Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16
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.
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. By 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. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
By 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. Therefore 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.” 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, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But 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.
Luke 12: 32-40
‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’
“faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”
We don’t know much about who wrote the letter to the Hebrews, but we presume it was written to Christians with a Jewish heritage, who had questions and concerns – not least because if God has brought salvation in Jesus, if Jesus has overcome sin and death on the cross, then why is the world still not right, and why in particular for the first readers, were they undergoing tribulation and hardship?
We probably feel the same – why is the world not a better place given Christ has conquered on the cross.
The answer that the writer gives may or may not be encouraging but he points us to the centrality of faith – that we can be assured of what we hope for, and we can have a conviction about thing we do not yet see.
He then lists a whole group of faithful people in the Old Testament, who had faith but did not see the fruits or the end of what they strived for.
St Paul brings together faith, hope and love at the end of that well-known passage in 1 Corinthians 13, and he says the greatest of the three is love, Love is the reality – God loves us and calls us to discover this and then live for eternity in that love; faith is believing we are loved and hope is in the future fulfilment, even though it is as yet unseen. Earlier in his letter Paul says:
“eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him”
Jesus, in our gospel passage asks of us that we are eager and waiting for this final time when God will return – an unknown time, maybe in our life-times maybe not. We are like servants who should be excited and expectant for the master’s return, protecting the property from burglars, alert. If that all feels a bit energetic, then we may want to consider to what extent we have an inner peace in our own lives, knowing we are loved by God, an inner security knowing that God holds our future, and so an inner assurance, an anchor for our soul.
St Augustine says our hearts are restless till they find their rest in God. We will only have that rest in God if we know his love for us, if we have that assurance of things hoped for, that conviction of things not seen. That assurance, that conviction, that restedness of our heart is not because we have earned it but because God has given it to us, a gift, signed and sealed in baptism, and offered afresh as it were in the Sacrament of Communion.
Yes life can be a real challenge, we can feel we are struggling in the darkness, but like those Old Testament characters may we find faith and assurance and hope in God. May this passage be an encouragement to us each and all.
Revd Peter Reiss