Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24; Hebrews 11:1-3
The Rev. Andrew D. Brislin
This past week, I was on vacation. It was a wonderful time of gathering with my brothers and our families for a few days at the beach. Allison and I always find it especially fulfilling getting to spend time with our nephew, who’s eighth birthday we celebrated a few days early. Like with any trip the anticipation of gathering, the travel and the wonderment of what will I get to experience always preludes the trip. The preparation for the trip is always anticipatory as well. I sometimes find it interesting to reflect back though on how over time the actual planning of travel, the actual mapping out one’s route part of traveling has changed over the years. I often wonder how we ever got along with GPS, before the onset of Apple Maps or Ways or any other number of travel devices that have come along. I can remember thinking about what a gamechanger Mapquest was from having to use an old-fashioned highway map when I first started driving. I remember having to buy an atlas or stopping at the first rest center when crossing a state line so that I could get a map of wherever it was that I was traveling. These detailed maps though were leaps in information compared to what the early settlers had to go by, and I often wonder what leaps we will make in the future regarding navigational tools. These tools though have always been about opening our eyes to what lies in front of us. We know where we want to go and can map our path there removing so much of the guess work. The improvements in mapping systems all seek to remove more and more of the guess work out of our travel. GPS systems today are improved from the first-generation systems in that we can get traffic, accident, and construction updates with some systems now. I think Paul is trying to relay a sense of this same confidence this morning in his letter to the Hebrew community.
Our epistle reading begins ‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.’ The Greek word for faith is pistis and this word is found used frequently in Paul’s writings, as he sought to encourage these young communities of Christ followers to prepare themselves for the return of Jesus. Pistis, however, had checkered past in the culture of the early church as it was the name of one of the spirits that escaped Pandora’s Box. In Greek mythology pistis fled back to heaven and abandoned humanity. Paul is attempting to reframe pistis, Paul is trying to reframe this community’s approach to faith. In redefining faith as the assurance of things hoped for Paul is tying faith to hope and the people’s yearning for things, for a life unseen yet promised to those who believe.
In an effort to drive home this message, Paul returns to an old but familiar story that would have resonated with this young community of Jesus followers living in Greece, he recalls the story of Abraham and Sarah. First in recalling God’s call of Abraham to leave his home and then chart out for a new land that God promised not knowing where he was going and promising him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as innumerable as the grains of the sand on the seashore. This community would have been very familiar with the struggles of Abraham and Sarah and that they waited on God. They remained true to God, trusting in him and following him without knowing where God was leading them.
Trusting God can be difficult to do sometimes. It’s hard to stay the course, to remain steadfast in prayer when so often it feels fruitless. Whether watching a sick loved one’s condition deteriorate while watching someone else’s improve. The questions of why me? Or why my loved one? We want to put God to the test. When we find ourselves in a troubling situation, we are often called on to turn it over to God. We are called to have faith because faith matters. By inviting God into the middle of whatever situation we find ourselves in we are trusting God to work in our lives and releasing the reigns of what we perceive to be control is scary. While we often have hope for certain outcomes, turning to our faith requires turning over control. There is also a second definition of faith in our reading this morning in that it is ‘the conviction of things not seen.’ Faith requires us to believe and that what we believe in is worth believing in. Faith is the fruit of God’s grace that flows from the Holy Spirit and that regardless of the path, the destination is salvation that is promised to us because of what Jesus did on the cross.
Faith is our spiritual GPS in that it guides and directs our actions in our daily lives. Faith gives us directions as we live a life centered on Christ. Today many of us have some sort of GPS at our fingertips as many of us have smartphones that have some sort of app to access this technology. As Christians we have scripture and our prayer life to rely on for spiritual directions. All too often, though I find myself making a wrong turn. Sometimes I think I know a faster route then I hear the spiritual and feminine voice proclaim ‘Rerouting!’, ‘Please make a u-turn at the next exit.’ While I was able to plug in an address to my Apple Maps to find the quickest route to meet my brothers, we do not know the address for our spiritual destination only that it rests in the love and care of God. It is our faith that will continue to guide us there no matter how many times we make wrong turns.