Seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing, and faith isn’t the destination, faith is the journey!
In our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews assigned for this week, we are told that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
I used to live in a small, rural town called Pine Grove. Yes, there were a lot of groves of pine there which meant there were a lot of power outages over the 22 years that we lived in that place. Without a flicker or any warning, it would go from well-lit to a stinging darkness in the house.
Falling tree branches and heavy snows were usually the cause, so when the power did go out, it was never a 10-minute blackout. Instead, it would be out at least overnight, but more often we were in the dark for SEVERAL DAYS!
I remember during one such power interruption, I had a revelation of faith. Maybe you can relate to this. We had been in the dark into the second day, and yet each time I would walk into a room I would, without hesitation and with great confidence, feel on the wall for the light switch, and I would give it a flip. I did this not just once, but over and over again always expecting the light to come on even though I knew power had not yet been restored.
The world tends to laugh at faith and hope in the conviction of things not seen. All the promises Jesus made, like the beautiful promise he made in today’s Gospel when he said, “It is my Father’s pleasure to give you the Kingdom,” are written off by some as too good to be true. In a tongue and cheek and very cynical report, the Oregonian once announced that Oregon State University refused to grant tenure to God who was apparently applying for it at the University. Here are just a few of their reasons for the university’s rejection:
● They acknowledged that God had created the universe but wondered what he has done since.
● God only had one major publication and some doubted that he was the author.
● And finally, the scientific community has had some trouble replicating his work.
God has a tough time in our day.
After all the tragic mass shootings that have taken place in our nation’s recent history, I have heard and read an abundance of people saying it’s time for action and that the offering of our hopes and prayers won’t cut it anymore; we need to hit to the streets. I understand the sentiment, I really do. We do need more action. But hoping and praying in faith are actions too. And at this time in our troubled and bruised world, we should not be about the business of abandoning the tools of our faith. We still need assurance and conviction even when it is difficult to see beyond our immediate circumstances. It’s part of what helps us survive and thrive as human beings.
The story is told of a house that caught fire one night, and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, “Jump! I’ll catch you.” He knew the boy had to jump in order to save his life. All the boy could see, however, were the flames, smoke, and blackness wherever he looked. As can be imagined, he was afraid to jump from the roof. His father kept yelling: “Jump! I promise that I will catch you.” But the boy protested, “But daddy, I can’t see you.” The father replied, “But I can see you and that’s all that matters.”
A prayerful faith isn’t just about believing in things we can’t see “out there” in the world, it’s also about believing in what we can’t see within ourselves. We should never forget that the first effect of any prayer is on the pray-er. When you pray, you are the first person to be changed by that prayer. Never before have we needed the personal healing of our hearts more than we do in this third decade of the twenty-first century. Maybe things won’t change around you as fast as you hope, but you will change, and that means more than you might imagine.
Abraham, the star character in our first reading this week, is considered to be the greatest icon of faith in the Bible. He was asked to pack his bags and move his household. He was given a promise by God in his old age that he would become the father of a nation. It was a dream, but he believed it with all the expectancy of one flipping on a light switch and expecting to see light. He wasn’t given a timeline. He didn’t know which flip of the switch would bring the light, but he trusted in faith and hope.
Now we might be tempted to think that’s fine for some old wandering Aramaen who doesn’t have any children or grandchildren who need to be shielded by what they might hear on cable news. But my life, that’s a different story. My life is too complex and convoluted to have it be that simple.
I think we have been misled over the years by some very well-meaning Christians. Despite what you might have heard on the Christian Broadcasting Network, to live by faith doesn’t mean that every wish will be fulfilled. The Bible is very clear that Abraham and most all the patriarchs never actually saw their goal. Even Sara died shortly after childbirth.
You see, living in faith doesn’t mean you will automatically live successfully. Living in faith means that you will live victoriously. There is a difference! Living in faith means that we can know the victory of being relieved of the death grip of panic and doubt that can freeze us out of any forward movement because we have, as the book of Hebrews tells us, “The assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen!”
All those great patriarchs and matriarchs had their problems. Abraham never got to see the nation he fathered, so where was his victory? It came when he took that first step out of Ur toward Canaan and claimed God’s promise. It was the journey in faith, not the destination that was the victory. The rest is commentary.
Moses never got to see the promised land. Where was his victory? It came when he took that first step away from pharaoh’s family and joined his people and claimed God’s promise. It was the journey in faith, not the destination that was the victory. The rest is commentary.
Mary’s heart was pierced as she watched her Son die on a cross. Where was her victory? It came when she said, “Yes” to the promise of The Holy Spirit in Nazareth. It was the journey in faith, not the destination that was the victory. The rest is commentary.
I guess you might say that faith not only BRINGS victory, but Faith IS victory. Faith is an end as much as it is a means. The reward of faith is more faith!
So, pray for the victims of gun violence, pray for the end of gun violence. And yes, as followers of Jesus, pray for the assailant as well. The light might not come on with the first flip of the switch, but you will have begun the journey toward personal healing, and the light will eventually shine. You see, having faith doesn’t make God do anything God wouldn’t already do for you. Having faith enables you to trust the promise and therefore better understand and relate to the one who makes the promise.
The goal of the Christian spiritual life is to develop a faith that is as spontaneous and as expectant as anything the world can deliver. We must learn to trust our God enough to step out by faith instead of by sight alone. Fatalists may view life as nothing more than an elaborate game of chance where everything is determined by the luck of the draw or the roll of the dice, but we Christians should know better. We know that the game has already been won. We know that the deck is stacked, and the dice are loaded. God sees us even if we don’t always see God.
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