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Winning the big one: A Sermon on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
September 8, 2016, 4:26 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Bible Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

Do you ever buy a lottery ticket?

Gambling isn’t a big part of my life, but when that jackpot reaches ridiculous amounts- $500 million dollars- sometimes I buy a ticket.

Then I start to dream. If I suddenly had $500 million, what would I do with it?

The dreaming is the really fun part. I imagine all the amazing things I could do. Take my whole family to Norway and Germany, tracing our family heritage. Take my girlfriends and their families on a cruise- or better yet- buy us our own resort! Make sure my kids and my niece and nephew have college paid for. Buy land on Lake Superior and build a retreat center with a special focus on clergy renewal.

I dream of never having to worry about money again, or struggle with that tricky dance between my ministry as a call and work that pays the bills.

So once in a while I buy a ticket so I can surround myself with the joy of dreaming. I know I’ll never win- sometimes I don’t even check the numbers. It’s mostly about the chance to hope- to imagine living the way you can only dream about.

When I get caught up into all this, I get caught up into a lie. Of course, the primary lie is that I have any chance of actually winning all that cash- the odds are never in your favor. But there’s a more dangerous lie. That lie is that I can’t live a life that reflects my dreams right now.

I could live today as if I had won the lottery.

Before you think I’ve really gone off the deep end and am about to explain my get rich scheme, hang on with me—-

it’s about looking again at my dreams and seeing the values at the root of them. Family, travel, time with loved ones, being a part of bringing renewal to others, living with integrity and without stress. I might need to reframe from a vacation on a private island with a chef to one at a state park, around a campfire, but I can still make time to be with family and friends.

I don’t have to wait for the day my lucky numbers are pulled for it to be possible for me to live with the same joy as if I was a winner.

In an even greater way than simply limiting our expectations so that we can live out of our joy, our faith changes the kind of life it’s possible for us to live now.

When we read in Hebrews, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” we hear an option for a new way of life that is grounded in confidence in God’s work for us. Through faith, we see our life today changed by the promises God has made to us.

Faith gives hope content. Faith describes what we hope for.

One of the church Fathers wrote this beautiful description of what our hope is: “Faith depicts for us in advance the resurrection of those still lying dead in their tombs and causes the immortality of the dust of our bodies to become evident” (Theodoret)

 

This means that when you walk across the street to the cemetery, in faith, you don’t imagine the dead bodies in the ground, but you see your loved ones rejoicing alive in Jesus’ presence. It also means that you don’t see your own life fading away, bitterly living into what you thought would be golden years- you see in your fragile body the new body of the resurrection you will receive through Jesus.

The central promise is that God alone gives life, and God gives life abundantly and eternally. This life is not all there is. God’s promises extend beyond the grave, into a new creation that God is preparing.

To have faith is to live as if you have today everything you’ve hoped God would provide. It means that your decisions about what’s important today are shaped by your having received what God has promised. The tricky thing about this is that you haven’t fully received what God has promised yet.

Living in faith does not mean you will win the lottery because that’s what you’ve been hoping for. God is not going to reward you with lots of money just because you pray today. So often we think prayer is about asking for what we want and hoping that we get it. Even Abraham, in our reading from Genesis, is wondering along these lines. God’s promised descendents and Abraham doesn’t have any kids. He asks God, “What will you give me?”

Abraham asks because he’s not seeing any results of God’s promise. How long is he supposed to keep trusting that God will do what God’s said when there aren’t any signs that his hope will come true? Why would we uproot our families, change our jobs, rearrange our budgets, spend time at church, and pray if we aren’t going to see any results in return?

Most people might think you’re nuts. Even faithful people might laugh at you.

 

 

Our great matriarch of the faith, Sarah, Abraham’s wife, doesn’t get much attention in the Bible while God is talking to Abraham about moving to a new land and having lots of kids. We get the idea that she’s heard these promises, and obviously she’s followed along, uprooting her life to travel along with Abraham. Of course she’s wanted kids, but they just haven’t come and now the time for having babies has passed.

So when angels come to tell Abraham that he really is finally going to have a child that year, Sarah, overhearing in the kitchen, snorts out her laughter. It’s pretty ridiculous. I like the way Hebrews puts it- she’s so old she’s as good as dead- how’s she going to have a baby now?

I think her laughter is one of those I’d rather laugh than cry type of moments, but when her child is born, her laughter is full of joy. Her son is named laughter, a reminder of our reaction to God’s ridiculous promises.

God promises things that seem impossible. Life today and after death. Forgiveness. Peace. Reconciliation. Healing. Unified community out of diverse individuals.

When we look at the reality of our lives, all these promises seem far, far out of reach. But when we look with eyes of faith, we see what God is making possible.

People who work in remodeling are good at this sort of thing. They see a house that is in disrepair. I would see a huge mess of a broken house that is good for nothing else but to be bulldozed away. But fixers would see the gross parts stripped away and beautiful new walls and counters and bathtubs put in. They could see the way the remodeled house would become a welcoming place of refuge, where family and friends would gather. They can look at the brokenness and see what will be. That vision gives them hope, makes it possible for them to do all the hard work that needs to be done to get from the current state of destruction to the future state of beauty.

In faith, we are called to be people who see the future state of beauty overlaid on the current state of destruction. This is meant to give us hope for what God will do, and strength to be God’s workers in bringing that future into the present. Knowing God’s promises, we can see what God is doing, and we can join God’s work with courage even when we never see the completion of God’s work.

We are a people who need measurable results. We are outcome driven. That kind of mindset just doesn’t work well with faith. It doesn’t work because it’s centered on the individual person as the judge of what has been achieved. God’s timeline is different than ours. God’s promises are for a whole creation, not just one people or one generation. Each of us might receive a glimpse of a promise being fulfilled, or be a part of one small way the beautiful future is coming into today. Or, we might sacrifice, pray, work hard, and see nothing for our life of faith.

If that’s the case, we would be in good company. We read in Hebrews, “All of these (ancestors) died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.” It can be a struggle to keep trust in God’s promises when you can’t see God making them come true. We need the community’s vision, and not just the vision of the people of Cross, but the vision of all the faithful around the world and through the ages. Then we are strengthened in our hope, because sometimes a promise made to one person is more fully made real to the next generation.

St Augustine wrote, “When you hope, you do not yet have what you are hoping for, but, by believing it, you resemble someone who does possess it.” In other words, fake it ‘til you make it. Act like you’ve won the lottery and can live the way you’ve only dreamed. Be confident that God will do all God has promised- living into those promises today by being people who create peace, increase love, and bring reconciliation. Then keep on with that work even when it doesn’t seem to be making any difference. In the end, it’s not going to be you who heals the creation, but God.

God has already achieved that healing through the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Jesus, our hope has been fulfilled. Now we wait for all its effects to soak through our world.

As you go into your week, be confident in living into God’s promises. We gather here at Cross to live as if the kingdom of God has already come down to us. Church is our practice ground for living as if God has already fully transformed the world. We confess and receive forgiveness to live as if we have finally reached a place where sin has power no more. We share the peace to live as if all our relationships were healed. We gather at the communion table to live as if all people were brought into God’s celebration. We eat shoulder to shoulder to live as if we were already at God’s eternal banquet. We are sent into the week ready to practice God’s kingdom in this world, knowing that we’re not totally there yet, but God will make a good future happen.

 

Along with Hebrews 11:1, think of this quote: “Faith is the courage to move forward rather than retreat in cowardice.” Move forward into the new future God is creating- in which God is at our center, all people are united, death is no more, forgiveness is accomplished, and joy is complete. This is the kingdom of God Jesus proclaimed is near.

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