8th Sunday after Pentecost

 
     Hebrews 11, Genesis 15:6
 
Intro – Dear friends, faith is the subject of our meditation today.  Somewhere in the middle of this course on faith, there will be a quiz–oh, there won’t be a grade assigned for the quiz, but it will be important to know the right answers, especially for us who want to understand the greater things of God.  And then, we will discuss how to put what we have learned to work in our lives.  You see, being the church of “grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone;” we can only claim to be Christian as a matter of our faith.  But, if we really want to make a difference in this world where we live, we might consider the question:
 
     Done Anything By Faith, Lately?
 
First, the definition of faith.  We can’t do much better than the writer of the book of Hebrews:
 
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  2This is what the ancients were commended for.  3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible..
 
Being sure of what we hope for...” Some people will hold out hope for something.  They are hoping which something appears to have gone all wrong will turn out well, because, emotionally, there is nothing else they can do but hope.  Several years ago six miners were trapped below ground, after a mine cave-in, for two weeks.  The families of those six miners were holding out hope that they would be miraculously rescued.  That’s all they could do.  The situation looked hopeless. But, you see, if it’s your son who is in that mine; your husband or Father trapped in there; then you will never give up hope until your own senses tell you, it’s over–until you see with your own eyes, and heart, that hope is lost.
 
That’s not the kind of faith we re talking about.  The faith of the bible is different.  If you can see it, you don’t need faith.  Being sure of what we hope for; being certain of what we do not see...  Before we get into the bible’s examples, we can use one of our own, though they are not absolute.  Any of you flown on an airliner in the last year?  Now, to do that, to board an airliner takes a certain amount of faith or trust in what we cannot see, especially in the post 9/11 era.  Just think what happens:
 
You walk into this large tube with wings.  They close and lock the door.  They insist that you put on a seat belt, they tell you what to do in the unlikely case of an emergency–a crash, and then they tell you to sit back and enjoy the flight.  Wait a minute.  Have you seen the pilot?  Is he sober?  Do you know his qualifications to fly that 300,000 pound airliner?  Do you know if someone has checked the plane’s mechanical condition.  You know, there is a certain amount of trust that you have when you board that plane It might be called faith–being certain of what we do not see.  In reality, the trust is in the airline to make sure that they provide a well maintained aircraft and a well trained pilot They won’t be in business long if they don’t.
 
The writer of Hebrews gives a more universal example.  By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.... You see, faith always has an object.  You gotta believe in ...something or ...someone.  In the bible, the object of that faith is God! ~> You open your eyes in the morning, you take in a breath of air; your mind goes to work making millions of calculations every day; you start exercising your motor functions; look outside to see the sky, the trees, the product of an awesome creation; and you say, “This didn’t just happen!  It had to be the work of a loving and all-powerful God!  Amen?  I believe this.” <~
 
But now, let’s take it one step further As you look at all of the creation, you understand through reading or oral tradition, that God looked at His handiwork and, “Saw that it was good.”  But you’ve heard something more.  Out of all that He made, the pinnacle of His creation was our long-ago ancestors.  And He put them in charge.  Let them rule over all that He had made.  And He gave them an awesome capability– free will. Now, you’ve also heard that they did not do as their maker had instructed.  They used their free will to disobey God.  And, if you were listening, when this part of the story was read or was told, you also know that God did not get rid of these wayward self-indulgent beings.  No, in fact, he made a promise to the first people who were guilty of the first act of disobedience.  And He continued to make promises to the people who followed them.
 
One such person who received a promise was Abraham, who was first called Abram.  Now, if you are having trouble with believing God’s promises, because they don’t seem possible, listen to the two main promises that God made to Abraham.  One was the promise for a large family– a people; and the other was for a new home– a place.  Let’s start with the place. The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”  The implied promise is, of course, that the Lord has a place for Abraham to live. But where is it?  What is the name of that place?  “Don’t worry Abraham, it’s a place that God will show you.”  In Genesis 12, we read; “So Abram left, as the LORD had told him” Why did he get up and go when he was told to go, especially when you consider that it was to a yet-undisclosed location?  In Paul’s letter to the Romans and the Galatians; and in James’ epistle we’re told,”Abraham believed God!”  And in our letter to the Hebrews:
 
8...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.  9 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.  10For he was looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God.
 
