“Let go of the plane”
I wonder if you have ever felt like the man depicted on the front of our bulletin today. He’s outside an airplane with his face pressed to a window, looking very much like he wants back IN the plane.
There’s a story that’s told about a man such as this. He was airborne on a small private plane, a plane whose engines had stopped working. This man—the pilot, the only person on board—knew that if he went down with the aircraft his chances of survival were not good. So he decided to exit the plane. But he couldn’t bring himself to jump, to let go of the plane. That’s when the man yelled, “Is anybody there? God, if you exist, help me!” Miraculously, a voice boomed from the heavens, “I am the Lord your God. Let go of the plane. All will be well.” At which point the man screamed, “Is there anybody ELSE up there?”
Our second lesson today from the Book of Hebrews was a sermon written for people who were stuck in place like this man outside the plane (metaphorically speaking). They had been ostracized, beaten, persecuted, and even imprisoned because of their choice to follow Christ Jesus. They had expected Jesus to have already returned, and he hadn’t appeared. And they were wavering, seriously wavering, in their faith. They wanted back on the plane, even though the plane was going down.
The intent of this passage from Hebrews was to point people in the right direction, to turn them around, to help them to “let go of the plane.” Their old way of life was sure death. They needed to create a new way of life, together, acting in faith to bring about and be the new reality for which they longed.
Like many sermons, there were three points to this ancient message. The first was to ask, “For what do you hope?” We can readily tell what the Hebrews hoped for. THEY wanted God’s Kingdom to come before they died. As in, “Thy Kingdom come NOW, God. Can’t you see that we are DYING here?”
Well, Jesus had promised, promises us, that the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, has “drawn near.” So the Hebrews hoped for God’s Kingdom, God’s reign to come about here on earth.
The second part of the sermon to the Hebrews invoked their faith. In fact, this passage from the Book of Hebrews is the greatest teaching on faith ever given: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Because Christ Jesus promised the very thing for which the Hebrews hoped, we can be certain—100% definite, beyond doubt—that God’s Kingdom will come. Our experience of God is that God always delivers on his promises. Not always on our timeline, mind you, but we can have faith in God because God is faithful. And the way we can live with the ambiguity of the promise in the stretch of time until delivery on the promise come is to have faith.
Notice that we are to have faith in the “promiser,” Christ Jesus, who delivers on his promises. We are to have faith in the promiser, God himself, even if we cannot by ourselves see how the Kingdom is unfolding.
Here’s the tricky part of the sermon to the Hebrews: the preacher gave a whole bunch of examples about people in the past who acted on their faith in God and whose actions brought their hope into reality. The reason this is tricky is that our lesson today omits all but one of the sermon’s examples. We hear only about Abraham, whose actions, by faith, brought about the very things that God had promised him. There is an action component to faith.
For good measure, to be sure that we don’t miss the point, our lectionary paired our first reading with the lesson on faith preached to the Hebrews. Our first lesson tells us that Abraham believed God, and God counted Abraham’s belief “as righteousness.” How did Abraham “believe God?” By acting on what God told him to do.
Here’s the audacious part of the sermon to the Hebrews: the preacher reminded them that Abraham died without knowing the full measure of how God’s promise had been fulfilled. In other words, when Abraham died he had a couple of children. This was a great miracle, given that Abraham and his wife were childless and very old. But Abraham didn’t actually live to see the billions of descendants who have come from his acting in faith on God’s promise. This, our ancient preacher said, is true faith: believing so completely in God’s promise that we don’t even need to see the end results here in this life to be sure that God will keep his word.
What about us, today? What do you hope for our Resurrection community? Do you hope for a new building? A huge choir? An overflowing Sunday School? Has God actually promised us these things? Or do you hope for grace so abundant flowing from God through us, collectively, that we change our community, change our diocese, and change our world?
We really do channel this river of grace that we have been given here at Church of the Resurrection, you know. When we act on this grace that we have been given, we literally rock our world. If you don’t believe me, look in my office, which is crammed full of backpacks and back-to-school supplies that we will be blessing next Sunday and then giving away.
What about you, personally? For what do YOU hope for yourself? Do you hope for a graceful death, eventually, when your life force will end after having made a difference in our world? Or do you hope that you will live on in a new way, in a new place, where all of God’s promises are fulfilled?
Have faith—the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Let go of the plane!