Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16
I have to tell you, this morning that I was very tempted to begin my sermon with Donald Trump and all the controversies he drawn to himself during the last few days. And then I said to myself that you probably already have enough of this nonsense, racism and attacks against… everyone… even babies. Instead, let us begin on a more positive note with a clip from the movie “Despicable Me”. For those who do not have children or grandchildren in your lives, it is the film that gave us the Minions. Basically, it is the story of Mr. Gru who is plotting the biggest heist in the history of the world. He wants to steal the moon. To achieve his plan, he uses three little orphan girls as pawns and, after he is done, he sends then back to the orphanage. Later, the evil Viktor kidnaps the girls and Gru realizes he made a mistake.
By the way this is the best movie about adoption ever made. We have heard often the expression a leap of faith. This is Pixar’s version of it. The girls are confronted by a difficult decision. Can they trust a man who let them down? Without any new data, they have to choose between relying on past experiences or believing this time Mr. Gru really means what he says. Interestingly Gru also has to take a leap of faith. He has to put his life in jeopardy by walking on a wire and jumping to catch Margo, literally without a safety net. Both are saved by Minions who also put their lives on the line. This is not how the rescue operation was planned. Still, it worked because everyone decided to trust each other. Despite all the odds and evidences at their disposal, they chose to have faith in one another.
This morning’s passage from the letter to the Hebrews addresses the question of faith. Some of us struggle with this concept because of the ways it is repeatedly used in our churches. Too often, faith is presented as a synonym of orthodoxy. The faithful (meaning the good Christians) are those who do not question the existence of God, dogma, the Bible or even the minister. For them, faith is following the party line and accepting what they are told. Period. If I may, I believe they are wrong, because this is not faith. Faith is different from theology which is the attempt to organize, structure and reason a belief system, like the New Creed we said a few minutes ago. Faith is also different from religion which is about rituals, sacraments, prayers and hymns. I am not saying that one is better than the other. All serve their purposes. It is just that faith is something else, something a little more messy, chaotic, intermittent and sometimes full of surprises.
The 11th chapter of the letter to the Hebrews tries to tackle this eluding concept by presenting a long list of biblical characters who can be considered great examples of faith. The most prominent member of this Hall of Fame is Abraham who one day left behind his extended family, his home and his security to set out for a land which God promised to his descendants. Abraham had no idea what awaited him. He had no guarantees regarding the multiple challenges he would face. Yet, despite all appearances, lack of certainties and anything else telling him to run in the other direction, Abraham believed in God’s promise. He accepted to jump into this adventure that defied common sense because somehow deep down he knew that God would not leave nor fail him.
This sort of gut feeling is hard to define for most of us. We often prefer to use examples and share stories of real people who had an influence on us. We might think of those who helped us in the past to become more than we believed we were. We might think of parents, grandparents or other role models who loved and challenged us at the same time. We might think of all of those who worked hard to be the people of God and invested time and energy so the next generations could continue their endeavours after they would be gone. All those individuals are the embodiment of what we call faith.
Even if it is difficult, the author of the letter to the Hebrews attempts to define faith. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Faith is not knowing, touching or analyzing the results of a scientific experiment. Faith is a hunch. Faith is a maybe. Faith is a journey that has no beginning or end. Faith is the absence of assurance, poofs or certitude. In the words of Mark Twain, “faith is believin’ what you know ain’t so.” It is believing there is something greater than us. It is believing that promises not yet fulfilled are still meaningful.
But faith is not easy. It requires a considerable amount courage, determination and risk taking. I am sure it is easier to be cynical, to trust only in self or accepting only what can be touched and seen. Sometimes faith requires to rely on someone who could deceive us. Sometimes faith requires to let go of our desire to control everything around us and to trust in the decision of others. Sometimes faith requires to strive for the best in the worst of times. Sometimes faith requires to believe that God’s blessings will outnumber the stars in the sky. Most of us struggle to remain faithful when we are really confronted with difficult situations. Yet, with faith, we can remain confident that eventually everything will be okay.
Maybe the greatest manifestation of faith in our life is having children. I am serious. When we think rationally about it, no one with an ounce of sanity would do it. It is estimated that it cost $200,000 to bring a child to the age of 18… and you have two of them now. This is on top of all those hours of sleep that you will never see again, the endless hours of arguments on the most trivial topics or all the time spent running from one activity to another. It does not make sense and yet we do have children. We love them deeply. We hope they will grow up, develop all sorts of gifts and abilities, and become great people. We have faith that despite all the problems ahead of us, we will manage and it will be okay. And as you brought your child to be baptized this morning, our congregation also takes a leap of faith. Like I said a few minutes ago, no obligations are put on you or Mia-Lee to come back here ever. There will be no coercion, shaming or reproaches. We just made promises to each other and we will hope that Mia-Lee will find her own path and remember what has been done this morning. We will all live in faith.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. It is what helps us to see the truth hidden sometimes beneath appearances. Faith is going beyond what we may know in order to discover new possibilities. Faith is the ultimate promise made to all of us. This morning Mia-Lee might not have understood a word we have said, but nevertheless she receives the assurance that God loves her unconditionally and in the most difficult moments God will be there to tell, ‘You can take a step further. Hold my hand. We will take this leap together. You can have faith in me because I will never abandon you’. Amen.