Living a Life of Faith
Text: Heb. 11:1-16
Proper 14, C
The word faith is something that is thrown around a lot in everyday conversation. But most people in our world don't fully realize just what this word "faith" really means. Faith is more and more often being seen as the lesser of two evils rather than a positive and pro-active way of life. Faith is a weakness instead of a strength. In other words: One makes a leap of faith in this world because he or she has no other alternative. It is an action done more out of doubt than anything you could call a positive trust. Likewise one only deals with another in good faith, until the other person screws things up. Faith, the world tells us, is something that must be worked for. It is something that is earned.
It is something that the world would be better off without because when people act out of faith, they are bound to be let down, to be hurt. Let's be honest, who hasn't been hurt or let down at one time or another, by someone or something you put your faith in? It is easy to look at the governments of this world and decide that they don’t deserve our faith. It is easy to look at all of the crime and violence, the vandalism and the theft, the hurtful words and actions of others. It is easy to look at all of these things around us and to think like so many other people in the world today that faith in people; faith in governments, faith in the goodness and kindness and fairness of others will only let you down in the end. And I’m here to tell you that they’re right. None of these things deserve your unwavering or unquestioning faith. They will all let you down at some time or another.
Yet, God in the 11th chapter of Hebrews, is calling each and every one of us to live a life of faith. But not just any kind of faith. Not a blind faith in people or governments. Not just some sort of nebulous hope that "things will work out in the end." Our Christian life of faith is to take on a very specific overtone. God shows us in this passage of scripture that a Christian life of faith is one in which we live in this faithless world as if we were seeking our real home. Our life of faith is to be based solely in the promises of God. Our faith is to be placed in the world to come, the kingdom of heaven. We as Christians are to live life, and speak of life, in such a way that we make it clear that heaven is our real home. That is our life of faith; and it is to shape the way in which we live in this world.
The writer of Hebrews gives us a wonderful example of what this Christian life of faith looks like. He tells us the story of Abraham. By all accounts, Abraham was a fine example of Faith throughout his life, but here we focus in on one small aspect of that life. God called Abraham to move away from all that he knew and take up residence in "some place" that he would be shown later. And Abraham did it. And it shaped the way he lived the rest of his life. Even when he finally arrived in the Promised Land, he never once claimed it as his own. He continued to live there in tents, moving from place to place. He treated the land promised to him like a foreign land. He treated himself and his household as if they were all visitors in the land that God had promised to him. And he lived his life that way out of faith. Abraham believed in the promises of God. The promise of blessings and children, and a heavenly city of glory built by the hand of God. Abraham set his sights not upon what he could see in front of him, but on what God had promised.
This is the kind of faith that we also are to have. Our faith is to be an assurance of things hoped for, and a conviction of things not seen. (v. 1) As Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 4:18 "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." Like Abraham we are to live on earth as if it were not our real home. We are to act as if we are only visitors in this life. We are to have faith in the promises of God that there is more than what we see; more than what we know; more than this world has to offer.
This sort of thing is all too easy to talk about on Sunday mornings while we are in the church. It is an altogether different standard to live up to the other six days of the week. All too often we find ourselves not following the example of Abraham but rather his nephew Lot. If you remember back in the 13 chapter of Genesis (and I’m sure that you do!) Lot made a decision to settle himself and his family in the town of Sodom. He had been given the same promises as Abraham, being part of Abraham’s family; but he chose instead to only look at what was before him. The land around Sodom was richer, the people were friendlier, it was what he knew, what he was comfortable with. He didn’t want to continue living in the desert with his uncle because of some vague promise of something better to come. That decision ended up costing him and his family dearly.
That is exactly how so many Christian even today treat the promises of God. Worldly wisdom tells us that we can’t live on promises alone. We need something a little more solid. The promises of heaven will have to wait, because right now food and a job and school and a home are all more pressing needs. But the ways of the world breed doubt and mistrust and pass it off as faith. If it doesn’t concern the here and the now, it isn’t important. Little by little we settle for second best. Little by little we buy what the world is selling. Little by little we make this world our home, and our daily concern instead of heaven. In the daily grind the promises of God’s heavenly city can seem like nothing more than a vague dream.
And so, it is easier to stick to what we know. We stick to what we understand, jobs, and money, and houses, and a hundred other things earthly things. That is not to say that these things are not important, or that we should be unconcerned with them. The problem is when the affairs of this world begin to take precedence over the affairs of the Kingdom in our daily lives. The problem is when the things of heaven and faith in God are left ONLY for Sunday mornings. That kind of life is not a life of faith. It is a life of doubt. A lack of trust in the goodness and the promises of our God. 1 Jo. 5:10 states: "Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar." If we choose to live a life more concerned about the here and now, than with the promises of the life to come, then we are acting just like Lot. And just like Lot, that kind of life has severe consequences.
And yet despite our continual failure to live out a proper life of faith, God himself is still always faithful to us. As our text tells us He has prepared a heavenly city for us (v. 16), even though we’re not yet done goofing things up. What is more, the very first verse of our Gospel lesson tells us that it is God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom of Heaven. (Lk. 12:32) How can God be so pleased to do this for us if our actions toward Him haven’t earned that kind of trust yet? The answer doesn’t lie in our faithfulness, but in that of Jesus our Lord.
If we go back to 1 Jo. 5:10-12 and look at the rest of the context of the verse l shared with you earlier we see that it states: “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about His Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life ..." That is why God has promised all these good things. Not because of what we do, but because of what Christ does. Jesus and His death and resurrection are at the heart of all of God's promises to us. Christ is the object and the power of our faith. Faith in anything but Christ is pointless. It is the action of Christ that entitles us to all the promises of heaven, not the action of faith. That is why God made faith a gift of the Holy Spirit through the Word and Baptism; so that it could be ours freely, and not something we have to work for.
Even God knows how hard it can be to live a life of faith in this world. He knew how hard it was for Abraham to live the way he did. He knows what it can be like for us too. He knows that it is not always enough to simply believe that God was faithful to us when He sent Jesus, and that God will be faithful to us when He takes us to live with Him. That's why God continues to show His faithfulness towards us every day. God gave us the gift of our faith in Baptism, but He continues to strengthen and renew that faith into a positive and productive force in our lives. God renews and strengthens our faith each and every time we hear His Word proclaimed, or take part in His holy supper. It is in His Word and Sacraments that God not only reminds us of His promise of heaven, but in reality, brings a little piece of that blessed life to us right here on earth. Eternal life, and the promise of heaven are gifts that we are actually living out right here and right now. This Holy Table set before you is the banquet feast of heaven. It is life-giving, faith-building food. By taking part in it, you are living out the promise of heaven, here on earth!
God has called us to live as if this world were not our home. It is a hard thing to live in a place like a stranger, but it is also strangely freeing. Think back in your own life. When you lived at home everyone knew you and had preconceived ideas about you. You couldn’t get away with anything. Now think back to those times when you were away from home, where nobody knew you from "before". Do you remember how freeing it was. You could be who you always wanted to be. You could say things you never would have said at home. There were no expectations of you hanging over your head. That is the kind of Christian life to which God is calling you. He has taken away all those worldly expectations that hang over your head, and made you free of them in faith toward Him. He has sent you to a place that doesn’t know the real you. A place where you can act and speak as only one who has been made free can. And He continues to live there with you, encouraging you, renewing you, and strengthening you to be the person who you really are; and to live a life of faith.