Focus - Week One: Faith Unseen
Today we are launching a brand new sermon series entitled "Focus."
We can’t see Jesus with our eyes. But we can grow in our faith when we focus on who Jesus is and what He’s done.
When we take a closer look, we learn to trust in what we CAN’T see because of what we CAN see.
The first month of Focus will be all about getting to know who Jesus is to us, and the second month will be all about showing Jesus to others.
Today we'll be talking about the idea of whether seeing is believing... and more importantly, what constitutes "seeing" when it comes to our faith in Christ.
Seeing is believing---is that really true?
I'm going to show you some examples of photos that people thought were real, and then sent all around the inter-webs, thereby pantsing themselves publicly.
Let me ask you a question. How has this happened to you in your life? Has there ever been a moment when you began to wonder if what you believed to be true about your faith... about God... about Christianity... was wrong?
Have you ever wondered if all of the things that you say about how Jesus is alive, and present, and with us... might be wrong? Or at least you wonder if Jesus is around, then what the heck is he doing?
Many of us have been wondering that very thing over the past several months, and probably now more than ever. Especially when we see so many people who claim to be Christians doing and saying things that are absolutely antithetical to anything that Jesus said... and there are no repercussions.
Sometimes I wish that Jesus would just appear next to some of these people, introduce himself and then kick them repeatedly in the backside with the same leg he used to bust up the money-changers tables in the Temple.
What do we do when we feel like we can't trust what we see?
It can challenge our faith. It can create false dichotomies, which means we start struggling with the idea of mystery, and we want desperately to have something concrete, something tangible, something that makes sense, and that we can explain.
Here's the thing. It is a mystery. We won't know everything, and why would we? It would mess you up to know everything. But here's what we can know. Jesus might be hidden in the world... But Jesus is always hiding in plain sight.
YOU CAN KNOW JESUS EVEN THOUGH YOU CAN'T SEE JESUS.
Our guide for today comes to us from the New Testament book of Hebrews 11:1-2; 13-16. This is commonly known as the "Faith Chapter" in the NT, as you will soon see.
Interestingly, there's a lot of scholarship that suggests that the writer of Hebrews may very well have been a woman. I'm not an expert on linguistics, ancient epistolary writing and the like, but I find it interesting that those kinds of people think this is a possibility.
Let's take a look at this passage:
11 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.Another translation of those verses says that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The author is connecting to a new audience of believers who never walked with Jesus.
These followers struggled to hold on to their faith because they were being asked to follow a ghost, essentially---a HOLY Ghost more like, come on!
But still, it would have been super convenient for the leaders of the early church who had actually seen the risen Christ have Jesus just show up and make an appearance again.
Instead, the author shifts the conversation to the ancients from the very stories of the Jewish people themselves. Basically saying, these people had less of a reason to have faith than you, and yet they allowed themselves to be led.
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.I love the line, "If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had an opportunity to return." But they looked forward in faith. They believed there was a better world even though they had never seen it, and honestly never would see it completely.
And the writer goes on to make the case that all of this connects back to Jesus--who was the bringer of that country, that kingdom that they sought.
What the writer was wanting her readers to know was this:
When you can't believe your own eyes--you need something else to move you forward--and that something else is the desire for the kingdom in all of us...
The kingdom that Jesus initiated... the kingdom that Jesus embodied... the kingdom that Jesus reminded his followers over and over again was all around them, in them and through them.
Jesus taught that the kingdom he was bringing was already present and that the signs of the kingdom are everywhere---even in us.
Let's get back to our original question. So how do we know Jesus when we can't see Jesus? How do we connect with that desire for the kingdom so much so that we are willing to trust, to move, to act and believe?
First, we need to open the eyes of our hearts. It's not just a late 90s praise song. It's an actual thing.
You see, our lenses are cloudy. The lenses we see the world through... the lenses we see one another through... The lenses we use to try to see Jesus in the world through... they are clouded by all of our filters.
We filter the way we see through politics... through religion... through our social worldview... through our biases, our hurts, fears, and anxieties as well as our own perceived needs and wants.
Second, you will know it when you see it. Once you get rid of all of your unhelpful filters, you will know when you are seeing Jesus at work bringing the kingdom.
This is what the writer of Hebrews is lifting up. The kingdom---the Jesus in you--will surely recognize Jesus bringing the kingdom in the world. Like calls to like. Deep calls to deep. You know this. It's in you to know this. You just don't know you know it.
The events of this past couple of weeks have shaken us all. We have all had a hard time seeing Jesus bring the kingdom in the midst of all of the tragedy, anger, sorrow, and violence.
Some of our nation's leaders have not made it any easier, sadly.
And as sure as Jesus is present in the crucifixion moments of the needless loss of life that has been a part of this whole national tragedy... Jesus is also present in the holy anger that has burned in so many of our hearts at the evil of injustice.
It feels like that finally... at long last we are taking off our filters and seeing more clearly. And we are realizing we have known this all along. And when you know better, you do better to quote Maya Angelou.
Let me show you some images where Christ is also present.
Beloved, the kingdom is breaking through. And we are without excuse if we are not willing to be led toward it. Once you see it, you can't unsee it. Once you experience it you can't stay where you are.
And listen, even if in our own lifetimes we are not able to see the kingdom fully realized, the shalom of God on earth as it is in heaven... we need to believe and move and continue seeking the Christ at work, and go there and join Him.
Because you can know Jesus even though you can't see Jesus.