11.01.2015 All Saints Day
Hebrews 11-13 – 11.1-2, 12.1-2
Bikes are used more than ever for pleasure and exercise. Our community even provides trails that transverse Mammoth Cave National Park some 9 miles from Park City to one of the natural wonders of the world, Mammoth Cave. The neat thing about bike riding is that it’s not just for professionals, anyone can purchase a fairly inexpensive bike and take off pretty quickly. We even start our young toddlers learning how to ride with tricycles and bicycles with training wheels.
Have you ridden a bike lately? Do you feel like you have forgotten how to ride? Are you interested in riding again? Do you need a bike with training wheels? Are you equipped to ride – shoes, helmet, special clothing? Are you able to ride very far? Do you have a bike that shifts gears for the harder terrain?
Faithfulness is like a bike that needs to be ridden. The bike is faith, and it can sit in our garage collecting dust until we decide it’s time to ride. Once we’ve made the decision to ride, we may feel like a novice – and that we’re just getting started in our journey!
Faith lays hold of the past and send us propelling forward into the future. The text today points us both to the past and to our future. Chapter 11 is a list of faithful folk who set the example of how we are to live our lives today. These folks aren’t distant from our reality, but are signs and symbols of the unseen reality that we hope for ourselves. These folks point us to a vision of the future. Faith focuses us on the other side of the veil as we stand between earth and heaven. Faith is the unseen reality on which our future is built.
Faith gives us vision to see the future. The Spirit of God lives within each of us and marks the way to heaven. It is through the New Covenant that believers are enabled to see the in breaking of the Kingdom of God in our lives, and ultimately our spirit bears the witness of the Kingdom to come. Although the places where we gather to worship may change over the years, the relationships we build in Body of Christ live on forever. According to UM Pastor James Harnish, Zion is ever before us stretching outward always moving forward with our past ever diminishing behind us (Heb. 12.22-24). The author of Hebrews urges us to set our sights on the unseen reality of our faith. Our sights are on the destination of our discipleship. Discipleship takes new meaning when it is lived in view of eternal life. Christian perfection is an end without an ending. The transformation that begins here on earth within every heart is fulfilled only in heaven. E. Stanley Jones called his life’s work “my song of the pilgrimage I am making from what I was to what God is making of me…a Christian-in-the-making from what I was to what God is making of me… a Christian-in-the-making. Not yet ‘made’ but only in the making at eighty-three” (Phil. 3.13-14). The New Testament images of heaven are not just to share information about what heaven will be like – but to stir our imaginations and orient us toward the Kingdom of God (Rev. 21-22).
Faith leads us to holiness for without holiness no one will see God. The foundation of the Christian faith is a life lived in holiness of heart toward God, self and neighbor. “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12.14). Christian freedom is not liberty from the pursuit of holiness. You cannot reach heaven without embracing the Law. Christ preached the Law, and St. Paul instructed us through his writings that we are to preach Christ in our lives.
Faith establishes morality in our hearts. John Wesley understood that the Law is the very character of God, therefore, it can never end – even in heaven. John Wesley’s sermons include “Salvation by Faith” based on Ephesians 2.8 “By grace you have been saved, through faith…” which points to his understanding that we cannot be saved by good works or human merit, but by faith alone. Faith is the belief in what is unseen, and for us Christians it is belief in the unseen reality of the Kingdom of God through Jesus’ atonement on the cross. Wesley once thought that believers were without sin, but he subsequently revised his understanding of this doctrine in sermons #13 “On Sin in Believers” based on 2 Corinthians 5.17 “If anyone is in Christ, that person is created anew…” and #43 “The Scripture Way of Salvation” based on Ephesians 2.8 “You have been saved through faith…” John Wesley wrote much on the topic of faith. Sermons 35 & 36 entitled “The Law Established through Faith” were reflections from Romans 3.31 that says, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” In his reflections he pointed believers to exercise their faith to become faithful unto holiness. With holiness we will see God himself one day.
Faith receives a new spirit and a new heart from God. “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36.24-28).
Faith is a gift of the Spirit of God. “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines” (1 Corinthians 12.4-11).
Faith bears fruit in our lives. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self–control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5.22-25).
Faith as small as a mustard seed is all we need to change our lives. Jesus replied to the disciples cry for more faith this way, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Mt. 17.20-21).
Faith gives us victory over death. Faith is St. Thomas who touched the resurrected body of Christ and declared the Jesus was God and man. “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54, 57). Mary Beth Chapman wrote a book entitled “Choosing to See” after the death of her adopted daughter who was run over by her son as he drove into their driveway. This unfortunate accident sent this family into great grief in the midst of her son’s high school graduation and the planning of their daughter’s wedding.
Faith points us to life in the community of God. As faithful folks are to remain in community with one another. We are to endure hostility from others with patience and peace. We are to persevere through hardships. The discipline of the Lord is part of a life long process of becoming holy, and it knows no timetable. The Lord will discipline us forever to keep us on the holy path to heaven. We are to pursue peace in our relationships. We are to keep our marriages sanctified. We are to show hospitality to all people not just the family and friends. We are to express compassion for imprisoned people, and serve in justice to those who suffer public abuse. We are to keep our hearts free from the love of money, and earthly gain. We should remember our leaders in our prayers, and obey the government as God has ordained it to be established. We are to continue to do good in our fellowship and sharing.
Faith guides us from the present moment to study the past and leads us into the future. Hebrews moves me from just having faith (an object, a noun) in God to exercising my faith (an action, verb) in God. In other words I might own a bike (faith, noun) but being faithful is an action. I have to ride my bike – take it out of the garage and take it for a spin. Would you join me this week in exercising your faith? I wonder where God will take us on this journey together?