Sunday, August 7, 2016

Sermon -- 12th Sunday after Pentecost (August 7, 2016)

HEBREWS 11:1-3,8-16


In the name + of Jesus.

      Faith always effects a person's life.  Even if you believe in something that is untrue, it will effect what you say and do.  I think last summer there was a story about a man whose faith in the Detroit Lions prompted him to get a tattoo which said: Detroit Lions, Super Bowl Champs, 2015.  Give him credit for his optimism, but now he has a permanent reminder of his misguided belief.  But his faith demonstrated itself in his actions.
     As foolish as that Lions fan might be, his actions are harmless, all things considered.  Other beliefs are not so harmless.  Many are now believe that men should have the right to consider themselves women and that women should have the right to declare themselves to be men.  Beliefs have consequences, such as men using women's locker rooms and public bathrooms.  Because some believe that this is a matter of civil rights, they tell you that you have the problem if you still believe that a man is a man and should use facilities that were designed for men.  But just as we would not humor a man who declared himself to be Jesus and insisted we treat him that way, so also it is neither loving nor healthy to pander to people who, for whatever reason, despise the sex they are and strive to “fix” it by mutilating their bodies.  Such perverse beliefs result in perverse actions.  Faith, even wrongly placed, will always effect what you say and do.
     Faith always effects a person's life.  What a person believes matters.  The writer to the Hebrews states: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)  In other words, Christian faith is convinced in the reality of things you have not seen yet.  But Christian faith is not wishful thinking; it is based on the very words of God.  Our conviction of good and evil is not based on shifting morals or opinions; it is based on God's unchanging word.  The word of God, therefore, effects what we say and do.  Our hope for heaven is not just because it sounds nice; it is because the Lord Jesus Christ has promised it.  Though we have not seen it, we are convinced of it because we have God's word on it.  Faith seeks a better homeland.
     The patriarch Abraham made a journey across miles of rugged and dry terrain to go to a new homeland.  He was not exiled, nor was he running away from debt or enemies.  Abraham went because God told him to go.  Because Abraham believed God's word, that effected what he did.  By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. (Hebrews 11:8-9)
     God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that their descendants would one day possess the land on which they lived.  They took God at his word.  They did not leave to find a better place to build a permanent settlement.  They lived as strangers in a land which God said would someday be theirs.  After decades of living as nomads, the only thing the patriarchs ever actually owned were the graves of their family members.  Nevertheless, even though Abraham himself did not see the fulfillment of God's promises, Abraham believed God.  Faith sought a better homeland.
     Of course, the main promise that God made to Abraham was not for a plot of earth, but for a place in heaven.  God promised that the Savior would come for Abraham through Abraham's family.  That Savior would pay for all sins, conquer death, and bring eternal life to all who believed.  God had declared that it would be so, and Abraham believed it.  For that reason, Abraham sought the better homeland of heaven.  Abraham know that even the grave he bought he would eventually not need.  Abraham believed God.  Faith in that promise effected how Abraham lived—not longing for this world but for the heavenly kingdom which he had been promised.  Faith seeks a better homeland.
     The same is true for you.  Jesus Christ has forgiven all your sins, no matter how bad, how frequent, or how many.  You are not forgiven sins because you think you should be.  You do not have relief from your guilt or deliverance from the grave just because you want it.  That is wishful thinking.  Christian faith rests on what is certain, which is the word of God.  The only way you can know that your guilt is removed is if God himself removes it.  He has—through the sufferings and death of Jesus.
     God points you to Jesus with the promise: “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  It was the will of the Lord to crush him; … his soul makes an offering for guilt.” (Isaiah 53:6,10)  Faith takes God at his word when he applies that forgiveness to you personally.  He says, “Repent and be baptized, all of you, for the forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 2:38)  So, if you are baptized, then you are forgiven and saved.  That is what baptism is for.  You do not have to look inside yourself to determine if you are forgiven.  God has done the work.  God has made the promise.  God has applied the blessing to you.  And he continues to provide that salvation when we feast on the body and blood of Christ.  Jesus summons us: “Take, eat and drink.  This is for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  Faith takes God at his word and finds the certainty of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
     Because faith takes God at his word, faith also seeks a better homeland.  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  ...But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. (Hebrews 11:13-14,16)  As a result, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not feel ripped off that they did not rule over their own country.  They could gratefully receive the blessings God gave to them, and then bid farewell to the world when their time here was done.  They knew that a better homeland awaited them, and they looked forward to it.
     Faith seeks a better homeland.  Faith takes God at his word, and that effects how we live.  We believe that the best this world has to offer will never compare with the glories of heaven.  We are not ingrates, however.  We recognize the blessings that God gives us here, and we joyfully receive them for the time that God gives them to us.  But we also know that every blessing in this life is just for this life.  All are temporary.  A good meal, as sumptuous as it may be, will only please your palate for a moment and satisfy your belly for a while.  Friends may bring you happiness for a number of years.  Family members are cherished for perhaps decades.  But it will all come to an end.  When we willingly let go of these blessings, it is not because we regarded them as useless or worthless.  It is because we look forward to the permanent, glorious blessings God has promised to all who believe in him.  Faith seeks a better homeland.
     Like Abraham, we confess that we are strangers in this world.  Our true homeland is in heaven.  Faith seeks what is better.  And if you are seeking and striving for what is better, you will be all the more willing to forsake whatever keeps you tethered to this world.  Faith always effects a person's life and will shape everything you say and do.  If you love this world, you will cling tightly to every widget and gizmo you get here.  And then you will perish with it.  But if faith seeks a better homeland, you will dedicate yourself to living like it.  Faith leads you to forsake sin and flee from temptation because you believe that these lead to death.  Faith compels you to hear God's word and to partake in the sacraments because you know that these bestow forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Faith even makes you willing to part with earthly goods and glory because they do not save, and they can even ensnare you.  Faith does not seek these; faith seeks a better homeland.
     Faith seeks a better homeland.  Since God does not lie, our faith is not misplaced.  When our time on this world comes to an end, we will be grateful for whatever blessings we got to enjoy, but we will also gladly say “Good riddance” to this world.  For, as we confess, we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come because rather than cling to this world, we crave the one to come.  The Christian faith always effects our life now, because we are convinced of a life of heavenly glory later.  Faith seeks a better homeland, and it will not be disappointed.

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