Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Faith: What Lies Ahead

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 02/13/2011

Read and briefly comment as necessary along the way…

4By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

5By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

7By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

8By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

17By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

20By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.

21By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

22By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.

23By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

24By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

29By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

30By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

31By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

32And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

39These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Hebrews 11v4-40


The faith pictured here is one form of action after another, trusting step after trusting step towards an unrealized future. The best stuff available burned up for God. Looking for God. Building a boat. Packing up and moving out. Having sex with your hundred year old husband. And on and on. Every example of faith the sort of thing you could capture on video and upload to youtube.

Consider what’s been going on in Egypt. Some among us may have had some faith that the protests in Egypt would overthrow their dictator. As in, perhaps we had a feeling of confidence that it would work. But that’s not the kind of faith on display in Hebrews. Hebrews is highlighting the kind of faith demonstrated by the people who walked out into the streets despite the fact that they may have been shot or killed or jailed or teargased because they could see a different future for their country, and they wanted to go out there and greet it, welcome it, usher it in. [comment on pictures…]

We’ve been talking about how Hebrews is presenting us with a way of joining with God’s forward movement to heal and restore and redeem and repair this broken world that is very personal. That it involves trusting Jesus in the way we might trust another human being, that it involves relationship. Give and take, asking, listening, going and doing. More than just following a well-established rulebook, but rather following a living person into uncharted territory.

All of which can seem very mystical. And it is. It will be experienced differently by every one of us. There’s no formula to it. It takes risk, and discomfort, and lots and lots of not quite getting it right, or not being completely sure, and doubt, and all forms of prayer.

But the twin truth is that what this kind of relationship with God produces is very concrete actions. Actions that find their footing in this mysterious thing called faith. And when you get right down to it, the thing that binds the children of God together from age to age, and culture to culture, nation to nation, language to language, is very simply, faith. What did Abel and Abraham and Rahab and Sampson have in common with each other in their understanding of God and the rules for right living? Probably not a whole lot. But they each had, in their own way, personal encounter with God that gave birth to faith that was the basis for concrete actions that allowed them to be a part of God’s forward movement in the world. And this is what they are famous for, cheered on for. This is what pleases God about them, sets them in right standing before him. This is what opens the door in their lives connecting them to the source of life in the universe, in such a way that their deaths are not the end of them, but in fact are an entrance for them into what Hebrews will later call “the great cloud of witnesses.” Their faith is what joins them to us who are experiencing the beginnings of the thing that they were looking forward to their whole lives and to the Messiah in whom resurrection life is already a fully realized reality.

They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.

One of the extraordinary things about faith is this: it empowers us to act today in light of God’s good future tomorrow. And when we do, we participate in that good future’s coming. We see it and act, and the action itself welcomes that which is coming.

Greek word for welcome: aspazomai, meaning literally to draw to one’s self. (a salutation was made not merely by a slight gesture and a few words, but generally by embracing and kissing, a journey was retarded frequently by saluting) [The Future needs a big kiss…]

This is true of every faith empowered action.

Abraham hears God say, “Leave your father’s home and follow me to a land that I will show you.” He sees (through a glass very darkly, no doubt) the thing God is leading him to. What this passage calls the city whose architect and builder is God. And so he goes, in light of what he sees. A great risk – except that in light of what he sees, it isn’t really, is it? Perhaps all he can see of that city is the God who will build it, but he trusts the one who calls him, so he goes… And it is his very going that is the first step in that city being built. All he ever experiences of it is some tents and a son who will supposedly be the father of many more inhabitants of that city. But without faith, he never goes. And without going, the promised thing must wait until another with faith joins in. He sees, he acts, and in so acting he draws towards himself the thing he sees.

Rahab sees these Israelite spies trapped inside Jericho, and she sees that the city will fall to their God. Perhaps she sees something of their God in them. Perhaps she sees something of a better city coming. We don’t know what she sees. But we see her faith filled action. She offers to help the spies escape. A great risk – except that in light of what she sees, it isn’t really, is it? And it’s her faith-empowered action that opens the door to God doing what God was promising to do. She sees, she acts, and in so acting she draws toward herself the thing she sees.

It is the same with us, and the faith we share in common with them. God whispers something to us through his Spirit, or through the spirit inspired words of the scriptures, or through the spirit empowered words of a brother or sister in Christ, and in our mystical, trusting relationship with Jesus we find the faith that is present in us as a gift resonating with it, and we are enabled to see God’s good future. Or at the very least to trust what we are hearing, that somehow, someway it is tangled up in God’s good future. And we act. And that very action is the thing that welcomes, that draws towards ourselves the thing we see by faith.

[Meeting Ronni…(it is Valentine’s day tomorrow, after all!)…]

Team going to Haiti. Addict going to AA. Skeptic making a confession of faith. Single woman adopting a child. Volunteer signing up for youth ministry. Church planter going to church planting boot camp. Asking for prayer. Moving to Milan. Forgiving someone who wrongs you. Praying blessing on your enemy. Serving the poor. Caring for the sick. Visiting the prisoner. Joining your voice with others in praise even though you are down and out. Living more simply than you have to so you can give more generously. And on and on.

39These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

What had been promised is nothing less than new creation. And none of these men or women of old received that. What does it mean that God had planned something better for us, then? Have we received new creation? Yes, indeed, the beginnings of it.

Jesus, who we will talk about more next week, by faith went to his death on the cross. And he received a resurrection body. The first bona fide new creation matter in existence to appear in this time-space continuum. Jesus, the messiah who Abel and Abraham and all the rest were ultimately placing their faith in as they, through their actions, trusted YHWH. Jesus, the true remnant of Israel, fully faithful and full of faith in YHWH, has received what is promised and is now seated at the right hand of God, Lord of his church. The church that is his body – a concrete material expression of his resurrection body – here on the earth. Broken old creation containers of his resurrection life, dying to itself in order that he might live in us. And he is directing us, leading us, empowering us through his Spirit to live lives of faith in him, and as we do he is inaugurating the kingdom of God among us. In faith-empowered actions we are welcoming it. Drawing it to ourselves.

Practical Tips:

1. Say “Yes” to God’s whispers to you. In the most literal sense. “Yes.” Out loud. To something he’s inviting you to do. It’s not much of an action. But it’s more than nothing. And it will participate in more of the kingdom coming. [kids obeying…] (Note to people who’ve already done that by writing me…)

2. Don’t be blinded by the dark. Sometimes these present troubles can act to blind us to the reality of God’s good future and we act out of that blindness. God is calling us to act out of our faith-seeing. Think about people in your life with whom it is hard to know how to act because of the brokenness of this world. (someone sick, addicted, in a funk, angry or cold towards you, dazed and confused, etc.) Act towards them as if you could see that God’s kingdom was one day going to come in fullness to them. [“knowing” I was going to marry Ronni story…] Apply this to your work, your family, your neighborhood, your team, your ministry, the things God has called you to. We don’t know with absolute certainty the particular future of any particular person or situation, of course. But we know Jesus, and his resurrection body, and if he has his way, really that’s enough, isn’t it? So let’s, in faith, be part of him having his way. (give examples..?)

3. Unearth some faith. Ask people in your faith community what role faith has played in them being where they are today, doing what they are doing. What they’ve seen, heard, trusted. What they’ve done as a result. Let their faith and faith empowered actions build your faith.

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