"A, B, C's" of Faith
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
11:1-3; 8-16; 12:1-2
Dear fellow travelers
– we are gathered here in this place this morning
rub shoulders with one another, to share the peace of Christ,
To break bread with one another
And to encourage one another
Along our common journey of faith.
Our gathering here
this morning is for each one of us part of a sojourn;
segment of a much longer journey.
Some of us are more seasoned travelers,
Some of us are novices – just getting started.
But here, in this gathering that we call First Christian Church,
For a few moments or a few months,
For a few years or a few decades,
Our individual faith journeys intersect with one another.
For this moment and for this stretch of the journey, here we are together
Sharing in the journey through what often seems a wilderness,
Surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses –
Myriads of faithful men and women who have
Traveled this road before us,
Myriads of myriads more who will travel
This road in years to come.
As we read of Abraham
and Sarah and those other seasoned travelers
Enumerated throughout Hebrews Chapter 11 –
Abel, Joseph, Moses, Rahab,
Judges, Kings, Prophets,
Countless unnamed women and men –
I wonder how well we relate to them.
Would we dare to include ourselves among the ranks of
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
With regard to our own stumbling faith?
Are these simply lofty ideals to which we ought to aspire,
Knowing full well that we will never achieve
Their level of faith?
Would the Hebrews author, if writing 200 years from now,
Include my name in his list of faith examples?
Would he include your name?
Can we imagine at all that we might be included?
this seem too far-fetched…
as unlikely as the 90 year old wife of a 100 year old
and bearing a child. (Wouldn’t that be the talk of the retirement
How are we to
understand the nature of these faith journeys
of Abraham and Sarah and the others? How can we relate our journey
If we learn anything
from this gathered cloud that surrounds us,
We learn that faith is a journey with God
through a desert of unbelief.
The only thing certain to us about the journey
is the journey itself – the fact that we are on the road
from somewhere to somewhere.
We don’t really know where it begins;
We don’t really know where it ends.
We are simply traveling – often through foreign and hostile territory
Following the lead of an ominous cloud by day
And a pillar of fire by night.
like the experience of living as a resident alien in a foreign country
to help you appreciate the concept of sojourning. You quite
literally do not know where the people, among whom you dwell, are coming
from or where they are going to – even though it is quite natural,
quite routine for them. (And they quite often do not understand
why you don’t get it!)
When Karen and I
moved from Germany to Birmingham, England in 1992, we inherited a book
that looked a lot like a Bible. It was handed on to us from the
staff at Springdale College. This book had obviously been treated
like a Bible. It was worn around the edges, marked up with
favorite ‘passages’ and dog-eared pages, a well-used authority,
entitled “Birmingham A-Z”. (Series of “A-Z” map books to
assist navigation around UK cities.) And we used it faithfully to
navigate the virtual wilderness of Birmingham’s streets and alleys and
passageways to get from point A to point Z and everything in between.
Hebrews Chapter 11 is
often referred to as the “faith chapter” of the Bible – a kind of
A-Z guide about what it means to walk in faith. But I would
suggest that this chapter is not an A-Z guide to faith.
Really, it’s only a B-Y guide (at best!)
And maybe just an L-M guide!
Where does the faith
Where does the faith
experiences of our wilderness-wandering-witnesses do not tell us.
As Heb. 11:39-40 very clearly indicates, these experiences are not
complete. They only point us to the existential nature of our
faith journey as a matter of ‘going with God’
Still, at the same
time, they do not leave us clueless – they ARE, after all, witnesses!
The Hebrews writer
talks about this mass of faith witnesses as a “cloud”.
This is one of the very few times – if not
the only time –
that the word
‘cloud’ (nephos) is employed in ancient Greek literature.
in this metaphorical sense as a crowd of witnesses.
Is this metaphorical
A very quick
concordance study is enough to confirm that whenever the word cloud
appears in the Bible, it is used almost exclusively in connection with
God’s presence and power.
