Thursday, August 20, 2015

Sermon -- 12th Sunday after Pentecost (August 16, 2013)

HEBREWS 11:1-3,8-16

In the name + of Jesus. 

     The Christian faith allows you to be honest about this world and everything in it.  We recognize that God has filled his creation with many blessings and with much beauty.  People schedule their vacations to go to national parks to see the natural beauty of God's creation.  Families go to the zoo to see the amazing variety of animals, birds, and fish.  God gives us families and friends who bring happiness, stability, and comfort to our lives.  For all of these, we give thanks to God.
     But we are also honest enough to recognize that this world has its problems.  Yes, there is natural beauty, but there are also natural disasters.  Animals can be pretty, but they can also be pretty deadly.  Families and friends are a great source of blessing, but they can also be a great source of strife.  The world has its share of tragedies, heartaches, pains, and problems.  We are not immune to these.  We have endured hardship, sickness, and sorrow.  Our Lord has rightly taught us to pray, “Deliver us from evil.”
     Therefore, faith looks for a better home.  We long for a better life, one without problems and pain.  One without sorrow and strife.  In that way, we are no different from anyone else on the face of the earth.  No one enjoys the diseases, disasters, and difficulties that we face.  But, of course, just wanting a better home does not produce it.  For millennia, people have worked hard to make this world a better place.  And we are honest enough to recognize advances in that.  Life expectancy, for example, is much longer than it once was.  But it also means you have longer to expect pains and problems.  Despite man's best efforts, disease, disaster, and disorder are just as common as they ever were.  That's not doom and gloom; it is honest.
     The reason there are so many problems in the world is because sin entered the world.  When sin entered the world, all of creation was effected.  The Lord said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you....  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)  The pain, the toil, the sweat, the curse upon the earth, and death are all the consequences of sin.  This is why you suffer as you do.  Sin has corrupted everything—even our bodies and lives.  That is why this world is not a perfect home.  It is dying.  It is marked for destruction.  And so faith looks for a better home.
     Now, faith is not grounded on wishful thinking.  You can have faith that the Tigers are going to turn it around this year, but such faith is not based on anything but your love for the Tigers.  Many of the things we hope for are only based on our desire to have them.  They are pious wishes, perhaps even pie-in-the-sky wishes.  You may be disappointed that you do not get what you wish for, but you are probably not surprised—especially if not one promised you anything.
     The Christian faith, however, is not based on pie-in-the-sky wishes.  The writer to the Hebrews says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)  Christian faith is based on the promises of God who does not lie.  When God declares something, it is certain.  When God created the world, he simply summoned things into being out of nothing.  By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:3)  And since the world we are standing on is very real and solid, so we know that every other word of God is real and solid.  We have no reason to doubt anything God tells us.
     And so it was for Abraham.  God appeared to Abraham and told him to go to a land that he had never seen.  Why would Abraham listen to that?  Abraham knew that the world was created all on God's say-so.  God said it, and so the world exists and continues.  God had warned that he would send a flood to destroy the world.  God had also told Noah to build and ark in which he and his family would be saved.  God was true to his word.  The flood destroyed the world, but Noah, his family, and all the animals with him did not perish in the flood.  Therefore, Abraham knew that his faith in God's promises was not foolish or pie-in-the-sky.  Faith is the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)   God promised Abraham a better home.  Faith looked for it and was certain of it.
     After Abraham had gone where the Lord told him to, Abraham was told that his offspring would inherit that land.  Logically, God's word was nonsense.  Abraham was almost 100 years old.  Sarah, his wife, was almost 90.  Nevertheless, Abraham believed God's word.  The Christian faith does not believe our senses and logic are greater than God's word.   If God has said it, it is real, reliable, and solid.  Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1) 
     The Lord promised Abraham that he would receive a better home.  Abraham never owned the land that he had been promised.  But Abraham did not regard this world as his everlasting inheritance.  Nor did Isaac and Jacob.  These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.  (Hebrews 11:13-15)  Faith looked for a better home.
     You are not much different from Abraham in this regard.  You, too, are looking for a better home.  It is not pie-in-the-sky dreaming.  It is taking God at his word.  For God had promised to send a Savior into the world who would deliver us from our sin and all of its curses and consequences.  And God was good on his promises.  Jesus has come and has paid for all your sins.  To deliver you from the curses, Jesus received the curse for you.  He took your sins to the cross where he suffered and died in your place.  Jesus suffered the God-forsaken pains of hell so that you would be delivered from them.  He died for your sins so that you would be forgiven for them.  You are forgiven, cleansed in the blood of Jesus, and therefore you are now righteous in God's sight.  And if you are righteous, you shall enter the home of righteousness.  That's the home faith looks for.
     God has one more promise to fulfill for you—to deliver you from this corrupted world to a perfect Paradise.  Though you have never been there or seen pictures of it, you are certain that this is your eternal future.  That is because you believe God's promises, and God does not lie to you.  At the resurrection of the dead, you will be raised with a glorious, perfect body.  You will be delivered to the city of God, in which there is no sin, and therefore no sorrow, no pain, no difficulties, no death, and no problems.  It is the kind of world which most people dream of.  But our faith is not based on our dreams.  Faith takes God at his word.  Faith believes his promises.  Faith looks for a better home.
     Until that day, we will enjoy the blessings God gives us here.  God has not been stingy with his kindness.  We are grateful for the beauty of God's creation, the variety of the animals, the camaraderie of friends, and the consolation of family.  We are honest enough to recognize these as true blessings of God.  Nevertheless, we are also honest enough to see that there are evils from which we long to be delivered, including our own sin and death.  Jesus Christ has taken away our sin.  He will raise us up from death.  And he will bring us at last to a kingdom where we will once and for all and forever be delivered from every evil.  We don't have to dream about it, we simply have to wait for it.  For God has promised us a better home, a heavenly one.  Faith takes God at his word; and your faith will not be disappointed.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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