This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning. The second reading, which I focused on, was Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16. Another focus was the spiritual gift of “Faith.”
Faith. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. That’s what the author of Hebrews wrote. The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Look up on a cloudless day, and you can see the sun. It doesn’t take faith to believe the sun is there. You can see it. Look into someone’s eyes. It doesn’t take faith to believe there’s a person in front of you. You can see them. But does Christ live within that person? That takes faith. You can’t prove that. You can’t see that. You can only believe that through faith. Sometimes faith is easy, and sometimes it’s hard.
In some ways, I find it easy to have faith. I have faith that God exists. I have never seen God. I’ve never had a vision like some people describe. But I have faith that God is there. And that faith is strong.
And I have faith in grace, which is God’s love freely given. I have faith that God loves every single one of you, and not just in some abstract way, like “God loves everyone.” I have faith that God loves you, exactly who you are. That Jesus died for you, exactly who you are. That you are accepted by God, that you are loved and forgiven and called by God, exactly who you are. That you don’t have to do a thing to earn it. I have never seen that grace. I have no proof that it’s true. But I have faith in it. And that faith is strong.
The faith I have in God and in God’s grace isn’t something I’ve done or earned. That faith itself is a gift from God, so I suppose that means that I have the Spiritual Gift of Faith. I’m blessed that way, I suppose. I guess.
You see, there’s the rub. There’s where my faith falters, every time. There’s where my doubts come in, every time. I don’t have faith that God loves and forgives and calls me. Does God love you? Yes. No question, no doubt. But me? I just don’t know.
And I know that that is nonsense. How can I believe that God loves and forgives and calls every one of you, but not me? It makes no sense. It’s irrational. But that’s faith for you. I have faith that God loves you, and I will proclaim that with my dying breath. And I mean it. God’s grace is astonishing. I don’t care who you are, what you’ve done, even if I don’t feel that I can love you, I will tell you that God loves you. That God has depths of forgiveness and love far deeper than my own, far deeper than anyone’s. God loves and forgives and calls you. But say the same about myself?
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. And I will tell you, I don’t have that assurance, that conviction about God’s feelings toward me. And maybe that’s why it is so important to me that I tell you how much God loves you. Because I don’t want you to feel the way I sometimes do. I don’t want you to have the same doubts I do. And also because I know that the times when I do believe it, the times when I do have faith that God loves me, those are times when I hear it from other people. Like the time when a seminary classmate of mine forgave me for something insensitive and hurtful I had done years earlier. I felt God’s forgiveness in that moment. I felt grace. Like the time I arrived at the courthouse at just the right time for someone in need. She hugged me in tears, saying, “I’m so glad you’re here.” I felt God’s calling in that moment. I felt grace.
I know from experience that the moments when I do experience God’s grace, the moments when I actually do believe in God’s grace for me, are moments when other people show it to me. And maybe that’s why I talk about God’s grace so often with you. Because I want you to hear it over and over and over again. God loves you. God forgives you. And God calls you to make a difference. I want you to hear that, just in case you’re like me.
And maybe that’s also why I feel so strongly about publicly proclaiming a welcoming statement to a group of people who have been told by others that God doesn’t love them. Why I feel so strongly, and why it gets me so worked up, and why I sometimes go too far talking about it. Maybe it’s because I have a voice inside me that tells me that God doesn’t love me. A voice that tells me that God’s love is for others. But not for me. And that voice is so strong.
I really hesitated to preach this today. I really hesitated to tell you this. Because nobody wants a pastor who needs to be coddled. Nobody wants a pastor whose faith is so weak that he needs other people to tell him God loves him. But it’s the truth. I don’t know…maybe it’s like a heart surgeon who needs surgery. I don’t care how good a surgeon you are, you need someone else to repair your own heart.
Am I making a mistake in preaching this? Quite possibly. But I wonder, I just wonder, if maybe it is good to preach this today. Because I wonder, I just wonder, how many of you can relate to this. I wonder if one or two or twelve or maybe even all of you know what it’s like to believe that God loves and forgives and calls everyone else, but not you. If you do, then hear me again: God loves you. God forgives you. God calls you.
And maybe we just need to keep telling one another that, and keep finding ways to show one another that.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. I pray that you have the assurance, the conviction, that God loves you. That God forgives you. That God calls you to make a difference. I pray that you have faith in that, and tell others that good news.