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Faith: Trust in the Unseen

Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-16

Pastor Jason Zirbel

Pentecost 12, Proper 14, series C
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

View Associated File

Sun, Aug 11, 2013 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

I don’t know about you, but I find that there is a tremendous amount of personal comfort, peace, and encouragement that comes with looking to the past; looking back at how my forefathers handled things.  Sure, life is tough in our day and age, but my problems and worries are really nothing new.  Sometimes I forget this.  Sometimes I foolishly believe that no one has ever faced what I’m facing.  People have always worried about their money, their bills, their food, their clothes, their homes, their families, and their jobs, among other things.  It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are.  It doesn’t matter where you live or when you lived.  These worries and problems have always been a constant in this thing we call “life.”

“Okay…so how is this comforting?  Misery loves company?” No…think about it like this: Generation upon generation of people have made it through lean and troubling times.  Generations of people before us have faced and come through adversity.  We’re not the first generation of people to know financial depression/recession.  We’re not the first generation to know war.  We’re not the first generation to know sickness, disease, crime, cruelty, and death.  We’re certainly not the first generation of people to know how hard it is to be faithful to God in the midst of a generation of people who largely don’t care one whit about God, His Word, and His Will.  Looking to the past; looking to how my faithful forefathers stuck to their faithful guns and persevered gives me tremendous comfort, peace, and encouragement.  They made it.  They survived.  Everything worked out alright in the end, perhaps not physically or materially, but spiritually and eternally.  They remained faithful.  They remained faithful in the face of a lot greater adversity than I’ve ever faced.  If they could do it on such a grand scale, then I can certainly do it on this smaller, easier scale.

I have to admit: at first glance, our lessons for today certainly seem to have this familiar “pep talk/family history lesson” feel to them, especially the words of our Epistle lesson.  Look to the past!  There is your comfort and encouragement!  You can’t deny it: There are quite a few “heavy hitters of faith” named in those couple of verses.  Who among us wouldn’t want to be likened to Moses, Enoch, or Abraham in terms of faith?  Who wouldn’t want to be mentioned in the same sentence as those guys when talking about faith?  That’s saying something!  When you think about what those gents went through in their daily lives as faithful children of God, it almost makes you ashamed that you would dare to complain about your twenty-first century “faith-shaking problems.” Being an American Christian nowadays is a lot less dangerous than it was for our forefathers. 

“So that’s it, pastor?  Simply go and be like our forefathers of faith and all will be hunky-dory in our lives?” No, I didn’t say that.  That makes it sound like faith is this really easy thing to do.  Simply emulate these men and the results should be identical too.  You and I both know that this simply isn’t true.  If it was so easy, everyone would be doing it—everyone would have this tremendous faith. 

You and I both know that faith is a lot easier on paper than it is in real life.  Faith works a whole lot better in theory than it does in everyday practical application.  I know we don’t like to admit that, but it’s true for each and every one of us.  I think we’d all like to claim that we fear, love, and trust in God above all things, but we can’t honestly say that.  We know the truth.  We know the skeletons in our closet.  We don’t put our trust completely in God, not always and in all things, and perhaps not ever.  Remember: We’re talking total trust in God above all things.  Do you know why that is?  Do you know why I’m bold to say that we fail at this faithful reality all the time in all areas of life?  Think about what the Scriptural definition of faith is: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things unseen”.  Think about what this is saying, and don’t over-think it!  Faith is grounded in the unseen; the things we can’t see, touch, or prove. 

That leads us to the focus of our meditation for this morning—the account of Abraham and God’s promise of a long line of descendants.  First off, we need to put things in perspective here.  Abram (as he was still known at this time) was already about 75 years old.  His wife, Sarah, was up there in age too.  They were childless and her biological clock had stopped ticking a long time ago.  It was apparent that Abraham and Sarah were going to die without an heir of their own flesh and blood.  Now, it’s important to remember that God had promised them children before—multiple times, in fact, in the time leading up to this event. 

