Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer, Amen.
Almost 2000 years ago now, the author or authors of the letter to the Hebrews wrote, “1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This is probably one of the most popularly quoted scriptural definitions for the word “faith.” But as we see from today’s pericope, it is paired with a discussion about faithful people from our spiritual ancestry, ending with a vision of what it is we hope is promised in faith.
“What exactly is the promise that the writer of Hebrews holds forth for readers?” asks commentator John C. Shelley. He writes, “Is it otherworldly, simply a matter of going to heaven when I die? The text can be read in this way, for clearly the promise is a “heavenly” country (v. 16) that extends beyond death. It is a “homeland” (v. 14), a place where we can be fully at home, free of the conflicts and contradictions that beset our present existence. Drawing upon images from Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of God, one imagines a community of worship, deep friendships between former enemies, a banquet table open to all persons.”
I see that it can be interpreted another way as well: A place where we live and move and have our beings even now, upon this earth, within this life – a place where we can be fully at home, free of the conflicts and contradictions that beset us: at work, at home, in the community, among friendships, professional relationships, and more.
Shelley goes on, “Strangely, however, precisely because the promise reaches beyond death, it often invades the present through hope, enabling one to see the wondrous beauty already here and inspiring new possibilities for this earthly existence. Perhaps this invasion of hope also renews the courage of faith and enables the faithful to live freely and meaningfully in this beautiful but dangerous world.”
Witnessing first hand the churning power of the ocean and the sheer strength of wind this past week down on the central Oregon coast, I am convinced that indeed, we live in a “beautiful but dangerous world.” Yet how might we connect such power and majesty displayed in God’s created order to our lives of faith? Is it a faith in the unseen powers that cause the moon to circumnavigate the skies over our head, which in turn impacts the waves upon our shores? Is it a faith in the strange movements of masses of air we cannot even see but feel billowing all around us? Certainly it can begin there, a spark of wonder followed by a curiosity to know. What we need to remember is that these are seeds, planted by God – all for the purpose of ultimately inclining us heavenward.
Katherine Bush writes,
“Meditation on home, city, and the land – both places known to us and those realms about which we merely guess around the edges – can be extraordinarily meaningful to a population that is increasingly transient and in search of connection and rootedness in every sense of the word.”
David Gray reminds us, “The twentieth century has been called an Age of Experience, as charismatic faiths have exploded and modern Americans have looked to experience religion. A well-known writer on the history of U.S. foreign policy stated recently that his next book will be entitled the “Age of Faith,” for he believes the twenty-first century will again be a time where intense belief reigns.”
You may recall that I have been impressed with the concept made popular in the writing of the late Phyllis Tickle – 500-year shifts in religious history spent answering the question: “Where now is our authority?” She believed that we are, as I might say, ‘cresting the wave’ of one of those titanic 500-year shifts. I interpret her to mean our understanding of spiritual authority is swinging away from Sola Scriptura, our heritage from the Protestant Reformation 1500 years ago, and toward a new reformation of sorts, one in which we are uncertain where our authority will rest.
Closely dovetailing the 500-year shifts, Tickle relates a Jewish Rabbi’s theory of 2000-year shifts: roughly 2000 years focused on God Creator, followed by the past 2000 years of God the Son/Redeemer, a specifically Christian era, leaving us at the cusp of…what? Tickle postulates we are entering the “Age of the Spirit.”
Where are you in your journey of faith? What about this worshiping community as a whole? We who live in the “now-but-not-yet,” the “time between the times” of Christ’s comings, we who hold the seeds of eternity in the clay jars of our beings; Can we easily see across the veil, or identify the in-breaking of the Kingdom of Heaven into life as we know it?
Perhaps, in the Age of the Spirit, this might be one of our major tasks moving forward – identifying those places, sometimes seen and sometimes only felt, when and where the Heavenly Kingdom does break through from the other side to invade our dangerous world with its own hopeful beauty – and that is a faith worth living for.
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Shelley, John C. in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16).
 Bush, Katherine M. in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16).
 Gray, David E. in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16).
The following provided by Feasting on the Word Commentary Series
Questions for Reflection
What does it mean to be ready for Christ’s coming? In what sense is the coming of the kingdom like “a thief in the night” (Luke 12:39)?
What does it mean to “desire a better country . . . a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16)? How does looking forward to a heavenly home change the way we live on earth?
Household Prayer: Morning
On this new day, Lord, make me watchful for all that you are doing in the world; keep me faithful, that I may do your will in all things; and hold me in your grace, as I seek to do the same for all I meet. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Here at the end of the day, O Lord, help me to entrust my cares to you. Grant me grace for my failings and rest for my weary soul, that I may be strengthened to do your will and share your love when a new day dawns. Amen.