Pentecost 9 (C)
August 7, 2022
By faith… by faith… by faith… These words pulse through today’s epistle like a heartbeat, lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub. (It also works in Greek, the language the letter was originally written in – a single, two-syllable word we translate “by faith.” It sounds like pist-ay). “By faith our ancestors received… by faith we understand… by faith Abraham obeyed… by faith he stayed… by faith he received.” If we add in the verses our lectionary reading skips today, we would hear even more: By faith . . . by faith . . . by faith . . . like the rhythm within us that keeps us alive.
We don’t know who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews. But what we can tell from reading the whole letter and hearing its concerns is that it’s written to people who are giving up, who are leaving the church, who are leaving the faith. It’s written to people who have made sacrifices for their faith, who have even endured suffering, but now, these people are growing weary. It was hard enough in the short term – they can’t see staying in it for the long haul. They can only see what’s immediately in front of them, and they don’t like it. They think they can get a better deal somewhere else. So, Hebrews is the sermon of a preacher to people who are heading out the door.
This is the preacher’s message: Don’t give up. Have faith. Trust. Jesus Christ is the one in whom we can hope. Jesus Christ is the one in whom we can trust. Jesus Christ is the one in whom we can place our faith because Jesus Christ is faithful. You have not seen the future, but Jesus holds the future. Have faith in Jesus because Jesus is the faithful one.
This is why the writer’s by faith… by faith… by faith… is more like the rhythm of a heartbeat than the pulse of repeated pushups.
The analogy of practice and commitment – okay, give me five more! You’ve got this! – like in exercise may be helpful. It matters that we show up. It matters that we keep giving it another try. It matters that we keep at it even if our efforts seem tiny and all we experience in the short term is how tired our arms are.
But instead of thinking of faith as an accomplishment, something done by our own efforts and through gritted teeth, think of it more like openness, like acceptance, like receiving something life-giving and empowering because it’s Jesus’ faith and faithfulness that really matters. In baptism, we are connected to Jesus’ faith and faithfulness. In baptism we receive Jesus. We are baptized into his death. And if we are united with Jesus in a death like his, we will be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:5). Whether the trust that is faith comes easy to us or feels like it takes great exertion, we all receive the same strong Jesus. Jesus is enough to carry us into a future that is unseen by us.
Think about being on an airplane. Some people who travel by plane are confident flyers. Others are not. But here’s the thing: all you have to do is get on the plane. That’s your responsibility. Get on the plane and behave kindly to the people around you. You can be a relaxed passenger or a nervous passenger, but what really matters is the ability of the pilot. You can be utterly undaunted by turbulence, or you can hunker down and eat your little packet of pretzels like it’s your last meal, but what matters is the training and experience of the pilot. The pilot is the same for the calm and reassured as well as the nervous and fearful. But confident passengers have a much better experience during the journey.
Our epistle writer’s by faith… by faith… by faith… is encouragement to stick with the community of Christians and to stick with Jesus Christ, to trust that by living with willing hearts, hearts open to the future God has prepared, like our forebears in faith did, we too become inheritors of that future, a future better than anything we can ask for or imagine.
From the Episcopal Church website: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/sermon/by-faith-pentecost-9-c-august-7-2022/