Sermon – Pentecost 9 – August 11, 2019
Hebrews 11:1-16 ‘Everything in Nothing’
CT: God’s works with nothing filling the void in our hearts with His gift of faith allowing us to live now in His kingdom with the certainty of His word of promise.
Intro: The children are being too quiet. Yes, there is such a thing! So the mother asks, “What are you doing?” And the answer comes back, “Nothing, mom, nothing!” There isn’t a parent in the world that is going to believe that. What child is ever up to nothing? And as adults, we too have trouble with nothing. Nothing in the fridge (who put the empty milk container back in the fridge?); nothing to pay the bills with; nothing to do; nothing the doctors can do about your cancer. What can you do with nothing?
God and nothing: God, on the other hand, is very good at working with nothing. “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” In other words; God created everything out of nothing; He spoke the world into existence. And we have trouble with that because it is out of the reach of our reason; we can’t prove it. And that makes faith a blurry subject, because can’t see it. You cannot seize faith for yourself. You can’t make yourself believe; faith is God’s work in you. God works in the empty, hostile, sceptical void of your heart.
Our Difficulty: During VBS this year I used an illustration of the sun and the earth with a beach ball at one end of the church and this tiny ball at this end. That’s the reality of our galaxy never mind the universe in which we are no more than a speck. Yet the Psalmist wrote: “When I look at the heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” (Psalm 8:3 ff) The stars at night can overwhelm with a sense of smallness. But the Psalmist goes on to say that yes, we are the children of Adam, the children of dust, but to us God has given dominion over the works of His hands! Are you aware of God’s care and provision for you? That you, who on the scale of the universe are nothing, matter so much to Him that He gave His Son into death for you? More important, do you believe that. This is where Jesus goes when He asked His disciples to consider the ravens and lilies of the field. God feeds them and clothes them, so how much more will He watch over and care for you. Do you live like that is true?
Our Nothingness: God treats us as the very crown of His creation, even though our sin has distanced us from Him on an even greater scale than the distance between the earth and the sun. So talk about nothing! We are unable to please God and we are born that way. Our best and most righteous of deeds are but filthy rags before God (cf Isaiah 64:6). We are powerless to flee from the devil’s temptations and cannot break death’s sway over us any more than we jump over the smoke stack on the paper mill. We go at life with everything we have trying to turn nothing into something, yet we have absolutely nothing that would commend us before God. The news tells me of all the gun violence in Canada and the US where people treat other people as if their lives were nothing and there seems to be nothing anyone can do about it. All the laws in the world do not change people; they need a change of heart. It’s one of those tough things that this pastor has had to learn. I don’t change people; God does.
Face to face with our nothingness we become anxious and worried, yet all of our fretting can not add a single hour to our lives. In fact it does more harm than good! But Jesus’ statement: “You of little faith!” is telling. Faith makes the difference; it takes away fear! “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Faith turns our nothing into hope; faith gives you the certainty of things not seen.
Abraham’s Faith: Abraham and Sarah were faced with f their emptiness. God’s promise of an inheritance, “the land of promise,” brought about their obedience to go where God led them, but what good is an empty land; a land without promise? The reality was they were old and childless. What could God possibly do with nothing? And so God invited Abraham to number the stars and Sarah “considered Him faithful who had promised.” And they died not seeing the completion of God’s promises (the innumerable children, living in the land as their own, or the promise of the blessing to all families of the world), and the Bible is honest about how they lived as sinners in a sinful world clinging by faith to God’s word of promise.
God and Your Nothingness: And in the midst of your nothingness, God calls you to faith by the powerful work of His Gospel; how Jesus, “though we was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing.” (Philippians 2:6 ff) Jesus emptied Himself of all of His heavenly glory to take on the form of servant and for your sake became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Jesus hung bloodied and dying on a cross where the passers by, the religious leaders, and the soldiers scorned Him as nothing. “He helped others; He can’t help Himself!” He died as someone to be tossed as nothing. His disciples had their hopes for the renewal of Israel reduced to nothing. But what did God do with His grave when all was reduced to nothing? He rose for you! You are forgiven for Jesus’ sake! You have the promise of your Baptism that you have been made alive in Christ. God’s Word of promise creates and sustains His life-giving gift of faith in you; faith that works itself out in love, (cf Galatians 5:6) because it is a living gift; it is Christ at work in you. As Luther has said, “Good works necessarily follow faith.” Obedience follows faith and faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. (cf Romans 10:17) Jesus’ promise of the Kingdom and His demonstration of that Kingdom of grace on the cross is yours now, and yet we wait for its completion. It is that word of promise that bestows faith and faith opens you and me up to obey God’s command to love one another as He has loved us, storing up eternal treasures in heaven. When I think of heavenly treasures I know it’s not things, but rather what God treasures; you – His people!
Yet while the kingdom of glory still waits to be revealed, hidden to the world, Jesus’ kingdom of grace is made visible in the way He forgives you and works through you. By faith we live and die in the certainty that comes through faith in God’s promise of more; His power to fill your nothing with His everything—even life everlasting!