By Faith…

Heritage Presbyterian Church

August 11, 2019
9th Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture readings – Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 & Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 &
Luke 12: 35-40

One of the things that many Americans are not very good at is something called “playing the long game.”  This involves planning, usually years in the future, and then doing things right now and over time to make those plans happen effectively.  Many countries around the world have integrated this type of thinking into their everyday life, and they are sometimes eating our lunch when we try to work or negotiate with them.  Americans tend to “play the short game” which means we tend to think ahead only a few days or weeks or possibly months.  

Imagine trying to do business with another country that doesn’t do this – or worse – understands that we do it and then acts accordingly.  Americans “win” the short game by only thinking about what can be won or gained right now.  It looks good when the cameras are rolling and the agreements are signed.  But often, years later, historians and experts look back at these events and shake their heads that we could act in such a short-sighted way.

I think it is the same when it comes to our faith and our actions!

Look at our Scripture readings for today, and you can plainly see what I’m talking about.

Isaiah was the prophet for Judah, the Southern Kingdom that was left alone after the Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered and carried off into captivity by the Assyrians.  Judah had seen this occur, but they were spared. They thought God had spared them because of their great faith.  Isaiah told them for forty years that they were completely wrong…Isaiah was playing the long game.  The people of Judah were playing the short game…why should they change? Everything was fine for them…they had faith.  Why should they listen to this cranky prophet?  In fact, why should they listen to any of the five prophetswho tried to tell them they were wrong? 

Both sides believed they were right, but only Isaiah was acting by faith.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, the author gives a definition of faith that could not possibly fit into anyone’s short game.  Hear again what was written in verse 1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  This reminds us that sometimes short-term gains or short game results won’t work. If they did, would we even need faith that endured for longer than five minutes?

And the example that is held up in today’s reading from Hebrews is the patriarch, Abraham.  Three times the reader is told that Abraham acted “by faith” as he obeyed God.  But what is easy to overlook is the background story of Abraham.  Recall that Abraham was a prosperous man who lived in Haran.  When God told him to leave his home, Abraham was only told that God would lead him “to a land that I will show you.”  That’s not much to go on – especially if you keep reading and see that Abraham took his wife and his brother’s son and all the possessions he could gather.  Abraham was finally led to Canaan, which was not even a safe place for him to be.

But Abraham was playing the long game, and it paid off…

Then there is a famine in Canaan, so God directed Abraham to go to Egypt and reside there as an “alien.”  By the time he gets to the Negeb Desert, Abraham is already “very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.”  So, it would appear that acting by faith paid off for Abraham.

Yet, it all distracts from the main point of today’s lessons: Abraham had everything going for him in Haran.  He had family, he was safe, he was prosperous, he seemed to be already blessed.  But when the Lord told him to go, Abraham acted by faith – and went. He had no immediate short-game wins, and it took a while before he was doing well again.  Abraham’s faith looks very clear to us, but at the time he was taking a huge risk by leaving his homeland and going only where God told him to go.

But it happened…even during a famine…even dwelling as an “alien” in Egypt… even leaving everything behind. Abraham was playing the long game, and he was acting by faith.

Finally, in Luke’s Gospel, we get two very short, very quick parables…just right for those of us with short attention spans.  We like our news in 5-minute bursts.  We like the weather forecast on our phones by the minute.  We like our sports info by scores alone.  If we want more, that takes more of an effort.

So, if we like things quick and to the point – the ultimate short game – then these two parables are perfect for us. They only cover five short verses. (Notice how cleverly I arranged for the liturgist to do both the longer Scripture readings for today…).

First, we are told about the servants waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast.  The short game would be for the servants to get everything ready – and then to take a nap until they hear the master return. Good…but not good enough.

The long game is for the servants to alertly wait for the master’s return, knowing that he might want something immediately, knowing that he would be pleased to see all of them waiting for him – even if it took until the third watch of the night, which is between 2:00 and 6:00 AM…not exactly the best time for waiting.  Jesus reminded believers that he would return unexpectedly, so those who acted by faith and listened to his words would be ready at any time.

If that were not simple enough, Jesus tells one more parable about an owner not knowing when or if a thief would try to break in.  The short game is to lock the doors and windows and don’t worry about it; the long game is to lock the doors and windows but to also be ready at all times in case a thief tries to break in.  Being ready at all times is the long game in this parable.

And being prepared at all times for the Lord’s return is the ultimate way to act by faith!

But what about us, Saints?  How do we avoid just playing the short game and reallyacting by faith?

Let’s start with something simple…would all of you please look at the cover of our order of worship?  Notice the line right under the Heritage logo…it says, “Building a heritage of teaching, loving, and caring.”  That is the mission statement of our church, and it’s been there for many, many years.  I like it because it helps to direct any and all actions that our church may undertake. It guides our planning, both short-term and long-term.

But my favorite part of our mission statement is the very first word: “building.”  That indicates to me that we are always working, always striving, always building.  We are never finished…we continue to move forward.  We might finish a mission project or our stewardship campaigns, or the Advent choir concert, or a sermon series, or even construction of a new church home.  But we should never be done with building our church.  That’s playing the long game, and I truly believe it’s how we should all be working.

If we act by faith, then we will create plans and dreams that won’t be in effect just for ourselves; we will be working for people we don’t even know yet.  That’s playing the long game…that’s acting by faith.

If we act by faith, the money we spend today may change someone’s life year in the future…and we may never know about it!  If you give money to Free the Captives or the Deacons’ Fund or peanut butter and jam for CAM or Undies for Everyone, do you know the individual people who benefit? Probably not…but you do it anyway, and you are most generous.  That’s playing the long game.  That’s acting by faith.

If we come up with ideas for our church, especially if those ideas don’t fit our personal set of preferences, but we know they will help the church reach more people, that is not only playing the long game, that is playing it unselfishly.

That’s acting by faith, Saints!

No one said it was going to be easy. The short game is easy: either it works, or it doesn’t.  You can see the results for yourself.  But it’s difficult to build anything quality and over time if you are only focused on playing the short game.

Acting by faith takes courage, stubbornness, and a firm belief that the Lord is a lot wiser than we are.  It also acknowledges our incompleteness – and God’s faithfulness.  

After all, we cannot see as far as God sees.

We cannot know what God knows.

We cannot understand what God understands.

So maybe we should take care of today and plan for tomorrow… and act by faith in all that we do.