Hebrews 11:1-40 “What Is Faith?”
This last week I found myself watering the vegetable garden at the parsonage quite late at night. There was no moon, so it was extra dark. I felt for the hose on the ground with my foot. Just then the hose seemed to move on its own and jump on my foot and then away. I realized then it was a frog that had come to the hose for a drink. I had not seen it.
Faith is the assurance of things unseen? We need to read our scripture very carefully now. I did not see the frog in the garden. That does not mean that I have faith in frogs. I have no faith in frogs. I know of not one person who has faith in frogs. To be sure, the scripture points out that faith is not just about believing in things unseen; Faith is about HOPE in our hearts of knowing God.
Now, the words for “things” that is repeated twice in the first verse is πράγματα (pragmata) in the Greek. We use the English term “thing” so generically in our spoken idiom that perhaps we gloss over what is being meant here. Faith is about pragmatic things. We are two have a pragmatic faith.
To further this argument, we see that the word “conviction” here from the Greek is used mostly in scientific debate. The word ελογχον (elongchon) goes back hundreds of years in writings of Greek scientists to mean a “proof” or “evidence.” So, faith here is a pragmatic thing that can be proven.
We get the sense that the author is talking more about science than about a theological understanding of faith. Likewise following in verse 3 we see a discussion of what today is called the “Big bang theory” of creation. “What is seen was made from things that are not visible.” Is this not also the basis of quantum physics? This is called “no local causality.” Cause and effect do not have to be right next to each other at all. A butterfly in Europe flapping its wings can eventually cause a hurricane to hit New Orleans! In our case, someone, namely God, is causing things to be created from the other side of the event horizon of Creation, which we cannot see.
There is also the idea of “quantum coupling.” Take one electron from a helium atom and separate it from the other electron and fly it to the other side of the planet. Nudge the electron on one side of the earth to spin backwards, and the other electron also changes course. In other words, God does something in heaven that is coupled to what transpires here on earth. What God does, we experience.
I want to jump to verse 6 now because we have still a lot to cover with so many verses today. “One must believe in God in order to approach God.” Okay, God is unseen. We have faith that God exists, therefore we can approach God. This is the classic argument that it is not so important that “we see in order to believe,” but rather “we believe in order to see.”
If we are in a boat on the ocean, we can see the horizon. Yet, we might not know what is on the other side of the horizon. No matter how far we travel, we can only ever see a line in front of us that does not reveal what is on the other side of the line. We just continue to sail on anyway in our belief that something is there.
What if God, who is on the other side of the horizon wants to make himself know to us? How would that look? God would have to send God’s self to us! Oh, that would be Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Now we know for sure that God is on the other side of that horizon. We just cannot see God. And, strangely enough, people will not see Jesus as Lord and Savior unless they believe that God sent Jesus to us. In this case one does have to believe in order to see. And, because Jesus could be seen, then we could believe. That is more quantum physics, isn’t it? The old causality loop!
In verses 8-22, we read about the faith of Abraham of the Old Testament. In this part of the scripture we seem to be reading that one can in fact “inherit faith.” Is faith in our genes? That is not such a strange question.
It seems that when we are born, we have already inherited many instincts that are said to be “epigenetic.” How does a baby already know to hold its breath and kick its feet in the water before it has been taught how to swim? The baby is somehow born with this knowledge. Then, as it gets older is taught various other things, the child may forget somehow that it could swim as a baby.
This is my personal belief, but it is being hinted at in our Scripture today, that we are born with an instinct for faith in God. Somehow we remember in our bone and in our flesh that we were once a long, long time ago created by the Almighty—and in that image. I pray that there be something Godly in me! I hope we all do!
I want to focus on verse 13 that states that so many have died “without having received the promises.” What is this referring to? What are the promises? The simple answer is that we have a shot at salvation from sin and a life eternal in God’s Kingdom which is to come.
Throughout the Bible we see the people striving to reach the “promised land.” Abraham did this. Moses did this. Joshua did this. Joseph in death did this. Ezra coming out of Babylon reached once more the promised Jerusalem. When Jesus came, the promised land became the New Jerusalem, the heavenly kingdom of God on earth. When we say that Jesus is our King, that means His kingdom is real. Humanity has met the heavenly King, therefore we know there is a kingdom of heaven. WE are promised a place therein.
Next we see in our scripture a long list of martyrdom. This followed up with a statement in verse 38 that I want to discuss briefly: “Of whom the world was not worthy.” This line really affected me when I was preparing for Bible Study and then this sermon. Is it at all possible that there can be people who are simply too good to be true? Could they be too good for this world even?
I wonder then if every child that is ever born might be too good for this world! I remember back to the creation of humankind as it is portrayed in Genesis. God looks down on the sixth day at humankind and says “good” not once but twice. We are “good, good.” That is to say that we are “better” but not the best because only God is BEST.
I would love it if this morning we can all just remember what it is like to be “good, good” again! I want to be good, good again. I want God to look down with favor on my life.
I have known so many people in my life that I would categorize as being “as the world was not worthy of them.” I know that you have met such people too. Honestly, everyone such person like that that I have met has been a stalwart Christian who is the anchor of faith in the church. WE look at these people’s faith, and we are given that same faith in God.
Do you all know what today is? It is Halloween—or All Hallows Evening. That is where we get the name “Halloween.” Where I grew up in Los Angeles, it was also widely known as “Dia de los Muertos” or “The Day of the Dead.” So, on this day we are supposed to honor the people who have gone before us. I want to do that because there have been people that I have come to know and love here in this church for whom this world was never good enough. I know for sure that they are now in that good, good place, that better place, with God in heaven.
Wow, where to start? First, I apologize to those of you here who will not know of whom I speak. I ask for your patience. First then, I wish to remember Grace Kamai. My memory of her is when I found myself in the ICU with my family away. She had heard that I was there and came to be with me as I was hooked up on the heart monitor and all. She said to me with tears in her eyes, “Sometimes a pastor needs prayer, too.” She prayed over me. She was the rock of her family. She poured all of her heart and soul into her children and grandchildren. She was a Saint. This world was never worthy enough for her soul, so I am happy she is in heaven now.
As much as I loved and felt loved by Grace Kamai, Ruth Cassell became very much a surrogate mother to me while she was with us. What an honor it was to have been part of her fold. She took in everybody as if they were her first-born children. Yeah, she could be a little ornery at times—but you see that reminded me of my own mother all the more. She sincerely cared for people in that way that touches the heart. No way was this world worthy for such a soul as hers. I wonder what kind of organ she is playing in heaven.
I was just thinking that I could go on naming person after person from this church who were so good and kind that this world could never be worthy of them. We have had some really good, good people among us here. There were saints and angels that never really belonged here perhaps. It is better that they are with Jesus.
This church is still filled with really good people. Let me just tell you that all of you here today—the world is not worthy for the goodness and grace that you have shown me and one another. I do not want you leaving here today simply feeling good; I need you to know that you are good. You are good people. It is an honor to be a part of this church.
I cannot name “who’s who” because you are still alive and do not want to embarrass anyone in the sermon.
The last line of the scripture talks about perfection, that is our being made perfect. The Greek here is τελος (telos) and is a reference to the End Times when Jesus comes again. Be perfect! Live your days in goodness and grace, knowing that you live with the faith of Jesus, which is the promise of being with God.