We’re not sure who wrote the book of Hebrews…but we know it was written to early Jewish Christians, facing persecution. It was a dark time for these believers…many were afraid and discouraged by the violence and hatred around them. And the author writes to encourage them..that they might live with hope and not despair. And so he reminds them of the faithful ones who have gone before them. “Remember Abraham and Sara”, he writes, “who set out from Ur, the place of their birth…believing God had a plan for them in a new land… believing God had a future filled with promise for them and for their descendants. They left everything behind… they travelled to a far country…trusting that God would be faithful. They lived in tents…as outsiders trying to make their way in a strange culture. But after many, many years — well into their old age — they were still childless. Yet, they refused to give up on God’s promise. And God did provide a child in their old age. A miracle. But still…it was only one child. And by the end of their lifetime, they could easily count their descendants on only one hand. The fulfillment of God’s promise was a long way off…but still, they trusted the God who said they would be as countless as the stars.
Abraham and Sara lived by faith. They lived trusting God, despite the circumstances of their life. They lived with hope, in the face of a reality that appeared hopeless…because they were convinced that God was indeed the architect and builder of all creation…and they had nothing to fear. God could be trusted…in life and in death.”
These words…this morning, are for us. This faith, my friends, is the faith we share. It is the reason we gather. This morning we come together to greet the promises of God from a distance…to place our trust in God, despite the circumstances of our lives. To light our lamps with hope and joy and love…so that we are not taken in by those who would persuade us to despair.
It is such an old game to see only the ugliness in our world and in our lives. Going back as far as we can in our record of human history…we find those who are assured that things are so bad, the end of the world is surely near. You can read it on a tablet from the Assyrians of Mesopotamia, over 4500 years old…or in today’s paper. People who are so discouraged by the things going on around them, that they are ready to throw their hands up and give up on the world…give up on life — circle the wagons, and wait for the end.
But the Word that God returns with, over and over…throughout that same history…is “do not be afraid”. Do not be afraid. That was God’s word to Abraham. That was Jesus’ word to his disciples. That is the word for us. Do not be afraid. Do not give up. Live with hope. Trust the promise. Fear has always been the enemy. Fear makes us lock our doors and shut up our hearts. Fear makes us anxious and worried about tomorrow. Fear makes us look at others with distrust and breeds hatred and violence. FDR was right…we have nothing to fear but fear itself. God’s word forever…is do NOT fear. Perfect love, John says, casts out all fear. (I John 4:18) God’s perfect love for you…for this world…means fear is meaningless. “Do not be afraid, little flock”. Jesus says… Keep loving. Keep giving. Keep living. Keep reaching out to others. Keep your light lit…Let your light shine. God’s promises can be trusted.
When we are washed in God’s water at baptism…the charge we are given is “Let your light so shine before others that they may glorify your father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) In baptism, we are numbered among those stars…those descendents of Abraham…who share a faith in the God who calls us out of our comfort zones…to live courageously in the world. We are the children of Abraham and Sarah…encouraged, against all odds, in the face of a world that does not yet reflect God’s kingdom…to still live with joy and hope and love. To be a light in the world.
And you are…you ARE…God’s light in this world. God’s stars shining in the night.
Today…with deep gratitude…we give thanks for the many ways Hazel and Tom’s lights have shown so brightly in this community – welcoming and working, teaching and encouraging, serving and sharing. But each of you, in every act of kindness…in every way you have sought to help, to comfort, to support others…in every courageous and tenacious way you have continued to reach out and lift up those who have been overcome by the darkness…in every act of mercy and grace …you have been a light for others. A light in the darkness…blazing with hope.
What’s fascinating to me…is that sometimes, we are the light even when we do not realize it. Like Van Gogh…whose life-long battle with mental illness often left him overcome by darkness …yet who, by simply using the gifts within himself… brought light and beauty to a world in the future he could not possibly foresee. By doing what we can…even in the midst of a chaotic world…we put light into the world that God can use in spectacular ways in a future we only greet from a distance.
God’s light shines in the darkness…even in our own personal darkness…and the world cannot overcome it. (John 1:5) That is the promise. And that is who we are. That is what the church is. That is how the children of God are meant to live in the world. We live by faith in the promise of God. We can live without fear. Lamps blazing. Generous, hopeful and open to the world around us.
We live, not bent over in despair but with arms spread open to greet the future…because it is God’s future….and God can be trusted. God, the architect and builder of the earth and of all creation, can be trusted. Indeed …God is good. All the time. All the time. God is good.