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Sermon for 9th Sunday after Pentecost 2022

First Reading: Genesis 15:1-6

1The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Psalm 33:12-22

12Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord!  happy the people he has chosen to be his own! 13The Lord looks down from heaven, and beholds all the people in the world. 14From where he sits enthroned he turns his gaze on all who dwell on the earth. 15He fashions all the hearts of them and understands all their works. 16There is no king that can be saved by a mighty army; a strong man is not delivered by his great strength. 17The horse is a vain hope for deliverance; for all its strength it cannot save. 18Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon those who fear him, on those who wait upon his love, 19To pluck their lives from death, and to feed them in time of famine. 20Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. 21Indeed, our heart rejoices in him, for in his holy name we put our trust. 22Let your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, as we have put our trust in you.

Second Reading: Hebrews 11:1-16

1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3By 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. 4By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. 5By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. 6And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. 8By 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. 9By 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. 10For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. 13These 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. 14For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Gospel: Luke 12:22-40

22{Jesus} said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 32Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 35Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Faith is Believing God, not Believing in God

I read something amazing the other day about the African impala.  These amazing animals can jump to a height of over 10 feet and in a single leap can cover a distance more than 30 feet.  Yet these magnificent animals can be kept in any zoo enclosure with a 3‑foot high wall.  You see, impalas won’t jump if they can’t see where their feet will fall.  This of course is a wise, and conservative approach to life.  Don’t jump if you cannot see where you’ll land.  There’s an adage for that, “Look before you leap.”

How different that approach to life is from the life of faith described in our Second Reading from Hebrews 11: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  That’s a pretty good working definition of faith.  “Sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.”  Isn’t this the very opposite of “look before you leap?”  Faith is jumping without being able to see where our feet will fall.

There’s a time-honored story of a little boy on the second floor of a burning building.  “Jump!” his father calls out to him.  “I’ll catch you.”  The little boy cries out timidly, “But, dad, I can’t see you.”  In response, his father says, “Yes, but I can see you.”  That’s the kind of faith that the writer of Hebrews is commending.  And beginning with the third verse he gives examples of such faith: “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.  By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain. 

By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death.  By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household.  By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.  By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; for Abram was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”  Abraham was a man of faith because he went where God told him to go even though he didn’t know where that might be. This is important. 

Listen carefully to what I’m about to say: Abraham wasn’t a man of faith because he believed in God.  He was a man of faith because he believed God when God made him a promise, and in faith Abraham acted accordingly.  He left his home and the protection of his family and lived as a nomad in the wilderness because he believed that one day God would provide him a home in a “city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”  People of faith move, regardless of their uncertainty, when God says move.

I’m thankful there are still people today who live by faith and set the example for us.  An illustration of one such person was a man named Lech Walesa.  In 1980 Lech Walesa was an unknown electrician working in the shipyards of Gdansk, Poland.  At first, Walesa wasn’t a man of deep religious faith.  In fact, he called himself a “delinquent worshiper.”  He says, “I pondered upon God’s existence and looked for signs to confirm Him, but faith did not grow in me until life grew harder.”  Then Walesa adds these important words, “The more difficult my path became, the closer I came to the faith.”

Few people could have been a less likely instrument of God than Lech Walesa.  A priest had sternly warned Walesa in his youth that if he didn’t change his ways, he would spend his life in prison.  Well, he did spend time imprisoned.  The communists restricted his activities out of fear of his influence over his fellow Poles.  It’s amazing that a man who was such a poor speaker could ever have such enormous influence.  Reminds you a little of Moses, doesn’t it?  Walesa said, “I was incapable of saying anything in public.  My tongue used to outrun my mind.  I was unable to keep track of the words I said.  I would always speak before I thought and was therefore a poor public speaker.”

In his book, No Fear of Trying, Harold Ivan Smith says, Walesa had a brain and he had friendships with hundreds of other workers.  And he had a con­viction that the Communist government of Poland was corrupt.  He dreamed of a time when workers could unite and do some­thing about the unjust society in which they lived.  In August of 1981, Lech Walesa stepped forward and founded the Solidarity labor union.  