Unfortunately, as is usually the case, God wasn’t working according to their timeline.  There was no sign of a baby in sight.  Can you imagine how Abraham must have felt?  Of course you can!  “Come on, God, I’m waiting!” Abraham was getting worried.  Things weren’t working out the way he had envisioned or planned.  Things were getting off schedule.  Maybe God was stalling.  Maybe God was just using Abram and getting what He could out of this old goat and his fossil-of-a-wife.  Maybe God’s Word and Promise was bigger than He could deliver; a flair for the dramatic and a little embellishment on God’s part perhaps.  Maybe Abraham was doing something wrong and hadn’t earned enough brownie points with God in order to get God to loosen up the proverbial purse strings and make good on His Word.  Does any of this sound familiar to you?

“Well, pastor, your right in assuming that Abraham felt these things.  After all, he was human, just like us.  That’s why God took him outside and showed him the stars of the sky, telling him that his descendants would be greater than the number of stars in the sky.  But that’s just it.  God spoke with him directly.  God gave him a sign that he could physically see.  You have to admit, pastor, that having faith in that circumstance is easy; at least easier than in our day and age.  I mean, God doesn’t exactly have conversations with anyone anymore—at least not anyone sane or credible.  God doesn’t exactly give me a sign and a promise when my faith gets shaken and rattled.  I gotta tell you: if God did for me what He did for Abraham, I’d have a faith like Abraham too!”

Ahh…but that raises a good question: What exactly did God show Abraham?  “Duh, pastor…God showed him the stars!” Wrong!  God did NOT show Abraham the stars.  You see, if you read the rest of chapter 15 you discover that this conversation was taking place in broad daylight.  Verses 12 and 17 tell us that the sun then began to set and then it became dark.  Think about that for a moment.  There’s not one of us here who hasn’t wished that we could have it a little easier in terms of faith, just like our forefathers did.  I ask you: Did they really have it that easy? 

Think about what God showed Abraham.  He showed him a bright blue sky in the middle of the day and then told him to number the stars.  Walk outside right now and tell me how many stars you can see twinkling in the sky.  Not a single one!  However, those stars are still there, aren’t they?  You just can’t see them; not right now, at least.  But they are there.  That’s exactly what God was saying to Abraham.  “I’m in control.  I told you that you will have a lineage that outnumbers the sands of the seashore.  I said it, and I meant it.  Be patient.  I’m working My plan according to My timeline.  Your promised lineage is already a done-deal as far as I’m concerned.  Just like the stars hidden behind this bright blue sky, you just can’t see them.  But they are there.  Trust Me!” And Abraham did believe God, and that faith—that trust alone—God counted to him as righteousness.  Abraham was justified.  God declared him righteous because of his faith alone in God’s promise.  I hope this sounds familiar to your ears too.

Look around you.  Nothing has changed.  God still speaks with us.  He speaks quite loudly and clearly in His Word.  The question is: Do you remain still long enough to hear Him?  He still takes us by the hand and leads us to real and tangible things—sacramental things that He attaches His life-giving promise of forgiveness and eternal life to—things like Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.  I know they don’t look like much.  People have looked at these things for centuries and seen nothing but ordinary books, men, water, bread, and wine.  Consequently, because they don’t see what they want or expect to see, they overlook and miss God in these humble means of His grace and presence.  But…God is here, isn’t He?  Immanuel still abides with us, even to the very end of the age, just as He promised. 

Of course, God’s promises aren’t just a Sunday morning thing.  He still takes us out into the world and points us to the seemingly empty bright blue skies of our bank accounts, our broken relationships, and any other thing we wrongly wrap our faith around and says to us, “Look!  Relax!  I’m still in charge.  Maybe you don’t see anything right now.  All seems bleak and empty right now.  It’s not.  I know what you need for this daily body and life.  I’m your Creator.  I’m your Maker and Redeemer.  Trust Me.  Trust IN Me!”

Folks: As we now come to the end, my prayer for you this day and every remaining day of your life is that our Lord simply opens your eyes of true saving faith so that, like faithful Abraham, you too can look and behold and recognize and give thanks for all that He so richly blesses you with in this daily life; chief of which is that wonderful, life-giving gift of saving faith in Christ alone.  For it is only through saving faith that we have the blessed assurance and peace that our Father’s absolutely free gifts of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation are already ours because of His grace for us in Christ Jesus.

And now may this same peace which surpasses all understanding; that peace that is only known in faith; keep your hearts and minds secure in the one, true faith that Jesus is your eternal Lord, King, and Savior. 

AMEN



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