Now, for those of us who would say that we believe and trust in God, consider what this would mean for us today.  It’s like, “Go out to the airport, pick up a ticket (reserved for you) at the counter, board that plane; and wherever that plane stops that is your new home. It’s the place where I want you.” Now, you may go out to the airport to get a look at the ticket’s destination point.  That’s not faith, that’s curiosity.  ...Will you pack your bags?  Will you say goodby to your family and friends before you go to the airport, Would you arrive at the airport, fully determined, to get on that plane?  If so, that would be faith– believing God and trusting in His promises.  One particular promise is, “Lo I am with you always even till the end of the age.”
 
That’s the place–let’s talk about the people, God’s provision for a great family.  Part of God’s promise to Abraham is to provide him with a really big family.  The exact numbers?  Well more than can be counted, like the stars in the sky; or the grains of sand on the seaside.  By the way, in Genesis 12, Abraham was 75 years old when God called him to an unknown place. Now, let’s fast-forward to Genesis 18, about 24 years later, that’s right, Abraham is now 99 years old, and Sarah is almost 90.  They are both at an age when having and raising children are not exactly foremost on their minds.  And God makes a visit to them and says, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
 
Now, during this exchange, Sarah thought she was hiding, and when God popped this news on them, she thought it was the ...funniest thing she had ever heard!  How unbelievable! ~> Now ,at a time when Abe and I are so old!  That ain’t gonna happen! ...But somebody must have believed God–because there was no mention–in the promise–of immaculate conception, so we have to assume that it had to take “conventional” action on the part of the future Mom and Dad, in order for God’s year early birth announcement to come true. In Hebrews:
 
11 By faith Abraham, even though he was past age–and Sarah herself was barren–was enabled to become a father because he considered Him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the sand on the seashore.
 
The rest, as they say ...is history.  A year later, Isaac was born; and years later, to his wife, Rebecca was born Jacob, who later would be called Israel. This name, Israel, of course, is the current day name of the nation in the Middle East.  The Lord made good on His promise to make a great nation, with people too many to number from Abraham. 
 
Ah, but there is more. The original promise that God made to Adam and Eve, the promise of redemption by the off-spring of Eve, generations later, would be fulfilled by a descendant of Abraham.  Whether we are Jew or Gentile, this is where we come in.  God has worked throughout  history fulfilling His promise for both a people and a place.  Through the blood of Jesus, sacrificed on the Cross, God has created a great people, a special people.  You think God might be delighted with you?  Listen to Peter 2nd chapter.
 
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
 
Dear friends, do you believe this?  “A chosen people, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to God!  Is this statement part of your faith system?  Is it part of who you are?  If it is, if you truly believe that God has called you out of darkness into His wonderful light; then let me ask you: “Done anything by faith lately?”  The joy of being part of God’s people, part of His family, is certainly evident in this place. But as I read 1st Peter, this chosen people right here (NLC), belong to God for the purpose of declaring His praises.  Not only to each other, but to the world out there!  Did you know that God desires the numbers of His people to increase, ...today?  Did you know that, until He comes again, He’s not finished building a great nation?
 
If so, then let your faith get to work.  Well, it won’t seem nearly as impossible as Sarah having a baby at age 90, but it does take action.  And as you believe, so the object of your faith, Jesus the Savior will work in you to build up the family of God. Done anything by faith lately?  It may take a certain amount of planning and purpose in order to bring an increase of people, but the one essential ingredient is faith!  Believe ...that God wants more people in His kingdom. Believe ...that He has uniquely gifted you to reach out to new people that you are empowered to declare His praise. ...Believe that God wants Nazareth to grow even though we’re not sure of what this place will eventually look like as we inhabit it with our praises!  The people come first; and then:
 
The place!  At this time God has blessed us with a good place to gather as the people who call Jesus “Lord.”  What it will look like be in the next several years, maybe even the next several months we do NOT know.  Yet, as He continues to bless us with His word, with the encouragement and accountability of each other; there are needs [**] out there and  [**] in here; and He wants us to respond to those needs.  You know we are right where He wants us to be, at this time.  In Acts, Paul said,
 
From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact paces where they should live.
 
It’s the right time for you; and it’s the exact place for you; Nazareth, so tell me: Done anything by faith lately.  My prayer is that we will continue to trust God and that, by faith, we might do works which are pleasing in His sight; which build up the people of God in this place at this time in the life of our church.  May this be done, in Jesus’ Name.
 
AMEN.  – God in not ashamed to be called our God, for He has prepared a city for us.