Hebrews 11:1-16, 12:1,2
The Meaning of Faith
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.
The Examples of Abel, Enoch, and Noah
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.
The Faith of Abraham
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. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
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.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
In 1956, when Castlehill Church was built, the Church of Scotland was experiencing a surge in membership with 1.3 million members.
As time went on, through the 60s and into the 70s, that declined.
The church's mission, then, in the 60s and 70s was about inviting the lapsed to come back to worship.
Most folk then knew something of what the Church was about.
They had grown up with the faith and language of the Church.
And then that began to change - a change that continues today.
The culture and community that we serve is so very different from those early days.
No longer is mission about bringing folk back.
We serve generations that have never been here.
So we can't sit around and wait for folk to rediscover church.
Rather, we are called to go into our communities and live out our faith.
And that's not a task that belongs to the minister, or the elders, is a task for all of us to be engaged in.
Each of us answering the call to serve God wherever we find ourselves every day.
With our worship and our gatherings week by week equipping and resourcing us to go and be disciples, at home, at school, at work, at play.
That is part of what my new job will entail, helping folk recover confidence in speaking of their faith.
Supporting ministers who are so busy just keeping the organisation running to carve out time to be creative, to re-engage with their communities and equip others to do that too.
In some ways it's an audacious project.
In other ways it is very simple.
And it's only one strand in a whole tangle of initiatives that the Church is engaging in: Not to bring people back to church, but to BE church in the communities we serve.
The landscape has changed.
And so must the Church.
No matter how commendable our history may be, it is still history.
We cherish our stories of the building of this sanctuary.
Of the hard work and fundraising.
Of the joy and the fellowship of those days.
Of engaging the steadily growing community in the houses being newly built all around.
Of the extra chairs having to be brought into the hall church.
Of the two services that had to be held on a Sunday to accommodate everyone.
Of the 6 double decker buses required to take folks on the Sunday School picnic.
Of the corridors being lined with prams while the young women's group met.
These are wonderful stories that I've loved hearing.
And it's been a real privilege to become a part of that story of the people of faith in this place today.
In ministry here, I've learned the importance and value of stories.
There's nothing like a story to bring folk together.
We identify with stories.
We see ourselves in them and, often, we become a part of them.
The wonderful thing about stories, especially in Scotland, is that they grow arms and legs, they are continually changing, bits being added, details being enhanced, kept alive for new listeners and story tellers and participants.
I love the thought that we journey on with these stories to retell, to pass on, to become part of them.
And, as we share our stories and look towards the plans that God has for writing the next chapter, we do that knowing that we stand in a great line of those, some of whom were exemplary, others who were shocking but all of whom were prepared to take a risk, to immerse themselves in God's story and see where the journey took them.
This is how vv 39 and 40 read in the Message:
Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.
We are part of the story of the people of faith down through the ages.
We stand in that great continuous line with saints like Abel, Enoch and Noah, with Abraham and Sarah, with Isaac and Jacob, the list goes on and we could add to that list many of the saints we have known who have filed these pews that we now occupy, and they're not all dead.
Their story is our story.
But we are also being enabled to co-author with God a new story, maybe the kindle or ebook edition, the version that our children will read as the journey of faith moves on, from romance to mystery, to crime, to adventure. God turns the page and invites us to write.
When we look back at the journey of God's people through the ages, as they escaped from Egypt, as they wandered through the wilderness, as they entered they Promised Land, as they anointed prophets and priests and kings, even as they endured exile in foreign lands, the people of God did things to mark their transition.
They built wells and cairns and sacred altars.
Memorials to which they could point to tell their story, memorials that would stand as testament for generations yet unborn.
These were not only memorials but transition tokens.
We all know that change is hard but even harder is the journey through change - transition
Jesus knew that as he prepared to leave his disciples.
So he set up a memorial.
The sacrament that we will share today.
The sacrament by which we will remember him.
That sacrament unites us with all the saints in heaven and on earth.
And that sacrament commissions us anew to go and tell the story, living out faith wherever we find ourselves in our communities today.
This sacrament invites us to co-author with God the next chapter of the story of all the saints of God.
How exciting is that, to be part of an old, old story that is being newly written every day?
We walk by faith and not by sight. (Music)
We will stand as children of the promise,
We will fix our eyes on Him, our soul's reward.
Till the race is finished and the work is done,
We'll walk by faith and not by sight.
Thanks be to God.