Sermon Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 August 11, 2013 “The Assurance of Faith”
We all have someone in our lives that taught us what it means to have “faith.” For me, it was my grandmother. Whenever we stayed overnight at her house on a weekend, Gram would faithfully walk us down the street to the church on Sunday mornings. The experience of walking to the church was an act of faith in itself. The church wasn’t all that near to Gram’s house and there were a few streets to cross with a fair amount of traffic, and we were two little kids as active and annoying as any, but Gram never wavered. Sunday mornings were church days. We dressed in our Sunday best and we walked.
There were other signs of Gram’s faith scattered throughout the house too, which included a crucifix on every bedroom wall and copies of prayer cards scattered here and there. There were paintings of saints and an occasional stray rosary chain of beads with an appropriate Christ on the cross adornment to remind us of God’s forgiving love and Christ’s sacrificial offering of his life for us. There were prayers at bedtime and occasionally at mealtimes too. We loved our Gram, loved our visits with her and though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I love the fact that she was the one who taught me that “…faith is this the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Now, I’m not sure she knew those words from the scripture we’ve heard this morning from Hebrews but she sure did live out their meaning. She hadn’t had any easy life having left her homeland in her teens to marry a man some ten years older than she was. Her first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage and in her later years, she was the sole caregiver and provider for my grandfather who suffered from emphysema until his death at age 67. She always did what she needed to do so when it became evident that my grandfather would not live long, my grandmother learned how to drive and bought a car to get her and my grandfather where they needed to go. In so many ways, my grandmother illustrated a faith in God’s provision for her life and never faltered or feared the future. She taught us to trust in God too, a lesson I would not come to appreciate until I was an adult and on my own.
The concept of Faith is so difficult to define. I’ve come to realize that like most unanswerable questions in the world, having a faith in God doesn’t necessarily require us to have all the answers as to how to live our faith. Faith is beyond the capacity of our language and abilities to define what it means; our better tools and far more useful in the unanswerable aspects of life is to recognize faith in the way others of faith live. The writer of this letter to the Hebrews focuses on this very concept laying out, in some detail, the journeys of faith taken by Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Jacob. Those hearing the names of these ancients would have remembered their roots, the beginnings of their history and would have understood that the story was ongoing, still being written. We understand this too or at least we should.
As men and women, we are taught at an early age to seek out truth and knowledge. That impulse to learn never leaves us. We’re a curious people seeking certainty in our uncertainties, which is why it is often so difficult for us to accept the unknown and just embrace it without necessarily trying to pin it down, name it, or define it some way. We are always seeking proof…it’s in our nature to do so. We want answers. So much so, that finds like a recent one in Turkey can bolster our faith and give credence to our beliefs.
Just days ago, while Archaeologists were working in Turkey came across an ancient artifact, which hey believe is a piece of the cross that Jesus was crucified on. “Excavating the ancient Balatlar Church, a seventh-century building in Sinop, Turkey, on the shores of the Black Sea, they uncovered a stone chest that contained objects that may be directly connected with Jesus Christ. Excavation head Professor Gülgün Körolu definitively stated:
“We have found a holy thing in a chest. It is a piece of a cross, and we think it was [part of the cross on which Jesus was crucified]. This stone chest is very important to us. It has a history and is the most important artifact we have unearthed so far.” 
Now, I want to believe this is truly a piece of the cross Christ was crucified on but I have a healthy skepticism and a deliberate realism that reminds me not to pin faith on the need for proof of my beliefs in Jesus Christ. Not to look for evidence that Christ died on a cross. Would it truly be faith if we needed proof? Well, not according to the letter to the Hebrews. It says: “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” I take that to mean – faith just is. If we have to have evidence, if we need proof of what we believe, we cannot call it “faith” and boy; I want to argue with this. Fact is, I can’t prove the things I believe. I can share it but I can’t make someone else believe it using facts and figures, numbers and theorems. Our human nature causes us to question God’s ability to be and do in our lives. Our call to a divine essence within tells us we simply don’t have all the answers to all the questions and that has to be okay. And, even if it isn’t okay with us, we aren’t going to be able to change the fact that we cannot fully understand God with the inquiring, but finite brains we have been given.
Lillian Daniel, a UCC minister says this:
“I can’t prove to you that Jesus lived and died, and was resurrected, nor that he healed people on the Sabbath or that he forgave his tormentors. I can’t prove to you that on God can also be three in one, and that together that force has parted the waters, burned bushes, and fed thousands on short rations. None of this can I prove. But I can tell you that I have faith in it.
I can say it because ‘faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.’ I can hope and believe in what is not before my eyes. I don’t have to be logical, and most of all, I don’t have to prove it. Not to you, not to anyone.” 
And, maybe she has point. Faith isn’t dependent on what we know but in what we believe we know. It is illogical at times, and difficult to discern or describe but there is no doubt about one fact: we need to have a God in our lives…someone, some one thing to believe in against all reason and beyond all discernible facts that we might see or could possibly know. If we could fully contain a picture of what God is or what God does or how God lives in us than we would be as big and as powerful as God and that just can’t be. God is bigger than what our eyes see or our hearts can fully know but no bigger than our best hope in the truth we have, in the lives we lead. Our faith remains as mysterious as the One we worship. Thank God! It shouldn’t be any other way. Amen.