“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”(Hebrews 11:1)
In the name …
The Youth Convocation ended a week ago Friday.I was dreading the ride home from New Jersey on a summer Friday afternoon.The traffic through New Jersey, New York and Connecticut is almost always going to be busy, but on a summer Friday afternoon it can be ridiculous.So I looked for alternate routes, and I mapped one out that had me travel west when I really wanted to head east, but it then tied me in with the Taconic Parkway so that I could head toward home with probably a lot less traffic and headaches.So by heading west instead of heading right up the coast, I added about 70 extra miles on my trip home that I didn’t have on my trip down to New Jersey.I figured I would be better off driving farther rather than driving slower.I thought I would arrive home around the same time as the kids from Westfield who went right smack through New York City and Connecticut.Instead, they left a little bit earlier than I did, and I was home and unpacked by the time they arrived in Westfield almost a full hour after I had arrived in South Deerfield.They said the traffic and the road construction were horrendous.Stop and go conditions for miles on end.I gambled on the longer ride, and I won.
J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote in the final book of his trilogy The Lord of the Rings that “Not all those who wander are lost.”It took him three wonderful books of wandering to get Frodo to the place where he could finally destroy the ring.For as many battles and wars that had to be fought, for as many temptations and obstacles that had to be overcome, eventually Frodo got to the mountain, to the place he had to be:“Not all those who wander are lost.”
It would be convenient if the shortest and easiest path between two points was always a straight line, but sometimes, like my ride home from New Jersey or Frodo’s journey to the mountain, a little wandering is necessary to eventually bring us to our destination, a little wandering doesn’t necessarily mean that we are lost.
Think back to the message we read in today’s Lesson from the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews.The purpose of the book is to reassure some brand new followers of Christ.They were Jewish people who had come to see Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah, but they were not fully prepared to wait for glory.They had left behind an historical religion of at least 1,500 years.They had left behind a magnificent Temple that was one of the finest buildings in all the Middle East of that time.They had left behind a culture and identity that were well defined.They left all of this for a brand new religion that many in the Roman Empire had never heard of and that many did not understand.There were no ancient traditions in early Christianity, obviously.There were no beautiful buildings.There was no Christian culture as of yet.And because of all this these new followers of Jesus waivered in their faith.They were beginning to wonder if they had made a mistake, and they were beginning to think about turning away from Christ.Their journey to Jesus was a wandering path, and Hebrews was written at that critical juncture where their wandering could lead to being lost or it could lead back to their goal of faith.
It is with this in mind that the Epistle to the Hebrews was written, and it is with this in mind that we read:“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”The inspired author is telling these early converts that even when things look their most difficult and when goals are “not seen,” that faith is still at work drawing them forward.He’s saying that the path may not be straight and well-lit, the path may wander, but it’s still leading to their destination – if they persist, if they trust in faith.And until they get to that point, it is our calling to point toward home.
I can appreciate the fact that for many people coming to Christ is not always the straightest, most obvious path.Many come to Jesus after hardships and disappointments, and the failures of other paths.There are those who once could never see Jesus nor be bothered by even thinking about Him.But somehow their paths can turn back toward home.What worries me, however, is what once worried the author to the Epistle to the Hebrews.When what is hoped for is not seen, we have to rely on the God-given gift of faith, but if that gift is not there, then the wandering isn’t only an out-of-the-way path to our destination, it is just being lost.It’s one thing to head west to get around New York City on a summer’s Friday afternoon, and then head back towards home.But to head away from our destination is also to court the possibility of missing the turn back home, and to then just travel farther and farther away.Faith is the present realization of what we hope to see in the future.Faith is the present evidence of things not yet seen.And this is why faith is a gift from God and only from God.
Finding Christ and Christianity will not always be easy.Sometimes when people cannot see the reality of Jesus still among us or the promise found in His church, there is still the reality that God is reaching out to them, and trying to call out to them, trying to awaken the faith within them.We also can never give-up on God’s persistence.We have to keep hoping and trying with God to share faith with others.Some who wander will wander off, but we have to be a faith-filled people so that our prayers and our example may hopefully bring others back to their destination.And for this we pray in Jesus’ name.Amen.(+)