Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14) August 7, 2022
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.
Faith. How do we speak of faith? Do you have faith? Do you have enough faith? Do I have enough? How to know?
And all of the sudden we realize we’re talking about faith as something we can measure. How much faith do you have? How much do I have? We might as well be talking about ice-cream or marbles. How much ice-cream do you have in your bowl? Guess how many marbles I have in my hand. How much faith?
But faith is not a substance. You can’t measure it—that’s for the ice-cream.
If we are looking at faith as a matter to be quantified, something we can measure or feel, then we are looking at faith with the eyes of the law.
But faith is not of the Law; faith is of the Gospel. Faith is not of our work; faith is pure gift from God. And God does not give gifts by measure.
And faith does not look at faith. Faith looks at Jesus alone, holds onto him, and rejoices in his grace.
Faith is not for what we are doing toward God, but for what he is bestowing on us. Faith receives gifts from God.
And the gift faith receives from God is righteousness, justification.
Faith hears the Lord speak his word of forgiveness, and is justified. Faith sees the Lord baptize his Name onto a sinner, and is saved. Faith takes the Body and Blood given by Jesus to his word, and is sanctified.
It’s all about standing righteous before God. After all, how is the sinner going to be made righteous? By faith or by works?
In the confessions of the church, the distinction is explained like this:
The difference between [the righteousness of] faith and the righteousness of the Law is easily discerned. Faith is the divine service that receives the benefits offered by God. The righteousness of the Law [though,] is the divine service that offers to God our merits. [But] God wants to worshiped through faith, so that we receive from him those things he promises and offers.
Then it later continues,
The worship and divine service of the Gospel is to freely receive from God gifts. On the contrary, the worship of the Law is to offer and present our gifts to God.
So we are in these pews today because of faith. By faith, the sinner hears the word of justification and is justified. By faith, the unrighteous one holds to the promise of Baptism, and is clothed in the righteousness of Christ Jesus.
We are here to receive these gifts from God—that’s faith. But in our world, faith is a slippery word.
We get caught-up in the talk. For who in our world can ever say anything bad about faith? But what is it? Do you have faith? If you do, is it strong? If it’s strong, then why don’t you step out in faith? And what does talk like that even mean?
I may have faith that this year my team will win the Mountain West championship. Even though not one single football sports writer predicts that my team will win the Mountain West championship, I have faith in them. So should I step out in faith and bet my house?
I need more faith. I’ll go home and gin it up, and then I’ll step out in it. What does all this faith talk in our world even mean? It can get pretty slippery.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
More literally, this verse in the Greek says that faith is the substance of the things we have hope in, it is the testimony of things not seen.
That is, we hope in our Lord Jesus . We don’t see him now. But by his Word, we have the hope, the certainty of his coming again and of the resurrection of the dead—that’s faith bestowed by the Holy Spirit through the Word.
Our eyes don’t see our Lord forgiving our sins, we don’t see him interceding to his Father in Heaven for us, but our Lord gives us to see the evidence of Baptism, and the testimony of the Body and Blood—that’s faith our Lord gives us by his Word of promise.
Which means, in our Lord’s way, faith is not a slippery word at all. It is a sure and certain word; it is a solid determination based on the promise given us by our God.
That’s why my faith that my team will win the conference championship is really not faith at all. It’s a wish; it may give me a warm fuzzy feeling, but it’s not faith. Because my Lord never spoke that Word of promise to me in Holy Scripture. And without the Lord’s promise, faith has nothing to cling to.
God speaks a Word. That Word creates the faith that clings to the promise. So now, to step out in faith means nothing other than to hear the Lord’s word and be given the certainty that you have been spoken righteous, justified by your Lord. But is always by the Word.
So the Lord gave Adam and Eve the gift of sacrifice where he would forgive their sins, bringing them into the promise of the Savior who was to come, and Adam and Eve taught that gift of sacrifice to their sons Cain and Abel.
But Cain sacrificed in order to make God happy with him, not to receive the gift. So the Lord rejected Cain’s sacrifice of works. Abel, though, hearing the Word of promise, sacrificed for the gift of sins-forgiven, and by that faith in the Word, Abel was justified.
Later Noah heard the word of promise; according to that promise he built the ark. By that faith in the Lord’s word, he was justified.
And the Lord spoke the promise to Abraham; Abraham heard that word; he picked up his family and moved to the promised land. By his faith in the promise, Abraham was justified by God.
And Sarah his wife, hearing the promise, had faith and was justified. She was given a son, who became the father of the tribes of Israel, so that from Sarah and Abraham came the promised Savior generations later.
You can’t have faith by having faith. Faith doesn’t cling to itself. Faith clings to an object and won’t let go. Faith holds onto gifts from God. Faith holds onto the promise; that’s why faith is sure and certain.
Faith that’s something I work on and measure and try to strengthen, something strong one day and weak the next—that’s not faith. It’s just an emotion or feeling—not faith.
The Holy Spirit breathes faith into you and me.
He does it by the Word of Gospel, by the word of Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of our sin. The Holy Spirit creates faith in us by giving us Baptism to cling to, by having us eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus, so that though we don’t see him, we bodily receive him in the eating and drinking, and by faith in that Body and Blood, we are justified.
Faith is always in the Word of promise.
So we see things with our eyes. We see sickness, we see fear; we see despair, we see our own sin, we see friendships broken, we see the brokenness in our own lives, but this is of our sinful flesh; it’s not of faith.
Faith clings to that which is not seen. Faith is in the Word of Christ Jesus crucified, the Word of Gospel, of sins forgiven, of justification before God, of the sinner clothed in righteousness, of the conscience cleansed—all by the Word of promise.
God gathers us here today to receive those gifts of faith.
We are here today, in these pews, at this altar, because faith receives gifts.
And the Lord who loves the sinner, gives gifts. Our faith hears the Word of Jesus and holds on to his promise.
In the Name of Jesus.