Faith Takes Hold

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL 
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes, Vicar
The Feast of Independence Day
Hebrews 11:8-16
July 4, 2021

The foundational theme of the eleventh chapter in the Letter to the Hebrews is faith in action. From the first verse, the writer defines faith as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. By faith, the writer continues, we are to understand that God prepared the visible world from that which is invisible (vv. 1-3).  While the broad foundational theme is faith in action, the eight verses of the epistle today, within this chapter, focus on the particular faith of Abraham, expressed through his actions. In this context, faith is defined as obedience. Through his obedience to God, Abraham’s invisible faith was activated, and made him an active participant in God’s unfolding promises.

Not knowing his destination, Abraham obeyed God when he was called to set out for the unknown place of his inheritance. This forward movement, made possible by Abraham’s obedience, led him to stay for a time in the foreign land. That promised land would eventually become a place for the generational staying power of Abraham and his not-yet-born progeny. Abraham had journeyed in faith with the conviction of things not seen—faith. While staying in that foreign land, Abraham, “…Looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (v.10).  In anticipation of seeing this city of God, Abraham stayed there with the assurance of things hoped for—again faith. By Abraham’s faith he received power of procreation at the age of 100 with his barren wife Sarah (aged 90). Their son, Isaac, would become heir to God’s promise, as well as his son, Jacob. By Abraham’s faithfulness, descendants were born—the power of faith made manifest.  

These examples of Abraham’s faithfulness certainly show how he took hold of his faith. We see, also, that Abraham’s faith took hold of him. And, as it took hold of him, Abraham’s obedience to God strengthened, thereby deepening his faithfulness.  

Following in the example of faithful Abraham, of whom we descend, our obedience to God’s call must necessarily reflect our trust in God who is faithful to his promises. The ability to walk by faith when our human eyes fall short of sight in the darkness and when our human hearing falls short in the silence, obedience to God’s will makes it possible for us, to put one foot in front of the other, trusting that God is with us in the forward movement as we are guided by his voice and the Light of his Son, Jesus. 

As Jesus’ followers, we are called to reflect the loving, inclusive nature of God. We are challenged to have the courage to look beyond idealistic words, and beyond the idols erected to glorify man, in order to seek the divine Spirit of truth which made the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness conceivable in the first place. In doing so, we may find ourselves in the vulnerable and uncomfortable place of truth, for only there may we, as individuals, and collectively as a nation, confront our sinfulness and acknowledge that we have all fallen short of the glory of God. 

The painful truth is that we cannot, with any authenticity, claim to be one nation under God when we neither reflect the indivisible nature of God, nor obey his commandments. Throughout the life of this nation, God has been calling, and continues to call his children, to leave behind the infirmity of self-imposed brokenness in order to follow him into the land of restored wholeness, promised to us through Christ. Will we obey? The fueling of racial division, the complicity in the slaughter of innocents by gun violence, the apathy for the invisibility of the homeless and the poor, the strengthening of unjust socio-economic structures, and the desire to maintain systemic inequity point to a nation in need of soul healing. 

Recently, I viewed the new four-part Netflix documentary entitled, “High on the Hog: How African-American Cuisine Transformed America.” One episode featured the host interviewing a chef as he gently stirred the carefully selected ingredients in one large cast iron pot heated by fire. With each ingredient added, the chef shared its connection to the history of the African ancestors. They described the meal as soul food, and noted that soul food, for the slaves, was one way of nurturing their strength and fortitude. I suspect that in the sharing of a meal, the slaves would talk, amongst themselves, about their hoped—for liberation—their conviction of freedom not seen. When all of the ingredients were added, the chef turned to the host and said, “You know, we are the only people who named our food after something that is invisible and eternal.” 

The documentary’s title is about the impact of African-American cuisine on the transformation of America. This particular episode, featuring soul food, reminded me of the soul food of the Holy Eucharist—the sacraments of Christ’s body and blood which, by faith, we believe can transform the souls of individuals, and the collective soul of this nation and this world. This powerful soul food, of the Holy Eucharist, points to the invisible and eternal God who invites all to be restored to unity with him, and with each other, in Jesus Christ. 

On this major feast day in the Episcopal Church, we celebrate the independence of our beloved country.  The Church is both reminded, and challenged, to be active in the healing of our nation through social justice interventions and by speaking truth to power when it is risky to do so—and it is always risky. For Jesus, speaking truth to power was deadly. 

If we truly desire eternal life with God now, we must obey God, and we must help to bring about unity in diversity in this world, which reflects the very nature of the trinitarian God—God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. 

Let us take hold of our faith in Christ, and willingly allow our faithfulness to take hold of us, in order to be agents of the Lord’s peace and builders of God’s peaceable kingdom here on earth. By faith, let us trust that God will bring us to the place of our inheritance—God’s heavenly city of eternal life, eternal liberty and eternal joy.