Today scripture readings for the liturgy propose what is very important to us. Important because we live in times when the comfort of the "good old days," the surety of "the way things used to be" seem to have melted in the heat of changes that have come upon us. There is no doubt that most of us have lived through days of change in the political system, in our Church's structure and practices, and in the societal practices -- all changes that seem at one time or another to be like the walls of overwhelming tsunamis. So what is St. Paul putting before us in the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 11, verses 1-2 and 8-19?
It is a consideration of what we call faith. It is that simple yet it is so challenging to understand fully. Paul puts forward the daring of Abraham and Sarah. Here we examine the impetus of their faith. Very few people in our society, in our world, would do what these two models of faith did.
They did not receive a letter in the mail giving them instructions as to their faith journey. No AAA road map. No GPS to guarantee the correct direction ... not even a final destination point. What was it that was driving Abraham and Sara to make their journey? Even for us looking at their history, it can be frightening. Why did they begin their journey? This is hard to believe for modern folks, I believe. They moved out of their comfort zones simply because they heard a voice whispering in their spirits that was telling them to do.
Perhaps many of you share the same experience I did almost four years ago. After experiencing the need for emergency heart surgery and subsequent efforts to return to being a pastor of a moderate sized parish with a grammar school attached, together with my doctors, I was forced to conclude it was time to step away from the pressures of parish leadership. The time to move into retirement when I had always been an active man, a priest assigned to different positions where either my skills or personality were needed, that move was indeed a move somewhat like Abraham's. At least for me it was. I was told that retirement would be a move that would help me keep a refreshed heart going for at least another twenty years according to the heart surgeon who told me he had saved my life. As you can imagine, there have been days when I thought my what had happened to me was a divine joke. How could I slow down? How could I live without being challenged a great tsunami?
Surely my faith has been tested. Indeed there are times when I ask God, "What are you doing with me? What is it I do not see nor understand? Even as these few years of retirement have passed on, I question myself and what God is doing. This is what I have come to believe, to try understanding: I guess that God is not bound to complete his visions, his timetable according to my calendar, my desires, my wants.
There is a a simple sentence that I read recently that has stopped my mind's meanderings in the fields of doubt and wondering. It is this: "God's promises are powerful sure but they can be powerful slow."
St. Paul's words we read or hear today have described faith as the willingness to keep looking forward. Abraham and Sarah did not allow themselves to get stuck in thinking about what they had or the excitement their lives had been. They opted to look ahead. They did not get to see the completion of all that they had hoped during their lifetimes. As they died, they were living not in the present but in the future, the unknown. They ended their earthly lives believing the the best was yet to come. My friends, St. Paul so boldly tell us this is what faith is all about: you keep looking forward.
For those of us who feel that God has called us out onto a journey where the end is not so clearly visible, it is so important that we learn to lean fully in the trust that God is real, that his promises are sure, that his character is pure, depite the reality that there might not be any special delivery letter from "God nor any proof on our earth that our faith is well placed." As people of faith, we must keep walking forward, keep plodding forward, keep looking ahead.