Wednesday is coming! For students, teachers, and school officials, it marks the beginning of a new school year. Noah has been looking forward to this day since the middle of May when school ended for the Caldwell County Kindergarten. He is ready for school to begin.
Personally, I am ready for a season of normality. I’m also ready to live into our usual family tradition of dropping off Noah at school and quickly running to a restaurant that he will not eat at for breakfast. Suggestions are more than welcome on where we should go Wednesday.
While there is excitement and joy for a new year and the possibilities that it will bring, I cannot help but admit that I have some anxiety about this school year. It is the same anxiety I have felt for several school years and will probably always have. Will Noah receive the care he needs from his teachers and school therapists to thrive? Will other students respect him and recognize that he, too, is a child of God and a person of worth? What will we do if this doesn’t work out?
Those questions weigh heavily on my mind. Even though we have always had a good working relationship with his school, his therapists, and his support systems, I have that fear. Even though I have seen him thrive at every school he has been at and treated with kindness by his peers, I have that fear. Why? Because, as we all do when we are faced with an unknown, we are more focused on the negative possibilities than on what has carried us before and what will lead us moving forward. When life gets difficult, both in our homes and in the life of the church, it is easy to get discouraged, throw up our hands, and say, “I’ve had enough” or “nothing will ever get better.”
Ever feel that way? Maybe that sounds familiar to you with where you are in your faith or the how you see the church this morning? When we come to these moments, what can we do? Should we just give up and say, “Faith shouldn’t be this hard, and it’s hard for me, and I don’t like it, so I quit.” Or should we claim a way that reminds us who we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going?
That is something I want us to think about as we reflect on our passage from Hebrews 11:1-3. It is part of one of the most well-known and well-beloved sections of Scripture in Hebrews 11, where the Preacher of Hebrews offers an oration of the witness of faith.
We’ll talk about what faith is in a moment, but did you notice that I said the Preacher of Hebrews? There is a reason for this. Hebrews is a sermon. We are unsure who wrote it or for what community, but the preacher – some have argued Paul and others, Priscilla – is giving an account about what it means to claim Christ and have access to God through the Jesus Christ.
While we may not know the specific congregation that the Preacher is focused on, we get the sense that this is a community that has experienced some struggles. In Chapter 10, the Preacher describes a church that seems to have given up on their fellowship and coming together for worship. It also seems like they have lost their confidence in God and their witness. This happens still today. It doesn’t happen because the community doesn’t like the music, the sermon, the preacher, or some leadership focus. Those are all excuses we give to protect ourselves. We give up on church, community, each other, and ourselves when we lose sight of what is truly important, what brings us all together in the first place – our faith in God.
Faith, the Preacher of Hebrews said, is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” It is a powerful definition of what it means to have faith. In this understanding, faith is more than just saying “I love Jesus.” It’s about a life being changed as God empowers us to see what we cannot see on our own so that we can claim something bigger than ourselves. Faith is about having a living hope, which is the foundation for our discipleship and life in Christ.
A foundation is what holds a structure together and gives it support. Faith is the assurance of our life in Christ, because it brings us together and enable us to see how God in Christ has fulfilled our greatest hopes. Each moment of promise and expression of hope builds on that foundation, on the life of Christ that strengthens, encourages, and empowers us to be the people of God. The foundation of promise is a life of discipleship where we claim the hope of God through transformed lives, experience God’s love, and are a living witness of hope through our words and actions by God’s guidance.
We need this foundation to hold us together, because it is easy to get discouraged in our walk with Christ. It may come as a shock to many of us, but being a Christian is not easy and is full of challenges. Many times, we buy into the lie that it should come naturally to follow Christ, and that being a Christian means you will never experience any struggle. This belief is why so many people, when they experience difficult moments in their walk with God, are tempted to give up. They might say something like, “If I’m a Christian, then why isn’t God protecting me from what I am dealing with. Shouldn’t it be easier?”
