Hebrews 11:1-16 (Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14—Series C)
“Faith: The Foundation of Hope”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
August 11, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Epistle lesson recorded in Hebrews 11:
1Now faith is the basis of things hoped for, the conviction of things that we do not see. 2For because of this, the people of old were attested by God. 3By faith we understand that the universe stands created by the utterance of God, so that what is seen has come to be from things that are invisible. 4By faith, Abel offered a better sacrifice to God than Cain through which he was attested to be righteous, for God bears witness about his gifts, and through this, even though he has died, he still speaks. 5By faith Enoch was taken up so that he did not see death, and he was not found because God had taken him up. For before he was taken up, he stands attested as being well-pleasing to God. 6Now without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing to him. For anyone who comes near to God must believe that he is and that he is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him. 7By faith Noah, having been instructed by divine revelation about things not yet seen, acting with proper reverence, built an ark for the salvation of his household, through which he condemned the world and became an heir of righteousness that is based on faith. 8By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go to a place which he was about to receive as an inheritance, and he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he lived as a stranger in the land of promise, as in foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob who were fellow heirs of the same promise. 10For he was expecting the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith he also, when he was with infertile Sarah, received power for procreation, even past the normal age, since he considered that he who promised was faithful. 12Therefore, also from one man, and him as good as dead, were begotten as many as the stars of the sky and as the innumerable sand along the seashore. 13In faith all these died, not obtaining the things promised but seeing and welcoming them from a distance and confessing that they were strangers and sojourners on the earth. 14For they showed by speaking like this that they were seeking a homeland. 15And if they, on the one hand, were remembering the one which they had left, they would have had an opportunity to return. 16But, on the other hand, now they desire a better homeland, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
What is faith? Martin Luther, in a 1544 sermon on the story of the centurion in Capernaum from John 4, preached, “It is the peculiar nature of faith to deal with, and to believe, that which is as yet not present. For what is present need not be believed; one feels and sees it. When a rich man, who has money and possessions in great plenty, believes that he will not die of hunger during the year, this is not called faith. But that man is really a believer who, without anything in hand, nevertheless clings to God’s Word, convinced that as a Father God will supply him with sustenance as long as he keeps himself in the fear of God and attends to his calling. And such a faith cannot fail; for it is based on the Word of God.” What is faith? “Now faith is the basis of things hoped for, the conviction of things that we do not see.”
What does this mean? To begin with, faith is not based on visible phenomena. Faith’s foundation is God’s Word, which is His call to receive an inheritance from Him as His chosen heirs. Like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob of old, we are not looking forward to an inheritance in this land, on this earth, but a better, heavenly homeland, indeed, a brand-new creation for the whole people of God with faith in Christ Jesus. Faith, then, is confidence in God and in His promises that depends on God’s faithfulness in fulfilling His promises through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
One of the things we learned this past week at Vacation Bible School is that God keeps His Word. Unlike you and me, who often fail to keep our promises, God does not. We lie; we speak half-truths; we change our minds and go back on our words. God does not. We learned from 2 Samuel 7:28, “And now O Lord GOD, You are God, and Your words are true.” God promised a Savior from sin, the seed of the woman who would crush the head of that snake, the devil. God promised a Savior, THE descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who would bring people as numerous as the stars in the sky into the kingdom of God. And God kept His promise. God has kept every promise He has ever made! So, Paul writes with confidence, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1Cor. 1:9).
It is faith that provides the foundation of hope in Him that you and I have as God’s people. God keeps His promises; that is true. Jesus is the Savior, true God who took upon Himself human flesh, to a live a perfect life in our place according to God’s Word, to suffer death in our place, which was our punishment, and to rise again from the dead, assuring us that we have complete forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The gift of faith in Christ given to you and me in Baptism orients us not only to God’s present “daily bread,” but also to His future provisions for us, the good things He has in store for us in the world to come.
