Fall Devotional - Week 2

December 28, 2021

Hebrews 11:17a, 20-34

By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son. By faith Isaac invoked blessings for the future on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, “bowing in worship over the top of his staff.” By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave instructions about his burial. By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king's edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king's anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible. 

By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel. By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

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In the eleventh chapter of the letter to the Hebrews, we discover a short poetic description of what faith is, followed by a long list of people who demonstrate that faith within their lives.

The writer of Hebrews defines faith as, “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Or, as the Common English Bible translation says, “Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.” In part, it means that faith is not something that we generate on our own by determination or force of willpower. God freely chooses to be in relationship with us no matter what. 

It is from this faithful promise of God that we respond with our hearts and our lives. Our response of trust in God makes “visible” what otherwise would remain “invisible.” In other words, when we trust in God’s promises, we are participants in the Kingdom of God that is breaking into our everyday world through the good news of the Gospel. 

Therefore, the writer of Hebrews recognizes we might want a few examples of real, intense, life-changing faith. We are told about the great faith of Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Moses, Joseph, and Rahab—just to name a few! All of these people trusted the promises of God, risking safety, unity, and the “known”, thereby making faith visible. Hebrews wants us to be encouraged by the example of those who have gone before us so that we too can make visible the invisible faith of God. 

This definition of faith is also a reminder that having faith does not mean that we have arrived. Sometimes, especially in churches like ours in the West, we fall into the trap of thinking exactly that.

Our lives are very comfortable. We have great freedom in our culture, and we can come to church and sit in our regular pews week by week to worship God. All of these things point to the idea that we have settled down and made our home. They lure us into thinking that we have arrived. 

But when the author of the letter invites the Hebrews to reflect on the lives of Abraham, Sarah, Moses, or Joseph, he reminds us that these early practitioners of faith “confessed they were strangers and foreigners on the earth” who were “seeking a homeland” and desired “a better country.” These people were on a journey, and so are we are.  As faith takes hold in our lives, we are not being encouraged to settle down but to join the pilgrimage!

So what?

So, what does any of this have to do with the question, “Why Church?”?  Well, before we can begin to answer that question in connection to our passage in Hebrews 11, we first need to ask:  “What is the Church?”

We might initially think about the church as a building. Maybe as a child, you were told to clasp your hands together (knuckles up) with two pointer fingers pointed upward and recite: Here is the Church, here is the steeple. And then pulling back your thumbs to say: Open the doors, see all the people! This rhyme is fun and comfortable, but it doesn’t help us answer the question “What is the Church?” After all, the Church is not a building. The Church is the people. 

The New Testament Greek word for Church is ekklesia, meaning “the called-out ones.” Therefore, the Church is not a building but a people who are the “called-out ones.” This doesn’t mean “called out” as in exclusive or preferential. It means that the Church is a people who are called out beyond the walls of a building and into the world. The Church is all who hear God’s call for love and justice and join the movement for a more just and generous world.  

The church is not a club or an organization to which we belong. It also means that technically, you cannot go to Church. You can only be the Church. So, what is the Church? The Church is the people called out to extravagantly love the world God created after the example of Jesus Christ. 

The long list of the faithful in Hebrews are examples of people of faith who have lived as called-out ones. In response to God’s faithful promises, they have trusted and risked their lives, moving forward by the Spirit’s prompting, living as co-creators in God’s Kingdom.  Why Church? The Church not a place we go. Church is the “place” where we live and move and have our being. Responding to the grace of God, being the Church is our vocational calling, our life’s work.

Now What?

Go and be the Church in the world. Respond to God’s love for you with lives of faithfulness, knowing church is a people on a pilgrimage but not yet fully there. Ultimately, we cannot see the fullness of God’s kingdom yet. But because we trust in God’s faithfulness, we hope for something that is yet to come; this is what drives and inspires us.  

As you consider God’s goodness in giving you a foretaste and share in the coming kingdom, think about your faith and our faith as a congregation. Do you feel that you have arrived? Have you settled in and become too comfortable in this building and in your favorite pew? How is God calling us to be his people here and now, and how will we respond?

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