Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Second Sunday in Lent (Reminiscere) + March 17, 2019
Text: Genesis 32:23-33
In Hebrews 11, the Apostle defines what faith is: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation.” (Hebrews 11:1-2). We don’t see God, but we believe on account of His Word. We see the world as it is, not as God first made it, and not as it will be.
But that’s a hard road to walk, because while we believe the world belongs to God, and so do our own lives, we see so much evidence to the contrary.
Take for instance Jacob in the Old Testament lesson. Jacob wrestled with the God who had made great promises to Him, but at the moment, he was going into tremendous danger, toward his brother Esau. He lived between the reality of what he knew and what God had told him. Earlier in chapter 32, Jacob prays,
“O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’” (Genesis 32:9-12)
That’s how it is for us as well, because our faith is often in conflict with the observable facts (and our perception of those facts).
In the First Article of the Creed, we confess God to be the one who has gifted us with life and limb, and He is the provider for all that we need in this body and life. However, isn’t it a major occupation of ours to second guess that truth? When we see someone who lacks in these first article gifts, we think, Hey God, what about them? As when we see the riches of food and medical care for us, but people in other corners who barely scrape by or have to go without.
When things aren’t given to us (and maybe to someone else instead)—or worse what we have is taken from us—then we can be indignant toward God and doubt His sovereign rule and boundless love.
But living by faith is not first about what our eyes see, but what we believe from the Word of God: “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time; You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:16-17) In light of this truth, when we see people who have been robbed or cheated of what they need to live, that’s when Christians are called upon to intervene with acts of charity. Yes, the world is full of examples which preach against the truth that God provides. That’s why Jesus says, “that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” (Matt. 5:16) because in providing for those in need and those abandoned, you’re setting right the Father’s provision and mercy, in spite of the evil that’s befallen them.
The Second Article is even more about faith. We’re taught by Scripture to believe that we are lost and condemned persons, that sin and death are blights upon creation and ourselves. But day after day, we’re indoctrinated with the idea that people are sophisticated animals. If there is morality, it’s only because people before us have taught us to think that way. And if that’s the case, we can live however we want—do what we want as long as it’s not illegal (and we don’t get caught), think whatever we want (unless our own quest for personal improvement tells us otherwise), say whatever comes to mind (unless we care how it would affect others). This narrative considers religious people to be an oddity, surely not the work of anything supernatural. They must just be infatuated with tradition and mystic thought. This existence without objective sin and accountability, without a solid answer to the meaning of death, leaves people empty.
Whenever we come together as the Church in such a world, it is for sanctuary, for refreshment in what is true. We gather around the Word of the Lord because only He can see us and the world we live in without the fog of human and demonic deceit. So, enter sanctuary with Him and say, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.”
By faith, we don’t only believe that we are sinners, failures, condemned to die. We believe in Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, who has redeemed us from the slavery of sin and the hopeless march toward the grave. With His holy, precious blood, He has purchased us to belong to God—out of this rotting world—and given us a hope and a future. The Father does not condone the evils we have done, yet He has mercy on us by counting the righteous life of Jesus for us, so before the unseen God, we are counted innocent and blessed.
We also believe that this salvation isn’t just at work in us, but all over the world. Now, granted, the world is a big place to imagine, so when we hear St. John say, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2), it’s a little hazy. But this matters to us because of the part of the world God has put us in—our family, our friends, the community we live in. When we see apathy toward God’s Word, ungodly living, people missing from the pews, it’s a painful challenge to us. When we hear discouraging news from around the country—that all the major protestant churches are seeing declines in membership—we can start to doubt the effectiveness of God’s Word in people’s hearts.
But hoping against temporal facts and experience is what faith does. When Jesus says that not even the gates of hell shall prevail against the Church and the confession of His Name, that’s the truth that endures in spite of people’s fickle hearts and membership trends. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel…in the same way, He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” And this is why the Church in every place does well to pin their hope and trust firmly in the means of grace—the Word of God, Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. This is how God has promised His Spirit is at work and His Kingdom will come, so this is where our faith relies on Him to accomplish it.
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is the assurance and conviction in what God has spoken, and His Word endures forever. But faith does one more thing: It holds God to His Word. That’s what Jacob was doing as he wrestled with God, and that’s what the Canaanite woman was doing with Jesus. In spite the immediate facts, these examples of faith held God accountable to His Word.
So, as we move though
this temporal life, this world that is not as God made it and not what it will
one Day be, we cling to God and keep
on Him to do what He says He will, today and to eternity. That’s the basis for prayer, which we will
hear more about next Lord’s Day. Amen.
 Isaiah 40:8