Faith for the Flow

by Ken Dale

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

In the Sunday School I grew up in down in Braintree, Mass., every year third graders were presented with a Bible. It was a big deal because the minister would underline a verse especially for you. I still remember getting mine because it was different ? I didn?t start going to that Sunday School until fourth grade. I switched churches on my own?? not for any theological or ecclesiastical differences ? just wanted to be with my best friend Skip Stubbs. When they gave me my Bible it had a?black cover, the others were red. And they got my name wrong on the presentation page ? I was a new kid, but they put Robert A. Dale instead of Kenneth. And the minister never underlined a verse for me. But when I was serving my first church and started signing Bibles as the pastor I thought it was a good practice to underline a verse.?Trouble was, I had my favorites and the kids discovered it and each year would help each other with where to look. One of my favorites was?Hebrews 11:1 ? Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the?conviction of things not seen.

It?s a very familiar verse but it?s also a very powerful verse. Some translators say the Greek word for ?assurance? actually means ?gives substance to? or ?very being? and the Greek word for ?conviction? actually means ?offers a proving of.? ?So the verse could be read: Faith gives substance to that which is hoped for and offers proof of things not seen. Again a very powerful statement. And a very enabling statement for people facing the difficulties of life?s uncertainty and challenges. Faith gives very being to that which is hoped for and proof of things not seen. I think of a friend who is currently undergoing treatment for serious diagnosis of cancer. Early on I heard the statement I know this is a marathon, not a sprint. But by faith there is the experience of things that could only be hoped for early on, and by faith there is the reality of things not seen. And it makes all the difference in world as the treatments continue. Whatever the outcome of the journey, that faith makes all the difference in the experience of day to day living in both good times and bad.

I don?t know about you, but I had a bit of a struggle with last Sunday?s sermon. It was around the man with the abundance of crops such that he had to build bigger barns and his being blessed. It?s been floating around the back of my mind all week about being blessed, being lucky, and maybe being privileged just because of your place of birth. It was wonderful to read the UCC devotional this morning by Molly Baskette a UCC pastor in Somerville, Mass. She dealt with that exact issue and shared these words: Here’s what I believe: there’s luck, and there’s blessing, and it’s virtually impossible to tell which is which.?(Theres also plain-old privilege, but that’s another devotional!).??S?ince?I can never tell the difference, I hedge my bets and silently thank God for everything good that comes my way, knowing She’ll sort it out. The practice of acknowledging God in good times paves the road so that the bad-times potholes don’t seem so deep or so wide.

?That trust in God is best illustrated in Richard Bach?s story of the little creatures that lived in the bottom of a great crystal river. I?m sure I?ve shared it before ? but it bears repeating. The current of the river swept silently over them all ? young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self. Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks of the river bottom, for clinging was a way of life, and resisting the current what each had learned from birth. But one creature said at last, ?I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the?current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom.? The other creatures laughed and said, ?Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you?tumbled and smashed across the rocks, and you will die quicker than boredom!?

But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks. Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more. And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger cried, ?See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! ?See the Messiah, come to save us all!? And the one carried in the current said, ?I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure. (from Illusions)

Can we take that last line? Replace ?river? with faith ? or with trust in God. Faith delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.

?Faith assures in our personal and communal times of need if we are willing to let go into the current of God?s love. Faith also calls us to let go of being overly self-concerned that we may be of help to others as well. And so we hear the voice of the prophet Isaiah.

Interesting isn?t it? Last week we considered in the parable God finally speaking and hearing God?s first word to someone as being ?you fool.? That?s what the man with the bigger and better barns heard when God spoke. Today I can?t help but think of saying as a parent?(and maybe hearing as a child) ?I love you, but I don?t love what you are?doing.? This morning we hear Isaiah bringing God?s word saying, what to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? I have had enough of your burnt offerings?I do not delight in the blood of bulls?your appointed festivals my soul hates,?when you stretch out your hands, I will hide my face?.I will not listen?.. wash yourselves and make yourselves clean?cease to do evil?..learn to do good.

God is not pleased with the people and we have this image of?God?s parental love. But interlaced with God?s displeasure of the people is direction ? instructions for them: Learn to do good, seek justice,?rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow? And?there is the promise and assurance of a better life ? though your sins?are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

That correcting parental love is part of the current of God?s love, and the life of faith ? the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen ? they both comfort and challenge us. Like the creature in Richard Bach?s story, we too sometimes get bounced and bruised in that current ? but faith teaches us that ultimately that current will lift us and carry us and enable us to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. But we first we need to let go of all that we think secures us ? and trust in God?s love for us. In letting go ? we find purpose for our life as a child of God. ?As Joan Chittister writes: The purpose of life is to do something with others, for others, and because of others that makes the world a better place to be because each of us has been there.

So may it be for us all.??? Amen.