Welcome to the Knox Talks blog. Here you can find recent and past sermons relating scripture to a wide variety of topics. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog.
The Impact of Faith
Scripture: Hebrews 11:1-3, 23-28
The coronation of King Charles III has put the word “faith” into the news, keeping the title “Defender of the faith”, but putting it into the context of a multi-faith society as happened in the UK, or removing the title by an act of parliament in the belief that we are a secular society, as happened in Canada.
Used this way, “faith” can refer to a set of beliefs: a collection of doctrines we are called to believe. Many people treat the words “faith” and “belief” as interchangeable.
The letter of James shows us the futility of equating “faith” and “belief”:
“You believe that God is one; you do well.
Even the demons believe—and shudder.”
Belief is an intellectual exercise; James equated the two and then went on to say: “Faith without works is dead.”
Clearly, faith is more than belief. So then, what is faith? What does it do? The letter to the Hebrews sums it up in this famous line:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen.
The same Greek words could be translated even more concretely:
Now faith is the reality of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen.
That’s really strong language. This is a powerful claim about the power of faith. Chapter 11 of Hebrews goes on to list Biblical people of faith and what became of them. It wasn’t always good. Some faced terrible trials and tribulations and died without personal reward, although their trust in God was still justified. Others were triumphant over impossible odds, seeing results they never could have accomplished on their own.
The message is that faith gave people power; sometimes to endure through incredibly hard times and sometimes to overcome against impossible odds.
Hebrews suggests that faith and works are inextricable – that you can’t have one without the other: What you really believe will work itself out in your actions; What you do will expose what you believe in your heart; and what you do will always demonstrate the reliability of what you say.
The author of Hebrews gives us examples of faith that demonstrate trust, beyond the idea of individualized, personal trust. In the passage we read about Moses, he was set adrift in the bullrushes through the faith of his family, as he was too young for faith himself.
There can be an inter-generational component to faith, which is why we baptize infants and children: because we believe that the effects of faith can go beyond any individual and become part of a wider community, whether that be a human family or a family of faith.
The part of all this that people get hung up on in this modern, skeptical, secular age is that bold claim I mentioned earlier: Now faith is the reality of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
It sounds mystical. And the examples we are given stretch our credulity, with Abraham and Sarah believing that a baby will come when they are in their 90s.
This becomes a stumbling block of faith, with some people asserting that we have to believe literally in such things to be good Christians and others who toss the stories out as irrelevant.
The problem with those extremes is that one demands that we suspend our intelligence and the other demands that we become so rational that we lose any sense of connection with something mystical or divine.
Faith is the reality of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.
There are a lot of things we hope for, a lot of unseen things that we bring into existence as acts of faith.
What is justice? What is mercy? What is love? Can we find these things on the periodic table of elements? Can we measure them with the metric system or take their temperature on the Kelvin scale?
Of course not. They are not concrete things. We hope for them, but they remain unseen until we bring them into existence.
It is faith that makes these unseen concepts into reality. It is faith that lifts us and our society above the material world of measurable things into a realm where so much more is possible.
Faith is an ability we humans have, and we can choose to develop it or not. We can put our faith in God, in each other, or in an idea and it will work because any faith we put into action is a powerful thing. It carries us along with it and channels our energies into creating something greater than ourselves.
Our Hebrews lesson is trying to demonstrate the specific value of faith in God; faith in the God who promised generation after generation that good things would happen, that the world would get better, that things like justice would be created and grow, that love would motivate more and more of life and that hope could carry us even when the results of our faith might not be seen until future generations were born.
That author was saying: “See, it worked! Even though those faithful people didn’t all live to see it themselves, God came through in the end.”
The thing about having faith in God is that God provides us with the ultimate overview. God brings the super-meta perspective that is not dependent on a four year election cycle or a five-year plan or a promise that we will have peace within our lifetime. Faith in God allows us a glimpse beyond seven generations, to eternity itself.
That perspective is something we need right now as we face challenges like climate change or world leaders that believe that might makes right. Those challenges took centuries to create and they will take generations to unravel.
To take on monumental problems like that, we need something bigger than ourselves. We need faith: the kind of faith that can help us endure terrible things; the kind of faith that drives us to act and motivates positive change; the kind of faith that overcomes cynicism and despair, that pushes aside selfishness and empowers us to share, even when we think we have nothing; the kind of faith that visualizes the good we want to see and energizes us to make it real.
God gives us the gift of faith and shows us which intangible things are worth bringing into existence. Faith is how God gives us the power to create a better world.