Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16
Proper 14 / 8th Sunday after Trinity
As some of you may know I have a flock of hens in my back garden.
I find it fascinating to watch them going about their daily lives – they’re a lot more interesting and complicated than many people think.
However, although hens have many good qualities, they’re really not very brave.
And what really upsets them is the unknown.
Change something in the garden, make them go somewhere different, give them something they haven’t had before or change their routine and you get no end of hurt looks and complaining.
In our reading from Hebrews, though, we see a very different response to being faced with the unknown.
Abraham and Sarah
The writer reminds us that Abraham and Sarah left their home, their lives and their country to go somewhere they didn’t know and start a whole new life they couldn’t imagine.
And all this was based on belief in a promise from God that they would be the mother and father of a great nation through which the whole world would be blessed, even though Abraham was 75 years old and Sarah was unable to have children.
This can’t have been easy for them, to put it mildly.
I expect they’d settled into a life that suited them and that they were comfortable in.
If I was in Sarah’s place I think I’d be up half the night thinking about all the things that could go wrong and worrying about all the practical arrangements.
Abraham was probably worried and distracted as well.
Perhaps he even wondered if he was mad to think that God had spoken to him.
And I imagine there were many discussions and maybe even arguments between Abraham and Sarah about it all.
Yet, in the end, they decided to take the risk because they had faith in God.
Centuries before Susan Jeffers’ self-help book they felt the fear and did it anyway.
The riskiness of faith
Faith is a risky and difficult business.
Faith means following God into the unknown without a signed contact or any legal proof that our needs will be met and promises kept.
It means continuing to believe that this world is not all there is even when everyone around us says we’re wrong.
It means staying hopeful that God is at work making things better even when political leaders spout hatred and division, the world faces disastrous climate change, and we’re surrounded by heartbreak and the evidence of the many ways in which people mistreat one another.
Faith, says Hebrews, is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen
Faith is assurance without guarantees.
And its conviction without solid proof.
But because faith is believing in things not seen, faith isn’t certainty.
So faith brings risk.
We all know that those who step out in faith, those who follow God’s call, don’t always have happy endings.
Sometimes things just don’t work out.
Sometimes we must face disappointment and obstacles and failure.
We might feel called to a certain profession but can’t find work.
We might feel called into a marriage and then find ourselves facing the heartbreak of divorce.
We might feel called to take a stand on something and then find that our friends are turning their backs on us.
There are lots of people who feel called to do something, to say something, to be something, to follow God into unknown and risky land, only to find heartbreak, disappointment and confusion because things just didn’t work out how they hoped and believed they would.
The reasons aren’t always obvious.
Maybe they misheard, maybe the timing was off, or maybe there was some reason that had nothing to with them at all but was all to do with the brokenness of our world.
I do believe though that God cherishes and rewards our willingness to obey and try and follow even if it doesn’t always go right.
And Abraham and Sarah, on the face of it, had reason to feel disappointed, confused, angry and heartbroken.
They reached the Promised Land but then had to leave again because of a famine, and they faced many other difficulties during their lives, never seeing the full carrying out of God’s promises.
Faith despite everything
But, Hebrews says, they saw God’s promises from a distance and greeted them.
In other words, they kept on believing despite not seeing the results they wanted.
They kept on hoping.
They kept on in their faith even though it was a faith in things not seen.
And their faith was justified because through them Israel was founded and through Israel the Saviour of the world has appeared.
Yes, we may go through many difficulties and we’re not protected from life’s problems.
But when we take the risk, when we decide to go with God, we go because we have faith that we don’t go alone.
We trust that we’re not left all alone on this adventure of faith.
We trust that God is with us just like he was with Abraham and Sarah.
We carry on even when everything is hard and nothing will go right.
We carry on by faith.
We move forward by faith.
We face disappointment by faith.
We live through heartache by faith.
We sort through confusion by faith.
We risk everything and follow God by faith.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Faith brings risk.
Faith isn’t certainty.
Faith doesn’t always lead us to a happy ending in this life.
But faith does keep our eyes turned to the horizon.
Faith keeps our heads up in hope, because we know that, although God calls upon us to take the risk that comes with faith, God takes an even greater risk on us.
God’s faith in us
God takes an even greater risk in loving us fearful, hesitant human beings, who are sometimes more like my hens than we like to admit.
God is willing to take a risk on us.
God is willing to step out in faith for us.
God is willing to sacrifice everything for us.
And such a God deserves the same from us.
Such a God is worthy of our faith and the risks that faith brings.
And if we can only keep on in our faith then our God will gladly give us the kingdom.