This set in motion an inevitable con­frontation with the Polish government.  Soon he found himself followed by secret police.  Eventually he was confined to his home as the authorities attempted to break the power of Solidarity.  But something happened to Walesa, something almost transformational when he began to speak out about his convictions.

His Polish was rough and gram­matically incorrect.  But when he spoke, people listened.  Over­night, he became a symbol of courage.  Walesa wrote, “I am convinced that my faith had a powerful impact upon me during the time of my confinement, God, our Lord, distin­guishes each one of us from all the others; he assign[s] a task for every person . . . I simply believe in Providence.  I believe that I am here to execute the verdicts of Providence.  This is precisely why I can accomplish significantly more than if I were just Lech Walesa, without God directing my fate.  It’s good to have the awareness,” he says, “of that great force outside us and above us directing our lives.”

Later, when the communists were overthrown, Walesa was elected president of Poland.  His impact was enormous.  He presided over Poland’s transformation from a communist to a post-communist state.  Truth be told, he wasn’t a great politician.  His lack of education became problematic, as well as his blunt manner of speaking.  His presidency didn’t last long.  But no one has challenged his deep faith or his commitment to seeking to serve God as best as he could.  When asked if he was afraid when he challenged the government, he replied, “Deep reli­gious belief . . . eliminates fear.”  Walesa, like so many of the people God used in the Bible, was not a perfect man.  He is simply a man of faith.  He simply sought to serve God. 

When we read the story of Abraham, we come to realize that he wasn’t a perfect man either.  However, Abraham heard God’s voice telling him to make a difference, to leave his home and to go to a place that God would show him, and he did.  That’s faith.  Faith is jumping without being able to see where your feet will fall, not because we’re foolhardy, but because we’re listening and responding to God’s voice.

As I mentioned before, I’m thankful there are still people in the world today who live by faith and set the example for us.  However, there aren’t nearly as many as there should be, and our world is desperate need of people of faith.  We’ve got a world full of politicians and yet society is barren of prophets.  Who’s speaking for God at this critical time?  Some of you may have seen the motion picture Amistad.  This film was based on the true story of a group of African who were brought to this country under the most inhumane conditions.  They were imprisoned on the ship La Amistad.

As the ship neared our coastline, one of the slaves, a man named Cin-que was able to free himself.  With his help, the other slaves were also able to remove their chains, and soon they took over the ship.  However, not knowing how to read maps, the ship’s crew tricked them, and they were subsequently recaptured and taken in chains to New Haven, Connecticut where they were put on trial as murderers and thieves.

Over the next 27 months, these survivors of the Amistad began a new voyage through the court system of the United States.  In the end, former President John Quincy Adams defended Cinque and his fellow slaves before the United States Supreme Court.  In his closing speech before the Supreme Court, Mr. Adams spoke these stirring words, “Last night, I spoke with my friend, Cinque.  I told him what was to transpire here today.  He told me, as was the practice among his people, he had been talking to his ancestors now long gone.  They told him, all would be well.”  Then John Quincy Adams turned to the members of the Supreme Court and he added these words: “As I stand before you today, I believe we would do well to learn from Cinque.  We would do well to talk to our ancestors!” 

Adams went on to invoke the names of our founding fathers.  He also went on to recall the names of the early Supreme Court justices.  One by one, he spoke the names of the great men who had sat in the seats of justice.  After calling out each name, he spoke a single word, “Gone.”  When he finished calling out all of the names of their illustrious predecessors, he looked at the Supreme Court and said, “All of them are gone!  Who among you is ready to step into their legacy and defend freedom?  Who is prepared to take the place of our ancestors and become great, in the name of God, and this great nation once again?”  Adams was issuing a sterling reminder of the faith that their ancestors had in freedom, and a challenge, that people of his time demonstrate that same kind of faith.  One week later, the Court delivered its verdict.  

With one dissent, the justices stood tall and exonerated the Amistad prisoners.  The court declared that the Africans had never been lawful slaves and that they had been kidnapped and illegally transported.  Their mutiny was, therefore, an act of self-defense.  It’s an amazing story of courage on the part of the Court and John Quincy Adams.  I wonder if this would even happen today.  We don’t see enough of God’s people with courage today, particularly leaders in government.  

