It’s a beautiful description of faith that we hear in the reading from Hebrew’s today. A slightly different translation offered by more than one commentator is: Faith is “the reality of things hoped for, the proof of things not seen.” “Reality” and “proof” offer slightly different meanings than assurance and conviction, suggesting faith offers realized hope and proves the unseen. As the disciples of Jesus asked him, “Give us this faith always,” we would ask this too. We are people of faith, but many of us would quickly say, I don’t have enough faith. We desire to live more by faith, but struggle to know how to do that each day in the face of so much fear and death. Jesus, give us this faith.
Is whatever faith we have shaken by mass shootings in the US based on racial hatred and whatever else, and reckless speech and amped up fear that fuels it; by senseless murders and the death of suspects in our nation, along with increasing gun violence in cities; and many more violent deaths in other nations and regions of our world and people displaced and fleeing, seeking safety and a future for themselves and their loved ones. It is difficult to have faith in the face of this evil, death and destruction; to hold on to the reality/assurance of things hoped for, the proof/conviction of things not seen. Jesus, give us faith always.
The author of Hebrews recounts the lives of heroes or ancestors of faith as examples for us, (unfortunately most of them male, in the Bible’s patriarchal bias). The faith of Able, Enoch and Noah are the first examples in a section left out of our reading today, followed by Abraham and Sarah who are the central figures, and the author continues with Moses and others, many of whom suffered for the faith. All these provide us with examples of faith, the assurance/reality and conviction/proof of things hoped for and things not seen by those before us, who journeyed by faith and God blessed them. These words struck me this week, “All of these (Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob) died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.” But from a distance they saw and greeted God’s promises. When I hear these words, I think of other ancestors of faith, in family and church community who saw and greeted future promises of God not yet realized, but with the gift of faith, the assurance/reality of things hoped for and conviction/proof of things not seen, journeyed toward promises that have been realized. People who had a vision for this congregation at the crossroads, people who saw the possibility of Luther Court, of refugee sponsorship, of a pipe organ and excellence in worship and music, of assisting those in poverty and the Shelbourne Community Kitchen, of full communion and multifaith partnerships, of expanded community ministries to children and families, of student ministry and housing; all of them from a distance seen and greeted and now real and active by God’s Spirit of grace. God give us this same faith, to see at a distance and greet what is before us, in intergenerational affordable housing, in whatever else we will see by faith. Thank you, Jesus, for giving this faith to the saints before us, and we pray, give us this faith also.
I mentioned at Luther Court this week about watching the documentary on Fred Rogers, “Mr. Rogers” and his years of television ministry with children. It was a ministry for him as an ordained Presbyterian minister and with no small vision and faith a ministry recognized by his church. He began with a vision of how television could be a source for reaching children with a positive message about their inherent worth. In songs that he wrote and through characters, both puppets and other actors, he shared this message of love and acceptance with children in all their diversity of background and colour and abilities. He was responsive and concerned about what children saw and experienced in the world around them that gave them other messages and caused them fear. He was intentional about representing difference and diversity, including a black actor who served as a police officer in the neighbourhood. In a very memorable episode, following an event in the US where a black family were made to leave a hotel pool because they were swimming with white people and the pool was doused with cleaning agent after they got out, Mr. Rogers, cooling his feet in a children’s pool on a hot day, greets his friend the black policeman who has come to see him. Mr. Rogers invites him to cool his black feet in the pool alongside him, which he does, Mr. Rogers spraying his feet gently with water, and when they are done, offering to dry his feet with a towel, so evident a connection to Jesus washing the feet of his friends. What a vision, what faith in the reality/assurance of things hoped for, the proof/conviction of things not seen. Jesus, give us this faith always.
I was honoured to preside at a wedding yesterday that was full of faith and a good dose of raucous joy. A sister of our neighbour and her partner were married in their backyard, surrounded as they hoped, by people who loved them. A long-time lesbian couple, who have endured much together and whose love and faith in one another has endured, wanted now to be married with their family and friends and neighbours who have supported and who have been supported by them, surrounding them in love. They chose the words about love from 1Corinthians 13 and these are some of the words I shared with them:
These are good words from the Bible about love, what love is: patient, kind, rejoicing in truth, bearing, believing, hoping, enduring all things, and never ending. This is the love you know in one another through all circumstances of life together, including many challenges, changes and crisis, in health and relationships and more, for yourselves and those you love. You share this love for one another and others, a love that bears, believes, hopes, endures all things; and your love has certainly endured! And so also the love of those who love you, including those gathered here. And our prayer, and God’s promise and blessing, is that this love never ends.
What love is not: envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, insistent, irritable, resentful, rejoicing in wrong; we know these exist in our relationships too, and that truth and forgiveness are the path back to love. And we know there are too many examples in the public sphere of all that love is not. And as people early on at the forefront of the queer community, you have experienced what love is not more than many others. And it remains no small thing that we gather today and celebrate this day of your marriage together as wife and wife; when this equal right remains too rare in our world, and all that love is not continues to foster prejudice and hate against the queer community.
But love endures! and hopes and bears and believes all things; and we see and celebrate that in the two of you today. Now faith, hope and love, abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.
Jesus, give us this faith and love and hope, always. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the dominion of God.” Yes, Jesus, gives us faith in this dominion of God given to us and to all, always.
But “sell our possessions, and give alms, make purses for ourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where our treasure is there our heart will be also?
The prophet Isaiah proclaims, cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow; and our lives and worship will be as sins like scarlet and crimson, turned to snow, and wool, if we are willing and obedient.
This faith of Jesus that we ask for, leads us to a life of commitment, sacrifice, generosity, openness, justice, compassion and advocacy for the wellbeing of all in God’s dominion given to us and to all to be realized in faith, in the reality/assurance of things hoped for, the proof/conviction of things not seen, yet, as for our ancestors before us. Yes! Yes, Jesus, give us this faith, hope, love, and all that it asks of us, always, by your grace. Let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.