved a Mountain
I recently had a conversation with Stewart, your former minister. We discussed the book about his grandfather, The Man Who Moved a Mountain. Stewart told of how people, after reading the book, are often amazed at his Grandfather. Yes, God did some great work through him, but Stewart felt his grandfather would be overwhelmed by the praise.
One person, impressed by his Grandfather’s work, asked if he knew how many people his Grandfather saved. They were surprised Stewart said he could answer that question. They were even more surprise by his answer. None! He didn’t save anyone. Salvation is from God, through Jesus Christ, not from any of us.
Yes, God can work through us, as he did through Bob Childress, to help bring people into a relationship with Jesus. But salvation is a gift that can only come from God.
Our hope and stepping out in faith
As followers of Jesus, we place our hope in the work he is doing in the world. That should make us optimistic, but also humble. We’re called to step out in faith. In a sense, it can be a lonely journey. But we place Jesus first, knowing we are never alone. Our hope is in the overflowing love of God. Like Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, we are called to step out in faith, trusting God. And there’s no telling what God might do through us. Amen.
 While faith is important in living out our purpose, we created as the opening question of the Westminster Catechism describes, to “glorify and enjoy God forever.”
 This idea came from the Rev. Peter Lockhart, “Seeking a Better County,” a sermon on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16. http://revplockhart.blogspot.com/2013/08/seeking-better-country.html
 See Matthew 28:16-20.
 Joseph D. Small, Flawed Church, Faithful God: A Reformed Ecclesiology for the Real World (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2018),, 181
 Dunk was my great-uncle (my paternal grandmother’s brother), whose pond was about a half mile from our home.
 Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 25.
 See Hebrews 2:16, 6:13, and 7:6.
 Interestingly, Hebrews mentions Isaac as Abraham’s only son, while in Genesis we learn of Ishmael. Compare Hebrews 11:17 with Genesis 16. Of course, Ishmael was not the son of Sarah, but her servant, Hagar.
 See Small, 214