Think again about what Adams said.  He invoked the names of the great people who had been responsible for this free land we inhabit.  He asked, where are they now?  And then he answered his own question they are gone.  Hear his words again, “All of them are gone!  Who among you is ready to step into their legacy and defend freedom?  Who is prepared to take the place of our ancestors and become great, in the name of God, and this great nation once again?”

Former President Adams was expressing the same sentiment as the writer of Hebrews.  The writer of Hebrews cites his ancestors Able, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and later in this same chapter Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Rahab and Gideon and all the great heroes of the Bible who stepped forward when the times demanded it and the writer says, “Friends, that’s faith!  That’s what it looks like.  It isn’t simply believing in God, it’s believing God and acting.  “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  Faith is jumping even when you cannot see the Father’s arms ready to catch you below.  The world sorely needs people of such faith today.  

We have staggering problems that need to be confronted.  We need people of integrity, people of courage, people of candor who will speak the truth in love, who will do the right thing, not the expedient thing.  This brings us to the final point that needs to be made: if you and I do not champion God’s kingdom, who will?  That’s the thing about heroes of faith.  God doesn’t use people who are special in their own right.  These people become special because they believe God and act accordingly.  If we’re to be counted among the heroes of faith, we need to heed God’s voice and act accordingly.  The question is, if this can’t be said of us, then who will do what needs to be done?

Sometime back on the NPR program “This American Life,” host John Hodgman conducted an informal, unscientific survey in which he asked the following hypothetical question: if you could choose, which would you prefer the power of flight or the power of invisibility?  Think about that, which would you rather have, the ability to fly or be able to become invisible?

As kids I’m sure we entertained the possibility of having one of these powers.  I’m sure there were times when we wanted to be invisible particularly when we’d done something wrong.  And who hasn’t wanted to fly like Superman?  So, which would you choose, and what would you do with your newfound powers?  Would you be a superhero, or would you be super‑selfish?  What John Hodgman found surprised him.

Interestingly, no matter which power the people he talked to choose, they confessed that they would use their newly discovered powers in purely self‑serving ways.  No one interviewed wanted to use their powers to put an end to organized crime or to bring hope to the hopeless.  Instead, Hodgman found that his interviewees concocted schemes that would use their new superpowers to satisfy their own personal desires.

Typically, the answers people gave went something like this: People who chose being invisible would sneak into movies, steal from fine department stores, spy on their coworkers, stalk their exes, hang around showers, eavesdrop on conversations or slip onto airplanes for free rides.  The people who chose being able to fly would stop taking the bus; they would give up their cars.  They would check out the bar scene by flying in and around, hoping to gain attention.  They would fly off to Paris, or Prague, or Rio.  When they could have chosen to use their powers to do something heroic, they instead chose to do something trivial and self-serving.  Each of us has been given a variety of gifts to use in God’s kingdom, how have we used these gifts for God’s glory in say the past say, 60 days?  God has much for us to do.

When Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as president of South Africa, he quoted Marianne Williamson’s words, words that convict us all: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”  Think about these words, “we are powerful beyond measure.”  You and I could do amazing things if we dared to live out our faith.  We have the ability to change our family, change our community, change our world.  All we would have to do is believe God, to be willing to jump, even when we cannot see where our feet may fall.  All we have to do is be willing to do the work God is calling us to do in a world of confusion and doubt.  Sadly, many of us, like the African impala, have imprisoned ourselves behind a three-foot wall of doubt.

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed, and went, even though he didn’t know where he was going.  By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”  Now is the time for us to begin living by faith instead of being captured behind a tiny wall of fear.

On September 9th and 10th Pastor David Wendel will be here walking us through a revisioning of our calling and mission in this community through the Fresh Eyes for Mission Summit.  During this summit we will look at lots of information about our neighbors and be asked to develop a plan for ministry in our community.  We need everyone to be part of this Summit.  Having a vision for the future cannot be just one person’s vision, it must be the vision of this congregation.  It’s mean we must listen to what God is calling us to do, and we need to be willing to step out in faith.  Being people of faith is more than simply believing in God, we need to believe God, and then act accordingly.


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