The cloud that descends on
The cloud that leads the
Israelites through the desert
The cloud that envelops the
disciples on the Mt of Transfiguration
The clouds that receive the
risen Jesus into heaven and upon which the Son of Man will return
And I think it is
significant in Hebr. 12 that this reference to the cloud in vs. 1 is
immediately followed in vs. 2 with the reference to Jesus, who is
identified as the ‘pioneer and perfecter of faith’
‘starter and finisher of faith’
Or the instigator and
completer of faith,
Or, to use our language from earlier, the “A-Z of faith”
with everything in between,
Or to translate this into Greek,
Jesus, the Alpha & Omega of faith!
It is Jesus – the
one who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its
shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of God – who
demonstrates clearly the beginning and end of this faith journey.
It is Jesus who
prevents the journey through the desert from degenerating into a
meaningless mish-mash of alphabet soup.
And I think that the
Hebrews writer would suggest to us that Abraham and Noah and Enoch and
Sarah, and Abel and Rahab and all the other ‘martyrs’ of faith
ultimately had their eyes fixed on the one who is the alpha and omega of
In some very real sense,
they were looking at Jesus.
At least they knew
that they were neither the pioneer nor the perfectors of faith.
they had the ability to look beyond their own limited experience
in the midst of a desert of unbelief
and see the one who is the A-Z of faith.
They understood God
as one who traveled with them through the desert,
one who accompanied their every move;
The one who experienced with them hunger and thirst;
The one who suffered with them indignity, shame, torture, death;
understood that God is the one who is victorious over all these things.
This is the God who
accompanied them in the cloud;
and so the Hebrews
writer suggests to us that these faith witnesses
themselves participate in that same, surrounding, abiding, guiding cloud
as men and women who have engaged with God
in a journey of faith.
To engage in the
journey of faith is for these witnesses
a sacramental participation in the life of God;
As the Apostle Paul writes of
these same ancestors in 1 Cor. 10:2-3 “They all were baptized into Moses
in the cloud and in the sea, and all drank the same spiritual drink.
For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock
And this is the point
that I want to make for us today:
To engage with God on
the journey through the desert,
To keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the A-Z of faith,
To lay aside the things that would keep us from this primary focus in
All this means that we too participate in that same, divine, witnessing
Too often we read
this passage about the ‘cloud of witnesses’ and we think of dead
people: Abraham, Isaac, Noah, grandma, grandpa, Dad, etc.
We think of them somewhere up in a heavenly Autzen Stadium cheering us on
as we struggle through the course of our lives out on the playing field.
I have trouble with the whole athletics scenario.
Though this might not
be completely wrong,
it surely is not be the completely right twist on this passage.
There is more to this
‘cloud’ than dead people in the grandstands of a sports arena;
It is God’s own powerful presence among us,
which is revealed both in the lives of those who have gone before
and in the lives of those who are currently en route.
To be surrounded by
this great cloud implies that we are also a part of this great cloud.
You see, the Hebrews
author does include you and me in the catalog of faith martyrs,
alongside Abraham and Sarah, Abel and Rahab, Prophets, Judges &
10:39 “But we are not
among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have
faith and are saved.”
11:3 “By faith we
understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God.”
11:39 “Yet all these
witnesses, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive
what was promised, since god had provided something better so that
they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.”
12:1 “We are
surrounded… let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that
clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is
set before us.”
Bearing witness to
God’s powerful, faithful provision
is not simply something that others do for us.
It is something that we also do for others,
as we journey by faith.
We who are gathered
here in this place today
We are witnesses of God’s faithfulness along a portion of the journey
wilderness of unbelief that we traverse day by day.
We participate in
the proclamation that God accompanies those who dare to entrust the
journey to God.
All of us here, each
in his/her own way, participate in that divine cloud of witness as we
each engage with God in our daily lives.
But no one of us is
No one of us alone is the cloud.
Rather, the pioneer and perfector,
the starter & finisher
the instigator and completer
the alpha and omega of our faith journey
is none other than Jesus.
As we keep our eyes
fixed on him,
we are incorporated into a
where the “l-m-n-o-p’s
& q’s” of our own struggling faith find their orientation in
the alpha and omega
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