I preached this on Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at the opening service of a trial phase of a new worshipping community that is being developed. It was a tremendous service, many were moved, and we look forward to more. This is based on Hebrews 11:1-3. If you are interested in attending of our services, please let me know.

            It was at a particularly lack-of-hope-and-faith-filled moment in my life when I read this scripture reading anew one morning. You see, I had been dreaming of starting something that might look like you all gathered here together for quite sometime. I had some crazy ideas in my head but didn’t know how to put them on paper very well, or how even to talk about them with others, and I had no way of knowing what the steps were to get me or you here tonight. I was making things very complicated in my head that in fact didn’t need to be.           And so one chilly morning I met my friend Emily for church, where I was hoping at brunch she might tell me that in fact I wasn’t called to make this happen. But at church, before brunch, this was the reading: faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Shit. “The conviction of things not seen.”
 I felt like it was written for me…I knew I wanted to get there, somewhere, I just didn’t know how. And if it weren’t enough, the reading then went on to outline and detail many of my biblical forbears, well most of the men at least, just to drive the point home that this is where we all start: with a dream that we doubt at times but a dream nonetheless that I had no choice but to follow down its rabbit-hole.

            And so to brunch we went, Em and I, with me blubbering over pancakes about how I don’t know if I am called to this and really I had such silly ideas and who was I to make this happen. Emily being the good pastor she is, rolled her eyes to herself and asked good questions, had me begin to put into words what this might look like. You see I had these ideas in my head that it had to start big, with several hundred people gathering around, that I had to do this in a very particular way with a very particular process that I had decided somewhere down the line was the right one. But Emily had me talk about what my authentic process might look like, where God was calling me, not anyone else. And then she asked if we might reserve a few dates and just invite a few friends, she promised it could just be me and her and my friends Paul and Vince, the people who have provided musical and compositional leadership today, and see what happened.

            Then I had a dream one night. That the few of us were standing around a streetlamp and I realized that this was the first night of the new worshipping community—and as I often have anxiety dreams about sermons—I figured I better get one together. And then the funniest thing happened. All these people came from cross streets that were close to us. I had no idea who they were, I figured they were just passing by but then they came to join us and all of them gathered in a circle and we worshiped, we sang together in my dream that night. We went from 3 to 30 in no time and it was as if God had sent these people I had been hoping for, that I had felt called to lead, and then had doubted, in a cycle, over and over again.

            And so this evening we sing Scripture, we experience it, the reading that I believe has been placed upon my heart for this moment and this time, and begin our four services together where we will explore faith, what it is, where we find it, how we live it. You might think, or I do at least: good gracious, 4 weeks on faith! But the best part of the Bible, in my mind, is that there are so many takes on so many subjects. And they don’t always agree with each other, giving us room to have varying opinions and experiences that express the many ways that God expresses God’s self to us.

            This reading we hear and sing tonight is part of a larger book of the Bible named Hebrews, written to the community of the Hebrews. They were a group of people under state pressure to leave Christianity and turn back towards the state-sanctioned and supported religion. Pressure was materialized as public abuse and ridicule, possibly torture, definitely hostility, and generally being seen as suffering dishonor by not supporting the state-sanctioned practices.

             It is unclear to us exactly who they were, or who wrote it, although there was speculation that the author was a woman, Prisilla, a strong and forthright woman who drove the ministry of she engaged in with her husband Aquilla. Regardless it was written after Jesus was here on earth, perhaps to second-generation Christians, so they had quite different baggage than Christians today carry, and it wasn’t much like 21st century United States of America where Christians created much of the bedrock of this culture.

             These people were a definite minority. This was written to a community in crisis that had at some point made a decision to follow Jesus who taught them that life wins out over death, that it is worth risking our lives so that we can live more fully, that, faith is worth having, but not faith in the emperor or the government, or faith in those television ads that promise to sell you the one thing that will make you skinny or fix all your organizational problems, or faith in money, or faith in … you fill in the blank. These people chose to live differently and by differently I mean they chose to resist the emperor’s persecution that later would make those who came after them martyrs. The way they chose to follow Jesus, to place their trust in him was a mighty slap in the face of the empire, and the empire didn’t know how to turn the other cheek.

            So, yeah. We have these people, the Hebrews, who were a bit down on their luck, who knew what grief and pain and loss was and why hope could be seen as pointless, and didn’t have much reason to have faith, to believe that it was worth it or it would get better. It was simply easier and life-saving, in a kind of a way, to disavow any minority religious belief and turn towards the state again.

            It makes my lack of faith at times, blubbering over pancakes, in things working out for good, in bumps in the road being simply a part of the process called life, in God being in my life at all, to fall under the category or Twitter hashtag of “tiny first world problems.” We have a writer to this community in crises, this community under persecution, this community scared for their lives tell them that they still had to hope, they still had to try, they still had to live out of faith of the greater good: “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.”

           So our lack of belief, the times we grow frustrated for not having instant gratification, for not seeing quickly what we think we deserve or what we want or where we think God is working…well, we wouldn’t be the first people who were frustrated with the larger process. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

            It’s like asking for something for collateral but not having anything to give in return except for your trust and belief that the other person will make good on their end of the deal. And we have had so many people go before us that have witnessed that God made good on the deal—not how we would expect or on our timeline even, but that made good anyway, that we are called as people given life by God and as people still under God’s care to throw a few dreams back out there to God—with the promise that God will make good.

            To have faith is a verb. The reading tonight tells us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for…so you have to know what you hope for, you have to actively take the time and trust the inklings you get… And if we read it in the Greek, the original language, it is even better, the clunky translation would literally read: as now faith is the assurance of things being hoped for. Not just hoped for, but being hoped for. It is a continuous word, there isn’t a beginning or an ending. You are never done, you never totally arrive.

            You can’t have faith without daring to hope. To hope is a verb. Hope turns us to faith. Hope isn’t just a nonchalant “I hope that I win a million dollars” kind of hope but a hope that is about naming our deepest desires, as crazy and nonpractical as they might seem, and then taking steps to test those desires, to try them on for size over a period of time, to see if they go away or if they get stronger, and then begin to make them come true.

            One commentator puts it this way: First, faith provides a guarantee, the peg on which we hang our hopes. Because of faith, our hope is no flimsy dreaming; it has substance and reality. Faith provides a ground to which we may hold fast. But that grounding also orients us toward the future and gives us courage to move forward, launching out into the unknown. The second dimension of faith is that it moves us forward.

            And so I stand before you here today with a dream—and that dream is you gathered around this Table together where will experience grace with each other and teach each other how to be faithful, how to move forward in ways that are life-giving, where we might know what God’s love looks like and feels like and how that moves us to being hopeful and how that leads us to having faith.

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