August 7, 2016: 11th Sunday after Trinity

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE GIVER OF SAVING FAITH!

TEXT: Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

The Olympics are on! Athletes from around the globe are living the moment they have trained years for. Some will win a medal while others will finish last. Both groups tried to do their best. Both groups put untold sweat and tears into their effort. But the fact remains: it’s hard to win the gold.

So, let’s talk about the truly difficult in life. What would you say are the most difficult things to achieve, to master, to attain? Is it hard to be wealthy? Actually, no. Anyone can become wealthy if they have no scruples, no moral compass, and aren’t afraid of getting caught doing something illegal.—That’s why so many sell drugs, or bamboozle the elderly. Is it hard to win an elected office? Again, no.—As long as you’re willing to lie, cheat, steal, and sacrifice your soul for power. As long as you have no sense of right or wrong, you basically can gain almost anything you wish in this life. That’s why dictators arise. They are willing to do anything including killing others to attain power. As long as you have no conscience, laws don’t apply to you. So, you can then reach your goal.

I

Of course, all such behavior is immoral and against God. You know that because you’re a Christian. Being a Christian also means you have to be honest with yourself. God is perfect and demands perfection from us. So, what are the hardest and most difficult things in life that God expects from us? I believe you can reduce them down to 3, or more precisely, two things. They are: faith, love, and forgiveness.

Let’s take forgiveness first. God says: “Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you.” Where did He forgive us and how? You know the answer. He sent His perfect Son to live a life in our place untouched by inner sin. And He sent His Son to die on a cross—touched most intimately by the sins of the entire human race. “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all, and by His wounds we are healed.” Yes, God forgave all our sins in Christ because we cannot forgive ourselves or others—perfectly. I know, someone hurts us emotionally and asks us to forgive them and we say the words. But do we really “let go” of it? Do we really never dwell on it again? You know the answer. Isn’t it wonderful that Christ doesn’t forgive as we do? Our perfect God forgives and forgets. “He remembers our sins no more.” For the blood of Christ has totally washed them away.

Where does forgiveness come from? What’s its causation? The answer is: Love. Love is one of the hardest things in life to attain, to make your own. I’m not talking about human attraction here. I’m talking about perfect, no-holds-barred love which never fails and never gives up loving. Forgiveness is actually an outgrowth of such love. It is: love in action, isn’t it? In fact, you can say that forgiveness is perfect love personified. So, if you say you love another and fail to really forgive them, your love is a sham. Of course, “God is love.” It’s the essential aspect of Who He is. Our love is a pale comparison of His love. Yes, perfect love is impossible to attain on your own.

II

And that brings us to our lesson and the third essential for Christianity: faith. The writer of Hebrews defines true, saving faith this way: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.”

This is a far cry from the human definition of faith. Think about it. Everyone has “faith” in something or someone. When you were a child you had total faith in your parents and what they told you. But, at some point you came to the realization that your parents didn’t always tell you the total truth and your certainty crashed and burned. People have faith in the “almighty dollar.” At least they did when I grew up. But in my youth a dollar bought a dollars worth of “stuff” and now it buys the equivalent of: 5 cents of stuff! So much for that kind of “faith”!

You see, Christian faith is not blind trust. It is not based on emotional attachment or even things that have occurred in our lifetime. Christian faith is: “Being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” God expects and demands this kind of faith from us. It is what saves us. Recall: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” So, faith is a very hard thing to attain. Or is it?

There’s a wonderful passage from St. Paul that all of you should commit to memory. It goes this way: “By grace you are saved through faith, and this not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast.” So, faith is born of God’s grace and it is given by Him to us as a gift. WE don’t grasp it on our own. WE don’t will it into being in our hearts. God graciously, lovingly, bestows it on us. So, if faith is a gift of God and God’s gifts are always perfect, so is our faith, our link to Him!

Our lesson goes on to talk about this connection. It tells us that all the great heroes of Christianity possessed something perfect, faith, and by God’s grace refused to throw it away. They refused to accept the human idea that mankind’s works or efforts could in any way be a contributing cause of their eternal salvation. Abraham possessed such a faith. Jacob and Isaac did too. They all lived their lives not seeking to attain greatness on their own. No, they lived with their eyes fixed on the afterlife, on the glories to come. They had faith in what they could not yet see and certainty of what they longed and hoped for and had heard about from God’s Word. It was all truer to them than the beat of their own hearts.

The Olympics are a celebration of human achievement. As the Russian doping scandal has shown, if you have no ethics or morals, you can even achieve the gold! But God’s gold is all about perfection in everything. That we cannot achieve on our own, no matter how many corners we cut or don’t cut! No, only God has achieved such perfection for us in Christ. And now, through such perfect love He gives us His forgiveness for all our sins which in turn creates faith within our hearts. And it is for this reason alone that: God is not ashamed to be called: our God! Amen