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Faith is...
a homily based on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
by Rev. Thomas N. Hall

Two New York entrepreneurs thought they could make some money by introducing bungee-jumping in Mexico. So they pooled their money together to launch the business venture. When it finally came time for the trial run, the two entrepreneurs climb all 103 feet up onto the platform and look down on the gathering crowd. Truth be known, neither of these guys want to jump so they flip a coin. The loser puts on the harness and dives off. When he comes up the first time, his partner notices that his nose is bloody. When he comes up the second time, it's obvious that one eye is turning black. When he comes up a third time, part of his ear is missing. The entrepreneur on the platform yells to his partner, " Are you okay?" On his way down a fourth time, his partner yells back, "What's a piņata?"

What is faith? That's what some early Christians were asking on their way down for the fourth time. What's faith? They must have felt like they were piņatas, getting bloodied, bullied, and beaten on by their non-Christian neighbors. Listen to what the writer says about these bungee-jumping, piņata-beaten Christians just one paragraph before our lesson begins:

At times you were publicly insulted and mistreated, at other times you were ready to share with those who were being treated in this way. You shared the sufferings of prisoners, and when all your belongings were seized you endured your loss gladly, because you knew that you still had something much, much better waiting for you. . . . So we are not people who turn back and are lost. Instead we have faith and are saved . . . (Hebrews 10:33-36)

It's that last phrase "we have faith and are saved," that must have set them to thinking. "What is faith?" they had to have asked themselves. Ever ask yourself that? What is faith? Tough times had made them ask that question. The very next words seem to answer that: "Faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see."

I wonder what some of our answers might be; how we might expand upon that answer about what faith is. Help me out. Give me your definition of faith. Faith is. ..

This single verse-Hebrews 11:1-is one of the most profound statements in all Scripture. Books, tapes, elaborate multimillion dollar schemes, and dissertations, have been launched because of this little verse. It's tenacious-it stands there tough and sturdy like a little tin soldier. Maybe some of the ways this little verse has gotten translated might shed some light on its meaning. One translator says it this way, "Now faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for; it means being certain of things we cannot see."' Another translator says this, "And what is faith? Faith substantiates our hopes, and makes us certain of realities we do not see."'

Let's see if we can discover what this verse means by watching some of the "for instances" that the writer uses. Abraham, for instance, is an example of faith-in-action. What is it about Abraham that makes him a person of faith? After all, he starts out just like us, doing the 2nd shift down at the idol- making plant; pretty routine. One night it gets real quiet and God says to this employee, "Leave your country, your relatives, and your father's house and go to the land that I will show you."

That's pretty unsettling. Frightening. But Abraham up and leaves after the next payday. Packs up his duffle bag and he’s gone. Doesn't add up, does it? To just shift like that. To up and change course mid-stream. But he does -it's all based on a passionate conviction that God is preparing something remarkable for him -a posterity, a permanent land, cities, crops, and identity. So based on that deep conviction that God is working in his future, he takes a risk, he obeys God's words and throws his belongings into the Jeep Cherokee and heads for . . . well, he's not really clear on directions; he just has an immediate conviction that God has told him to move now. He has this sense that God will be with him in his going, in his future.

And what about old Sarah and by now, very old Abraham? What caused them to believe that they would see the day when they would have to attend the parent-teacher conferences or the day when their car insurance would jump 100% because they now had a teenager with a heavy foot? The writer says that they had such a passionate conviction that God was working in their future, that they received power to have a child well past the child-bearing age.

Faith is the passionate conviction to dream dreams and see visions that are outside the box. Some of the greatest minds have been very close to this biblical definition of faith-the ability to see clearly outside the box, to imagine a better future and to prepare for it in the present.

In the 13th century, for example, a Christian scholar refused to let the Dark Ages cloud his vision. Instead he embraced a faith that looked outside the box of rules, assumptions, and tradition. In his lifetime, Roger Bacon envisioned the magnifying glass, microscope, telescope, gunpowder, balloon flight, high-speed sea travel, the automobile, underwater scuba diving equipment, global circumnavigation, a pocket anti-gravity device, and credit cards. (Disregard the last item - I just got carried away.)

You know who Jules Verne is; he wrote the classic book, A Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. But did you know this about Jules Verne? His ability to think outside the box of the limitations of his day, almost paralleled reality as it would take place one hundred years in the future. Remember, Jules Verne lived in the horse and buggy era, but he’s already anticipating the space age.

Here’s what Verne envisioned about space travel that appeared in two of his books in the mid 1800s-

• Escape speed from earth’s gravity was 25,200 mph for Verne, and 25,000 for NASA

• Travel time to the moon for Verne was 97 hours, 13 minutes, 20 seconds; for NASA it was 97 hours and 39 minutes

• The diameter on Verne’s cylindrical-conical shaped space vehicle was 108 inches; for NASA it was 144 inches

• On-board crew was three for Verne and three for NASA

• Splashdown for Verne and for NASA was the Pacific Ocean - incidently only 2.5 miles from NASA’s recovery point!

Roger Bacon and Jules Verne demonstrate the capacity that some humans have to look down the long corridor of time-future and to predict with accuracy what they see. In a sense that’s what God invites us to do-to envision God’s future kingdom as if it fully existed in our time. Closer to home, faith is the ability to see what God wants to do through us to meet the spiritual and material needs for those in our community that at this moment are not even here. Faith for our congregation is the deep, passionate conviction that God will show us today what we need to do to be in mission tomorrow. Faith asks us to trust God to help bring to future dreams into reality. How are we going to change? How can we recognize God’s will for our future here?

Abraham may have had more reasons for staying than for obeying God.

"Your people are here, Abe, not off in some other part of the world."

"But Abraham, somebody else already tried that before and they failed."

"Why Abraham, don’t you know, no one does THAT in this church?"

"C’mon, Abraham, what God would demand obedience to such a radical command?"

We've heard the same stuff. Everybody knows we can't "by faith . . . tithe, volunteer, lead, pastor, mentor, serve. The kids need new clothes for school. New apartment. New car. New pet. House repair. Nest egg just starting to grow. Approaching retirement. You get the picture.

But just remember, the experts aren't always right.

• "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home. " Ken Olson, President, Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977.

• "I think there is a world market for about five computers. " Tom Watson, IBM,1943.

• "'The radio craze will die out in time." Thomas Edison, 1922.

• "The Americans have need of the telephone but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys." Chief Engineer of the Post Office, 1890.

• "Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia. " Expert at University College, London.

• "The US has enough petroleum to keep its kerosene lamps burning for only four years." Pennsylvania's state geologist, 1874.

• "There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. " Albert Einstein.

I think we might have lots more reasons for not changing, for not leaving the homeland in search of God’s new place. It’s always easier to stay in the box; comfortable, safe, memories are here, and we know where the restrooms are. When it comes right down to it, folks, we'll never have all the facts, we'll never have enough money, and we’ll never have a no-risk guarantee in ministry. But what we do have is faith. Faith in a God who is with us even when we go through tough times and feel like a beaten up piņata, a faith that strains into the future to see what great purpose God has for us, and we have a faith that pulls us together to work now.

What is faith? "Faith is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see." Amen.