Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and ‘he was not found, because God had taken him.’ For it was attested before he was taken away that ‘he had pleased God.’ And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going…
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac… By faith Isaac invoked blessings for the future on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph…
By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land… By faith the walls of Jericho fell…By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient…
And what more should I say?… Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect.
In September 2019, we moved back into our main church, beautifully remodelled to meet the needs of the 21st century and our wider community. We welcomed new faces, embarked on new ventures, provided a home for other groups to flourish, planned further development, then…coronavirus arrived and the doors shut.
It is said that the way to make God laugh is to tell him our plans! All our previous plans are on hold (in July), but the learning has not stopped. As in congregations across the country, we have found new ways to share our worship, support each other and deliver our message beyond the church walls.
When the doors re-open, there will be no familiar “normal” for the foreseeable future. We will have to adopt new practices and give extra thought to helping those who have lost so much this year.
What we might have lost – and gained – casts a light on this chapter of the letter to the Hebrews. Most of those Jews who had responded to the good news about Jesus still clung to the old ways, steeped in the rigid laws as prescribed by the Pharisees and Sadducees. Paul’s encouragement to spread the gospel to “unclean” Gentiles was just one of many ways in which they felt embattled.
The letter-writer reminded them that their ancestors had one thing in common, and one vital gift to offer – the importance of holding high their faith in God.
Little did they know that in a few years their embryonic church would disappear from Jerusalem after the Roman siege, but that many who escaped would become torchbearers for the gospel to non-Jewish communities they barely knew of before.
We too need to hold on to our faith and promote it with all the tools in our armoury, becoming the torchbearers for Jesus in our time.
When we face change and challenge, Lord, help us to learn valuable lessons from the past; live with confidence and courage in the present, and plan as best we can for the future, knowing you will guide and support us. Amen