Hebrews 11:1-3 CEB
Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see. The elders in the past were approved because they showed faith.
By faith we understand that the universe has been created by a word from God so that the visible came into existence from the invisible.
“Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart.” What a thing to ask! Our hymn invites us to sing out a request to our God to see things as God sees. Our scripture helps us grasp the enormity of this request, for Hebrews reminds us that “we understand that the universe has been created by a word from God so that the visible came into existence from the invisible.” Usually, when we talk about this verse from Hebrews we relate it to believing in God, but today, these words remind us to trust a God who can craft something out of nothing. Now, we are asking to have God’s sight, to see things that do not even exist yet, and once we see them, can we do anything less than make them a reality?
“Be Thou My Vision,” stands out as one of the older hymns in our hymnal, written sometime in the 5th or 6th century. It’s been attributed to the famous missionary to the Irish, St. Patrick, and to “the writer St. Dallan Forgaill.” Even that far back in our Christian history, we had this idea that our sight, our vision, was not enough to see all that God perceives. Even earlier in our history, the Apostle Paul acknowledges that “‘we see only a reflection, as in a mirror, [we] know only in part’” (1 Corinthians 13:12 NRSV). It takes something more than ourselves to correct our skewed vision. Luckily, God has given us the prescription lenses we need. Again turning to Paul, he later comments, “‘From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view’” (2 Corinthians 5:16 NRSV). We see everything “through the lens that is Jesus’ life, cross, and resurrection.” This new perspective changes us, and it will change how we see our neighbors and the world if we are willing to look.
If we rely on our own eyes, what do we see? The human body isn’t much to look at, it's awkward and frail. Even with the best of modern medicine and the most fervent of prayer, it eventually fails us. Our human society isn’t any better. Even with technological advancements, social and political liberties, and the unparalleled ability we possess today to connect with folks near and far, our world is so off-balance and vulnerable today. After all, the 20th century alone saw more death and destruction, with greater efficiency, than any previous century of human history. The repeated horrors of the World Wars, widespread systematic repression, and human cruelty led many across the globe to abandon faith in God altogether after what they saw. Who could blame them?
Our eyes alone are not enough. The author of Hebrews understood this, and so gave us this gem of a quote about faith. As I said before, these verses are often cited as talking about believing in Christ and God, often directed toward non-believers, but in reality, they are talking about “trust in God and God’s promises.” Hebrews is not addressed to people on the fence about believing in Jesus, it is addressed to Christians looking for assurance, and that is what these verses offer them. Even the word faith itself comes from the Latin, fides, meaning to trust. The audience of Hebrews has suffered for their faith, that is what they have seen in this life, so the author directs their attention to what cannot be seen. God's promises cannot initially be seen in the present moment, but Hebrews reminds its audience and us that we worship a God that has a reputation for bringing anything into existence from nothing at all. To have faith is not only to believe in Christ but to trust and have confidence in God’s assurances, in particular, God’s promise to love us. In fact, Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, believed that the “highest degree of faith was coupled with such assurance of God’s love that a person was completely filled with love in return.” God tells us that God will make those divine visions real, even when they seem foolish in comparison to everything we see with our own eyes around us. We are asked to have trust in God’s eyes, not our own.
When we look at the second stanza of today’s hymn, we see this reflected in that first line, “Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word.” What is wisdom? Is it simply knowledge? The ancient world certainly didn’t think so, for them, wisdom was the means of pursuing and cultivating a good life, a happy life. Not good and happy the way we think of it today, for that often involves material wealth and well-being. Rather, a good life is a flourishing one, because you are living out what it means to be human; one Greek philosopher, Aristotle put it “as the ultimate purpose of human beings.” Our purpose defined by the Christ lens is to be one with our God, one with the divine mind and the divine heart, and so to be fully who God made us to be. We become a person capable of being so filled with divine love that we reflect it in return, that’s what it means for us to flourish.
We trust in what God shows us, no matter how impossible it seems, and pursue it because it puts a bit more of God’s love back into the world. This renewed sight reminds us that you and I are both stamped as “divine image bearers.” Now, all of this might seem a little out there, but let me put it to you in a more concrete way. For instance, why are there public hospitals, public schools, equal voting rights, food banks, and social welfare programs? You really don’t have to go back that far before they don’t exist in our human history, so why do they exist now? As I said, this desire to have God’s vision is very ancient, and there are those who receive God’s sight and trust in what they see. Look around, many colleges and universities came from church schools. Many hospitals were founded by religious organizations, including part of what is today Billings Clinic. The abolition movement and the civil rights movement were heavily influenced by Christians and the visions of freedom and equality God showed them. In our own community, and in communities across the nation there are food banks, shelters, and soup kitchens which sprang into being as people trusted in God’s vision of a world without hunger or need. People had confidence in what God revealed and brought into being with God the foolish and impossible.
“Be Thou My Vision” constantly references light, always attributing it to God’s presence, evening calling it “bright heaven’s Sun!” in the third stanza. We see dimly and darkly, but God is light. Do not trust your own eyes, but trust in God’s vision. You will see neighbor, enemy, nation, and world through the eyes of a God who loved what he saw so much he gave his own life for you and for me. Christ gave his life so we might see the vision of God’s promise in the lives of people all around us and across the globe, a promise of a people restored to the “Ruler of all.” Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman