"Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)
I still remember hearing those words quoted to me by an elderly colleague. I was not even thirty yet, and hadn't been ordained but a few years. He was in his late seventies, and had been serving the Lord for longer then I had been alive. The context was over some crisis in the parish or another. I find it remarkable that I can't remember the crisis, but that I do remember his response.
Marking and reciting that line from the eleventh chapter of the letter to the Hebrews did something to the moment we were sharing. It was an offering of assurance that this would not be the end of us or the world and that faith and God would, in fact, see us through. It was an assertion of the ascendant primacy of our God, who was, is, and always would be at the helm of both the Church and our lives. It was an affirmation that while we couldn't do it all, fix it all, achieve it all, we could by faith bear with it all long enough to allow God's will to work through us and to improve the situation. It also lowered the blood pressure of a very young man who in striving to serve God was struggling with patience and forbearance. As I said in the earlier paragraph: I don't remember the crisis, but I do remember his guiding response.
With so much of life being caught up in the rush to get somewhere, and to achieve something, there is no small amount of consolation to be found in today's readings. Even in Jeremiah's doom and gloom burden of prophecies to proclaim against a corrupt Judah and Jerusalem, there is a faith-trigger in the testimony of God's continuing and steadfast desire for us. As well, there is continuing testimony that no matter how bad it gets (and it does get very bad, very soon for God's people on their way into exile), God is promising a return. God is promising restoration. God is promising.
When we are willing to embrace that promise, then it is reckoned to us as it was to Abraham and Sarah and all the others who have gone before us: as righteousness. Righteousness is not something that we are able to achieve or arrive at without that little line noted above...."by faith." Not by belief, that is something we can make and foster as a human device, but by faith. As above, it "is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."
That elder priest's reminder to me in a moment of consternation sticks with me today and continues to instruct my life and ministry. It teaches me, continually, to measure out a few pulse beats between event and reaction, to allow myself to acknowledge God's presence in both the moment and in all those present. When I put that lesson into practice, the most dire crises and the most profound conflicts seem to dial down into something that is at the least manageable, and even eminently survivable. When I forget that lesson, well....all hell tends to break loose in me and around me.
God willing, I will be able to keep that lesson active in my life and ministry as the grey hairs multiply on my brow and in my beard. Perhaps, when I have served longer as priest to the Church than as not, as my colleague had, I might also have the chance to hand on what was given to me that day...the practical memory that our forebears gifted to us in this little, powerful reminder that God really can do infinitely more through us than we can ever ask or imagine. All we have to do to close that "deal" is offer our assent to our Creator and thus allow faith to bloom, over and over again in our lives and in the lives of generations yet to come.