“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.” From the letter to the Hebrews.
The letter to the Hebrews has been read in churches since the second century, and while many of the Fathers attribute it to St. Paul, there have been some doubt that, too. There is no address, or personal greetings like many of the well known Epistles, but the language used suggests the letter was written by a Jewish convert, like St. Paul. The author’s main theme, the priesthood and sacrifice of Jesus (Heb 3–10), is not developed for its own sake, but as a means of restoring their lost fervor and strengthening them in their faith.
The author calls this work a “message of encouragement,” which is the name usually given to a sermon in the synagogue. There is a possibility that this is a transcript of a homily. It could be that the hearers of this sermon were beginning to lose faith. The author reminds them that their ancestors had lived out their faith without failing. From Abel to Abraham, faith carried them through.
The section that was read today deals with faith;
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.
Let me read to you how these verses are presented in the contemporary language of the Message bible:
The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd. Be faith we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.
In other words, this faith is our firm foundation that allows us to believe in what we cannot see, but hope for. Without this hope life is not really worth living. As the Preacher would say, it would be in vain. Without this hope we would see life as working almost all of our lives at a job we may or may not like, spending time with people we may or may not like, and then dying, leaving everything we worked for to our children, whom we may or may not like! That is the lot of the atheist.
Thomas Aquinas said, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”
Rather, the life of a hopeful Christian is spent knowing there is Eternal Life with Christ as his goal. Keep in mind that everyone faces one of two outcomes; Eternal Life or eternal death. Those who die and go before the LORD without the Advocate face judgement on the merits of their lives. I don’t know about you, but I hope the LORD does not weigh my merits, but pardons my offenses, as it were.
St. John wrote this reminder for us:
My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. (1 John 2:1-3)
From our reading of the book of Genesis, we heard this; “The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
What is the very next word in the text? But. Yes, Abraham had his doubts. He was old, and his wife Sarah was old, and he had do direct heir. He was not very sure how it was going to work out. The LORD brought Abraham outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Even though Abraham had his doubts, the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness. In other words, the LORD made the promise to Abraham, and no amount of doubting was going to change things. Abraham listened to the LORD, and followed him.
In the Gospel, Jesus urges his listeners to “be dressed for action.” Oliver Cromwell took that message to heart, and said, “Keep your faith in God, but keep your powder dry.” Even the Boy Scouts of America have the motto, “Be prepared.” Having faith means knowing that being prepared will not be in vain. And how do we get prepared? Jesus said to store up our treasures in heaven.
I refer you again to the words of St. John: “by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments.”
And his commandments are not difficult for us. They are simple and straightforward. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
Have your lamps lit, Jesus said. This is a reference to the Jewish Marriage custom, where the bridesmaids, or the virgins, are awaiting the return of the bridegroom. Remember the parable of the virgins who were wise because they brought extra oil for their lamps in anticipation of the return of the bridegroom. The foolish virgins brought their lamps, but no extra oil, and when the party went into the house, they were locked out.
Then he says something more with a marriage reference; “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.”
So the master will become the servant to those who are ready. So, have your lamps lit, and be ready for the return of the Master. Jesus urges us to “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”