The RCL Committee must have been full of Atlanta Braves fans, what with their affinity for “chopping” up pericopes (Pause for laughter). Plenty of pixels have been spilled pondering the peculiarity of the way this Sunday’s Luke lesson is broken up. Verses 32-34 are more likely the end of Jesus’ previous statement than they are the introduction to the first half of Jesus’ warning about his second coming that will actually be read. This morning, as I read the Hebrews lesson again, I noticed a short phrase that makes no sense based on the way the RCL chopped up the lesson.
“All of these died in faith without having received the promises…” All of who? Only Abraham is cited as an example of faith in the pericope assigned for Sunday. For Track Two congregations, this makes sense as the famous case of Abraham’s faith and God “reckoning it as righteousness” will be read. Still, when the Hebrews lesson is read, it just doesn’t seem to make much sense. “All of these…” doesn’t have any direct antecedents. So, who are these masked faithful chopped out of the Sunday lectionary?
Hebrews 11:4-7 4 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. 5 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.” 6 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. 7 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.
These examples of faith prove difficult for the preacher: Abel is killed by Cain because of that acceptable sacrifice; Enoch is mentioned only in passing in Genesis and is one of two people who doesn’t die; and Noah celebrated dry land by getting wasted. What about the example of Moses who returned to Egypt based on God’s promise that when he had rescued the Hebrew’s they would worship God on the holy mountain? What about Elijah, the other guy in the Old Testament who didn’t die, who took on the prophets of Ba’al? What about John the Baptist who preached repentance even to King Herod, and it cost him his life?
Maybe the problematic faithful are a better example because they are more like us? Abraham had a hard time trusting in God, so he had a child by Sarah’s handmaid. How many of us have doubted God’s timing and tried to go after something ourselves?
Faith is the assurance for things hoped for the conviction of things unseen, but faith is forged in the fires of doubt. God promises, we doubt, we do it ourselves, we fail, God reiterates his promise, we doubt, we do it ourselves, we fail, God reiterates his promise yet again, and maybe this time we have faith to wait it out and let God see it through (or maybe it is the 5th, 25th, or 105th time). Maybe these difficult examples of faithfulness are good for us to follow.