Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
We Walk by Faith
If we ever question the relevancy or the accessibility or the resonance of scripture, we are confronted with the words of Paul, the Apostle: “We walk by faith, not by sight.”
Ancient words, ever true.
“We walk by faith, not by sight.” By faith, we awaken to face a new day, each day. By faith, we accept a new job, a new challenge; we follow our true vocation, our genuine calling. By faith, we invest our time and money and love in others – in our spouses, our children, our grandchildren. By faith we uproot ourselves and our family in order to move to a new city, a new state, a new country in order to start anew. By faith we walk away from a broken relationship. By faith, we live and speak our truth to an unwelcoming audience. By faith we endure surgeries, cancer treatments, treatment for addiction. By faith we send ourselves, our sons, daughters, fathers, uncles to war. We walk by faith, not sight. We don’t walk by the known vision captured with our eyes in the present moment but by the hope cast forth from our hearts into an unknown future.
If we ever question the relevancy or the accessibility or the resonance of the Biblical narrative, we are confronted with the story of Abraham, evoked in the letter to the Hebrew Christians: By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to an unfamiliar land/By faith Abraham stayed in a foreign land/by faith Abraham looked with hope upon his new home in a new land/By faith he received the blessing of children/By faith he lived, by faith he walked, by faith he died, by faith he saw and received the promises of God.
So, two thousand years later we humbly gather on a side lawn, against the choir of church bells ringing and birds chirping and by faith we worship, trusting that here we will find joy in belonging and meaning in relationship with God and with others.
Yet, as we gather (by faith) and worship (by faith), humbly on a side lawn as cars drive past, as runners run on, as walkers walk on we wonder, “Do we live in an age of faith?”
The endeavor of unpacking my office this past week and loading old books onto new shelves became an all-afternoon event as I took it as an opportunity to open those old books I had purchased years ago for a paper I had to write, or perhaps they were simply recommended or written by a favorite professor. Those that particularly caught my attention, both then and now, contain religious theory, books filled with attempts to explain, or explain away in some cases, the origins of religious belief.
Religious historians maintain that patterns of religion are often cyclical. If we were to test this theory, bear with me here, and if we were to begin roughly 500 years ago with the Middle Ages, we would begin in a hundred-year period of history known as an Age of Faith, where intense belief reigned and religion permeated every aspect of society and culture – where the architecture of Gothic cathedrals blossomed through the building of Chartres and Reims and Westminster Abby.
Then, if we fast-forward 100 years we find ourselves in the midst of the Reformation, an Age of Revelation, when Christians broke open the boundaries placed upon scriptural interpretation and questioned the authority of the Church. The following century brought with it the Age of Enlightenment, with John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and others arguing for the power of the mind in critiquing religion and for the place of science and reason alongside religious experience. All notions that gave way to the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.
This past Thursday, as I sat in my office and sifted through my long lost volumes on religious history and theory, the phone rang. I answered. An unfamiliar voice greeted me on the other end. A man. A pastor, he said of a United Church of Christ congregation in Lisbon, New York, a small town in northern New York, on the Canadian border. “Is this the church John Adams would have attended?” he asked, “I’m reading David McCullough’s book and it mentions First Parish Braintree, but I know his home is in Quincy. Is Braintree Quincy? Is Quincy Braintree?” He asked, a bit confused then I explained, “Yes, you have the right church. No Braintree is not Quincy. Yes, Quincy is Braintree…or was Braintree.”
Across cities, and states, rivers and lakes, mountains and farms, and as it turns out, across generations, we connected, the two of us, through the ministry and congregationalism; through our common walk by faith not by sight. He’s working on a dissertation wherein he maintains that the signers of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams among them, were heavily influenced by congregational polity and ideals…our congregational tradition a product of the Age of Enlightenment. Our democracy the product, at least, in part of congregational ideals.
Journeying forward we come to the twentieth century, to what has been called the Age of Experience, as the prosperity gospel flourished mid-century, and then toward the end charismatic faiths and the mega church phenomenon exploded and modern Americans looked to experience religion through reaping its immediate benefits of wealth and security, answered prayers and healing.
When we arrive at the present moment, in the first stages of the 21st century, religious historians anticipate that we are rounding the bend on the cycle that would propel us back to an Age of Faith where intense belief reigns. Sociologist Peter Berger, whose books sit among those on my shelf, who studies and teaches at our very own Boston University is one who has challenged the “secularization theory” that religion will wane as modernity advances. Instead, he actually puts forth today the world is “as furiously religious as it ever was, and in some places more so than ever.” There is much talk in popular religious circles about how America is approaching a new awakening in religious commitment.
Faith – Revelation – Reason – Experience - Faith
What if we are, now at this moment, as a people, as a society on the cusp of reclaiming a great faith, what if we are on the verge of clinging to a vigorous hope and trust in the good promises of God once again? Do we have faith enough to believe this? Intensely? Do we have faith enough to let go of what has been and allow a new age of religion to take shape for us? And truly allow it to heal the divisions among us, as a church, as a society, as a people of the human race?
I believe that in this historical moment that champions freedom and independence and self-fulfillment, our brothers and sisters/neighbors, our society as a whole here in New England are beginning to wonder: “Is this all there is to life? What’s missing? Why do I feel so empty when I have all of this stuff that’s supposed to fill me up?”
When we have nothing left to cling to, we come to faith. When we are down and out, we come to faith. When all else fails, we come to faith. In our lowest, weakest, most desperate moment, we come to faith. It’s the human way. Is it so hard to believe that we, as a society, have arrived at such a moment?
When the hemorrhaging woman pressed through the crowds to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak, he turns to her and promises, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace” (Lk 8:48, Mt 9:22).
When Jesus healed ten lepers but only one praised God in thanksgiving, Jesus says to the one man out of ten, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well” (Lk 17:19).
When Barimaeus, poor and blind, sitting along the Jericho road would not cease calling out and praising Jesus as he walked by, Jesus says to him, “Go; your faith has made you well” (Mk 10: 52)
We walk by faith. And sometimes life works out as we feel it should. The hemorrhaging stops. Sight is restored. Children are born. The treatment works, the job is a success, the move brings unexpected joy. At other times, the outcome is not as we feel it should be. But, for Jesus, the healing does not come by way of things working out “right,” but by way of the faith we cultivate and exhibit through our trials.
If we, as a community of faith committed to Christ, remain so – faithful and committed - through this moment of transition in the life of our congregation and in the history of our society, God’s promise will not fail. We will be healed, touched by the grace and compassion of Jesus. We will be made whole by faith, by our assurance of things hoped for and our conviction of things unseen.
We don’t walk by the known vision captured with our eyes in the present moment but by the hope cast forth from our hearts into an unknown future.
~Rev. Leanne Walt
 Smith, Michael W. “Ancient Words”
 Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume III (328).