A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Faith from One as Good as Dead: A Lectionary Reflection on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley observes in his Explanatory Notes that the faith referred to in Hebrews 11:1 includes but is more than justifying faith; for as the entire chapter will demonstrate the faithful demonstrate their faith as "extensive exercise in a course of steady obedience amidst difficulties and dangers of every kind." Thus faith is unwavering obedience because of resolute trust in God.

Faith is the foundation of Christian hope; it is the assurance, or literally what "stands under" our hope. Faith is not certainty, but neither is it blind. It carries with it deep conviction, so much so, that women and men throughout history have lived and died for their faith.

The writer to the Hebrews will name and comment on several faithful saints from the pages of the Old Testament, but today's reading concerns Abraham. It is no accident that Abraham receives the most attention in chapter eleven. Leon Morris writes,
The Jews traced their descent from Abraham and honored him as the founder of their race. The Christians also honored him, but for a different reason-- he was the outstanding example of a man who believed God and who lived on the basis of that faith. Thus he is seen as "the father of all who believe" (Rom. 4:11), whether they are Jews or not. Throughout the New Testament he is held in the highest esteem....
One of the significant aspects of Abraham's faith was his willingness to obey God in his old age and travel to an unknown land away from his own home trusting in God for the future. Abraham was "as good as dead" according to the writer (11:12) with most of his earthly life behind him and very little left in front of him. And yet, he embarks on a new adventure because that's where his faith in God takes him.

The writer mentions that Abraham would receive the promised land (this is the only place in the Old Testament where Israel is referred to as the promised land) as an inheritance, but it would be his descendants that would actually own the land. The only thing Abraham owned in this new land was the grave were he buried his wife Sarah, and he came to own that by paying for it, though it was offered to him as a gift (Genesis 23:1-17).

Hebrews states that Abraham "looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (11:10). By faith Abraham was obedient by traveling to and living in a land he did not know or own because of his hope in what was to come, even though he could only imagine what it might look like some day. In his old age, as good as dead, Abraham ventured forth in faith in what those who desire safety and security the most would scoff at as reckless. But Abraham's living faith, though good as dead was an adventure that required much patience. William Barclay writes,
It is characteristic of the best of us that we are in a hurry. To wait is even harder than to adventure. The hardest time of all is the time in between. At the moment of decision there is the excitement and the thrill; at the moment of achievement there is the glow and glory of satisfaction; but in the intervening time there is necessary the ability to wait and work and watch when nothing seems to be happening. It is then that we are so liable to give up our hopes and lower our ideals and sink into an apathy whose dreams are dead. The man of faith is the man whose hope is flaming bright and whose effort is intensely strenuous even in the grey days when there is nothing to do but wait.
Perhaps St. Augustine was correct when he wrote, "When you hope, you do not yet have what you are hoping for, but, by believing it, you resemble someone who does possess it" (Sermon 359a.3-4).

Is it possible to live by faith in Jesus Christ in such a way that we act in hope and wait patiently, even though all of us are as good as dead?

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