We spoke a little last Sunday about God’s good gifts to us, our “daily bread.” As we review our Small Catechism on the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, daily bread includes “everything that belongs to the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, field, cattle, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious servants, pious and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.” In addition to all these good gifts, God the Father credits us with Christ’s righteousness and grants us forgiveness for the sake of the merits of Jesus’ death and resurrection. By faith in God’s good promises in Jesus, you and I can be sure that God is now well-pleased with us, even as He was with Enoch of old. We are confident that He is well-pleased with our offerings as He was with those given by Abel. We are counted righteous in the sight of God. We are forgiven. And where there is forgiveness, there is also eternal life and salvation. These are the good gifts God grants to us today in His Word and Sacraments.
By faith we see God’s gracious presence with us and His gifts for us in the Divine Service—forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, the strengthening of our faith—through the power of His Word. By faith we have access to God’s gracious, hidden presence and His heavenly gifts to us in Christ. Here in the Divine Service, we come near to God in faith, confident that He is here for us to find in Word and Baptism and Supper, and that He furnishes us and all who draw near to Him in Christ with His good gifts of salvation. But that’s not all. We also have a hope and a future (Jer. 29:11).
The writer to the Hebrews has said, “In faith [Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob] died, not obtaining the things promised but seeing and welcoming them from a distance and confessing that they were strangers and sojourners on the earth. For they showed by speaking like this that they were seeking a homeland. And if they, on the one hand, were remembering the one which they had left, they would have had an opportunity to return. But, on the other hand, now they desire a better homeland, that is, a heavenly one.” The orientation of our holy, Christian faith turns our lives as God’s people into a pilgrimage, a journey from our temporary earthly places of residence to God’s holy place. In fact, it is both a weekly journey in the Divine Service and a lifelong journey to the Lord’s heavenly sanctuary. One hymnwriter said it this way, “I’m but a stranger here, Heav’n is my home” (LSB 748:1). Paul Gerhardt, one of the Lutheran pastors and great hymnwriters in the time following Luther’s death, wrote in his hymn, “A Pilgrim and a Stranger,”
A pilgrim and a stranger, I journey here below;
Far distant is my country, The home to which I go.
Here I must toil and travail, Oft weary and opprest;
But there my God shall lead me To everlasting rest.
There I shall dwell forever, No more a parting guest.
With all Thy blood-bought children In everlasting rest,
The pilgrim toils forgotten, The pilgrim conflicts o’er,
All earthly griefs behind me, Eternal joys before. (TLH 586:1, 7).
Faith in God’s promises provides us reliable evidence of these things that are still unseen to us. Faith shows us our place of heavenly rest, our eternal home in a new heaven and a new earth. This is hidden from human eyes, and yet, God shows it to us in His Word. By His Word, as He did for Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, God reveals to His faithful people what is not seen and convinces them, and us, that these unseen things are more real than the physical realities in this world, like land and material possessions. Just as the orientation of a compass gives concrete proof of a bipolar magnetic field in this world, so the life of faith is visible evidence of the nature, presence, and activity of the living God. He made the universe by the power of His Word. He still takes care of the universe He created. And yet, by faith, we “look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come” (Nicene Creed).
As believers in Jesus by faith, you and I live in two worlds at the same time. We live in this visible, physical world, that will one day pass away when Jesus comes again in glory. But we also live in the invisible, spiritual world that surrounds us on all sides and remains forever. So we live by faith and not by sight even in this visible world. We look forward with hope and joy to the inheritance that Christ won for us with His death and resurrection. You and I are possessors of an eternal inheritance from God with a secure place in God’s heavenly homeland. We have a new creation to look forward to, a safe home with the one, Triune God forever, along with a great reward of heavenly possessions.
“Faith is the basis of things hoped for, the conviction of things that we do not see.” You have life from God both now and forever. Forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, eternal salvation—they are God’s gifts to you through Jesus by faith. Look forward in this holy faith with hope toward the joys of a heavenly home and a new creation. And enjoy the foretaste of that eternal Feast here in the Divine Service. Amen.
 Ewald M. Plass, ed. What Luther Says (St. Louis: Concordia, 1959), 466.
 Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 335.
 Much of the content of this sermon is based on the wisdom and insights from Rev. Dr. John Kleinig’s commentary, Hebrews, in the Concordia Commentary Series (St. Louis: Concordia, 2017) especially pages 571-573.