Sunday, September 02, 2007

12 August 2007

Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16

11Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith* our ancestors received approval. 3By 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.*

8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old--and Sarah herself was barren--because he considered him faithful who had promised.* 12Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, 'as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.'

13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

It's summer in Canada and time to get in touch with history. This is the season of the historical tour, the time of year that families head to forts and fortresses (if you can tell me the difference, I'm all ears) and discover the past. It is also the time of year that thousands of young people are employed as re-enactors, interpreters and miscellaneous 17th and 18th century persons. My daughter spent more than one hot summer as an “upper-class girl” at Lower Fort Gary, doing needlepoint and fanning herself for the tourists.

Locally, we have a treasure called Fort York, famous for barely surviving the construction of the Gardner Expressway, and soon to be completely engulfed by condos. This summer we moored the sailboat midway between Fort George (Niagara-on-the-Lake) and Old Fort Niagara, famous for one of the few cannon duels fought between forts in North America. Old Fort Niagara is also unique as a more-or-less intact French fort that is currently on its third owner (the Americans). To add one more, this week's various announcements around northern development reminded me of my long-held dream to visit Prince of Wales Fort, located on the shores of Hudson Bay and likely to remain a dream for some time.

I often wonder what ran through the minds of the fort builders and engineers as they constructed the hundreds of forts throughout Canada. Did they imagine that someday families would make them the centre of their vacation plans? Could they have anticipated the century and a half of peace that turned these fortifications into places of curiosity and learning? Most of us are aware that we are passing through history, but these people were making it, leaving tangible signs of their handiwork and their desire to defend something beyond themselves.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

The author of Hebrews wrote it, and we can certainly affirm it all these years on. We take things “on faith,” most particularly the things that we cannot see. When we talk about our faith we can describe convictions we hold and ideas we cherish, but at its root, faith is the impulse that allows us to imagine something beyond ourselves, something outside of what we know in this life.

But there is more. Before I sit down to write I like to consult the experts, not so they can tell me what is right, or even the best way to understand a passage, but as a means to get another point of view. Perhaps I am missing something, or I have failed to make a connection to some other passage, or maybe (certainly?) because my Greek is not what it was.

The rule of thumb around preaching is to avoid the original languages. There is no better way to ruin a good sermon than drone on and on about some fine point of Greek or Hebrew grammar, thus rendering an attentive congregation into a sleeping congregation. “They don't care,” we are told, and if you have to hide behind conjugation and declensions, then you are in deep trouble. So, into trouble I head, because the other rule of thumb is you can get away with more preaching in the summer.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for...” In Greek, “faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for,” neatly translated as assurance, something we all need. Sure, we reason, faith is about assurance, the emotional state where we receive a measure of comfort knowing that things are okay or soon will be. Our scholar, Harold Attridge begs to differ. By his reading, assurance is a mistranslation of hypostasis, which would be better translated “reality.” Faith is the reality of things hoped for,” a much more pointed kind of meaning. Faith is not about feeling better; it is about what we know to be true. It is our reality. It has far more power than the thing that will make us feel more comfortable or less anxious; faith is the reality of God and God's desire for our lives.

Let's get back to our vacations. The fort builders, the men and women who laboured in the wilderness, knew that these stone structures would likely outlive them, as nearly everything would. Soldiers and settlers had no illusions about security and comfort, they were engaged in something that was dangerous and often lethal. They accepted the risk of death as part of their service. They were constructing something, if not for the ages, then certainly for the future of the nation they served.

Last week I mentioned R.A. Scotti's wonderful book Basilica, a description of the construction of St. Peter's in Rome and the artists who directed the work. Michelangelo, Raphael, and Bernini all had a hand in building the church, and all of them died long before the work was completed. And while none of them would have imagined that it would take 150 years to construct it, they certainly knew it would take longer than they could individually expect live (and makes 8 months of construction at Birchcliff Bluffs look pretty good).

Looking back even further, Abraham and Sarah were designated the father and mother of a great nation and the heirs of a great land. And while they were given the tangible gift of Isaac, they spent the rest of their days living in tents and wandering about without getting to enjoy the Promised Land and without seeing the vast clan they were promised. Their relationship with God was one based on trust. Abraham and Sarah were building for the ages, never expecting to see the literal promise fulfilled but trusting that the actions they undertook each day would lead to the promised outcome.

Now faith is the reality of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

It begs the question, of course, what are we building that will outlive us? What reality do we trust will come about? What is the goal of our fellowship and what are the steps that will take us there? For each of us there will be a different answer, as each of us has a unique role to play in the creation of the future. Each of us will need to find room in our hearts for the reality of things hoped for, because faith is something to be nurtured too. And we will need to help each other, because we never tend this creation alone.

Rather than thinking of this as a task or a set of tasks, think of it as a destination. Where do we hope to go, and how will we get there. For Abraham and Sarah, the direction came at God's direct bidding. We have to discern a little more carefully. The fellowship we enjoy is one of mutual discernment, working together to hear God's call, heed God's direction, and take the small steps required to build something beyond ourselves. May God bless us and lead us, this day and always. Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home