Saturday, August 07, 2010

C, Pentecost 11 Proper 14 - Hebrews 11:1&3 "The Substance of God's Faith"

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. (Hebrews 11:1&3 NKJV)
What is faith? From where does faith come? And to where does it lead? In these verses at the beginning of Hebrews 11 faith is connected with the present, the future, and the past. Through faith — the very things that give us our being and our hope in the future — we understand that the universe, all things, were created by God in the past, with his word.
Faith is a very tricky word to define, and even Hebrews 11 is translated in different ways. The NIV renders the verse “Faith is being sure of what we hope for”, and the NRSV translates it as, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for”. But in fact faith is more! Faith is the thing, the substance, the absolute being, the confidence, the essence, the reality, the core, the support or the structure of what we hope for. Faith is the foundation, the boundaries, the way one is motivated, and the freedom from chaos. But for it to be these things it must come from outside of us.
Picture children playing in a sandpit! They build a dam and fill it with water, but before long the walls crumble and disintegrate and the whole thing becomes an unidentifiable mess of watery mud. The boundaries are gone, and the kids end up playing in the muck which is neither water nor sand.
Similarly when creation came to be, there were no boundaries, and God had to separate things with his word to bring order out of chaos and identify what was what.
Humanity is also a creation of God. We were perfectly created but because of our sinful nature we were unidentifiable muck. In fact our being was as filthy as the muck in which we wallowed. The boundaries of our lives were unidentifiable, as we sought to hide in the darkness of the mess. In the murkiness we had no idea of what was the truth. Our reality was confused and chaotic, there was no possibility of knowing who we were, let alone there being any hope.
Just like the earthly creation, we have had our chaos removed, and the boundaries of our being ordered and identified by God. Without God doing this there was no way we would have ever known what faith was, what its source was, or what our substance or being was meant to be.
Ironically at creation God tamed the chaotic mucky waters with his word, placing boundaries between the dirt and seas. But with us he gave us our being as his children when he defined the murkiness of our being, pushing back the tide of sin, and implanting his holy creation in us with his word and the tranquil waters of baptism.
So faith must come from outside of us, and continue to do so. God had to form and still sustains the universe, it didn’t form itself, and so too, he had to form us in the faith, and continues to nourish us with the very things that give us our identity, and being as his children.
These are the very things that place us on a solid foundation, taking away our murkiness of the past so we might look forward with clear confidence and in hope, so we don’t erode and disintegrate in the future. This faith from outside of us is our very being. The faith that comes from God is not ours, but its substance and being, justifies us because of Christ’s death and resurrection.
When I was a child, I had a recurring nightmare. To explain it is still difficult, the being and substance of the events in the dream were strange, but when I was a child it frightened me. This reoccurring dream was very real! I had a sense of falling, but I wasn’t. I had a sense of going forward really fast, but in slow motion. I had a sense of panic, confusion and chaos, but all was in darkness, I couldn’t see anything. There was noise but it was silent. A brightness was always just hidden by the darkness. I sensed a claustrophobic closeness, yet there was an eternity of nothing, and I was alone! I was at the centre of this swirling chaos, but everything was out of my control.
On reflection, these days I imagine the dream was a sense of pre-creation chaos, or a felt absence of the Almighty. Then again, perhaps this dream was my murky past coming back to frighten me, confuse me, and shake me with uncertainty in my childhood years.
Perhaps this confusion comes upon all of us when our being in Christ is shaken by the powerlessness of our murky rebellious natures, when we put ourselves at the centre, losing sight of where we’re going, or from where we’ve come. When we view ourselves without the foundation of our baptisms, our creation in Christ, his constant nourishment and forgiveness, and our hope in being raised with him, life would be pretty much, a nightmare.
Without faith continually coming from God, the substance of salvation would not exist. Yet there are many who live in denial of the reality of our need for constant nourishment from God in the means of grace, the things Jesus put in place so we might receive him. Instead we’re tempted to seek faith in feelings or works or understanding, the things that are here today and gone tomorrow into a void of murky nothingness, rather than letting the Holy Spirit give us the substance of Christ to sustain our confidence and hope.
We do well to hear the words just prior to Hebrews 11 and hear how faith only comes to be, because of God’s faithfulness to us through Christ and the Holy Sprit, given to us through the washing of pure water, and through his blood that sustains us in the holiness of our existence.
19 Therefore, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think a person deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. 38 But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:19-31, 35-39)
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. (Hebrews 11:1&3)
Just as God brought creation to being by separating the murky waters with his word, he gives us our being by our separation from the murky darkness of death with water and his word. Amen.