By faith (part 1)

Every major sport — from basketball to baseball, from NASCAR to wrestling — has its Hall of Fame, where memories of the sport’s legends are enshrined. Rock and Roll has its Hall of Fame, as does Country Music.

Heck, even beer has a Hall of Fame.

One might even say that faith has its own Hall of Fame. There’s no building, no induction ceremony, and no media coverage. But its display hall can be found in homes across the world.

It’s called Hebrews 11.

The author of Hebrews (Barnabas? Apollos? Someone else?) trots out example after example of HOF faith. The usual suspects are there — Noah, Abraham, Moses — but also Abel, Sarah, Rahab. In some cases, the stories of faith are heroic, whether routing armies or facing martyrdom.

By contrast, other stories seem strikingly ordinary. People simply believed the promises and acted accordingly. But they continued to believe even on their deathbeds, even when the promises had not been received. All of them lived “by faith.” That’s the repeated refrain: by faith, Noah did this; by faith, Abraham did that; and so on.

The writer assumes that the reader already knows the stories, and provides only the briefest of sketches. But the very fact that some of the stories are so unheroic and ordinary makes us have to revise the HOF metaphor. This is not so much a tribute to their faithfulness as it is to God’s. Their job was to believe and show up. God did the rest.

And in some cases, he’s still working on it.

It’s always been necessary for us to live by faith. But it’s also easy to slip into a routine, to take too much for granted, to start believing that “we’ve got this” and can accomplish whatever’s important or needful all on our own, without much help from God or anyone else.

And then, suddenly, we find ourselves in a season in which we haven’t got this. We need help, and we’re not sure where it’s coming from. We’re reminded of what we should have known all along: if we’re going to step out and live the life God has for us, it has to be a life of faith.

But what is “faith”?  Here’s how the author of Hebrews explains it:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. (Heb 11:1-3, NRSV)

Faith and hope go hand in glove. Whatever may be happening in the present, we need to know that there’s a future. If we’re going to live faithfully today, we need to know that there’s a tomorrow worth living for.

The problem, of course, is that as we look around us, we see a lot of things that don’t give us much hope. The things that trouble us are more real than some ethereal vision of heaven. To have hope, we need to trust that some things we can’t see are more real than the things we can.

We need to have faith.

The text takes us all the way back to the moment of creation, in which the universe itself came into being through the word of God—creation ex nihilo, something out of nothing, the visible out of the invisible. That’s when the writer walks us through the Hall of Fame, encouraging us to draw inspiration from their stories. By the time the writer gets to the end of chapter 12, we’re given a glimpse of our future destiny: the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, the festive assembly of thousands of angels, and our inheritance of a kingdom that can’t be shaken.

But what is all of that compared to what we have to deal with today, the things that we can see and experience in the here and now? Our worries and concerns? Our aches and pains? The problems and struggles in our families, in our churches? Our own unhealed memories?

What does it mean to live “by faith,” and its close companion, hope?

I’ll tackle that question Sunday, in the second half of this post.