All of us have experienced these moments, and I include myself in that. What holds us together is the foundation of faith that is built upon the moments, interactions, and blessings of God that have carried us forward. They are the glory sightings that give us hope. Many of you have started to experience how I ask for glory sightings. There is a reason that I ask where you have seen God at work. It’s because it is too easy to give lip service that we see God and have experienced God, but don’t always take time to give God thanks for the specific and real moments that encourage us and hold us together in faith.
When I am deeply discouraged, I think back to where I was versus where I am today. You see me as a pastor and a recovering journalist. I see me as someone whose life was going through a tailspin after a failed marriage and financial difficulties. I see someone who knew from an early age he was called to something bigger than himself, but ran from it to focus on his love of writing and sharing another person’s story. I see someone who has always struggled with feeling less than, because of his history of being neglected and abused by his step-father. I see me as someone who, while living in North Carolina, was reached out to by people who encouraged me when I was down, and helped me see there was something deeper in me than what I was able to see in myself. I see someone who came alive through the love of God as witnessed by people who loved me. I see someone who felt a call to ministry, but was unsure God would ever use someone like me. I see someone who fell in love with someone who, on their first date, basically said, “I love you in spite of yourself.” I see someone who was continually encouraged by people to explore God’s call, be willing to fail, and go where God is leading. I see someone who, though he often still struggles to see how God could use someone like him, is held together by the witness of God through difficult and holy moments.
That is my foundation of faith in Christ. Through the years, that foundation has had life built on it by the experiences of life, from raising an autistic child to being the pastor of faithful churches that need to know that God loves them and I do too. When we know where our foundation in Christ is, when we know who we are in Christ, it enables us to live with boldness so we can claim the unseen things of God as if they are happening now in our midst.
The Preacher of Hebrews goes on to describe how person after person in the Scriptures was empowered by God to do what seemed unnecessary, uncommon, or unbelievable in response to their faith in the Lord. They did so because they believed in the unseen promises of God and claimed them as their reality in that moment. Noah was willing to build a huge ark, because in that moment, he believed God’s care for his family and the animals, even though the weather was beautiful. Abraham was willing to leave everything in order to go to an unknown land, because he believed that in that moment God was going to do something new. They were bold in their faith.
God empowers us to be bold because of our foundation formed in Christ’s love. Being bold for Christ out of our foundation in faith means doing what seems unnecessary, uncommon, or unbelievable, because we claim in this moment the hope, love, peace, and joy of the Lord for ourselves, for our community, and for all people.
We are never bold in isolation. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us at Beverly Hills to be bold today. We stand on the foundation of faith of Rev. E.J. Heller and the Christmas Sunday School class at Gallaher School. We stand upon the foundation of faith of Roy Edwards, Lyle Hensley, V.H. Holley, A.F. Tucker, and Claude Watts who put a claim to the future witness of Christ in this place during the Great Depression. We stand on the foundation of faith of the boldness of story after story of people who have said they were willing to do what seemed unnecessary, uncommon, or unbelievable to share the love of Christ with all people.
Those moments, and the moments from our own lives, empower us by the witness of God’s holy love to be bold still today. To claim a faith that is the guiding principle of our life, encouraging us to preach love when we struggle to experience love, grow deeper in our faith in Christ through discipleship when other priorities tell us to focus on them instead, go out to reach new people and make disciples by sharing God’s love and being a witness of love when people say you might as well just give up.
Faith is the foundation that enables us to be bold as a witness of God’s love. It enables us to send our children off to school on Wednesday, knowing that they will learn and grow into the people God has created them to be. It enables us to remember God’s witness of faith in our lives when we are discouraged. It enables us to be bold to do the unnecessary, uncommon, or unbelievable so that all may know the hope and love of God.
My friends, let us stand upon the firm foundation of God’s holy love and let us be bold in our witness of God. Let us do this because God is with us, and God is empowering us to be a people who are bold in their faith.