Sermon: January 29, 2017 – “Faith to Take the Next Step”

“Faith to Take the Next Step”

Text: Hebrews 11: 1, 8-9

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.

I think I have mentioned before that while I was growing up I spent a number of summers at a campground just west of Boulder, Colorado. My dad was going to summer school at the University of Colorado in Boulder in pursuit of his PhD in physics. For about 5 or 6 summers in a row various members of the family spent the summer at this wonderful campground. It was called Eldorado Springs, and later, after we stopped going there, it became a State Park, called Eldorado Canyon State Park. It is still a great place.

When I was about 9 or 10 a couple of bicyclists came through Eldorado and spent a few days camping there. I was enthralled. Not only had these two guys arrived on bikes from California, they were the coolest guys ever. If I remember right, their names were even cool; they were Brady and Derrick and they had ridden their road bikes all the way from California. They showed me their bikes; they showed me their packs that went on the bikes; they showed me their nylon tents and down sleeping bags that rolled up into practically nothing and they showed me how everything they needed for an extended camping trip they could carry on their bikes. This made an impression on me that was indescribable. I decided that summer that I was also going to get a road bike and that I was also going on an extended trip of some kind.

When I returned home for school that fall I began to research where I might find a bicycle like the one I had seen. There wasn’t even a bike shop in LeMars, Iowa and so the only place to look that was handy was the Sears & Roebuck catalog. I looked up a bicycle in the catalog, but the one I thought I wanted just had a description, but no photo to go along with it. There was a photo of a slightly less expensive and probably more popular bike along with a description of that bike in the catalog and then under that was another entry, and the description of the bike began by saying it was similar to the photo above, but it had some significant differences. A few of those differences were very important to me and I knew what they were and what they meant. One item that was in the description was center-pull handbrakes, I wanted that and knew what it was; another item in the description was 27 inch alloy wheels, I knew what that was and wanted that as well. The description of the bike in the catalog also said it was made in Austria, which I considered to be a good thing, and it had an alloy frame, which meant it was lightweight and that also was very important. The last item in the description said “color” and there was a colon after the word color, and then it said magenta.

What? Magenta? What color is magenta? I wasn’t at all certain about this magenta business.

Now, it is important that you understand I had been looking at this catalog for well over a year. Almost every day I would go get it and read the description and dream about the day I would have enough money to actually place this order. I had been working a paper route delivering papers for over a year as well. On Saturday morning, once a month, I would go to the local newspaper office and settle my account. Then I would take a dollar or maybe a $1.50 out of my earnings for spending money and I would put the rest in a savings account-usually it was about 5 or 6 dollars for a month’s work of delivering papers.  The bicycle I had become fixated on in the Sears & Roebuck catalog cost $80; at $5 a month, it would have taken me 16 months to get there. If I remember right, there were a few snowstorms where I earned some extra money shoveling snow, some birthday money, and a few things here and there, so I managed to be ready to order the bike after about one year of working and saving. But I still wasn’t at all sure about this magenta thing.

I had asked my parents and almost everyone I knew what color magenta was. Some said it was purple; I couldn’t be seen on a purple bike. I had visions of purple fairies and unicorns and so on painted on the bike along with the magenta color. Others said it was more like a wine color, or burgundy. I looked up magenta in the dictionary. I would find other photos of things and bring them to my parents and ask, is this magenta, how about this one, or is it this one?

To order a bike from Sears with $80 of your own money that you have been working for a year trying to save and not know for sure what color it is going to be was a step of faith. For almost a year I had been asking almost everyone I met on the street what color magenta was and no seemed to know for sure. But I ordered it anyway. Magenta was a great color for this bike; it was awesome.

Of course now, with the internet and digital photos and just information overload everywhere you look, the idea of ordering something without an accurate photo can seem really absurd. But in LeMars, Iowa in what was probably 1967 or 1968 that was the fact of the matter. You ordered from Sears on the basis of a written description; a few things had actual photos, many of them black & white, and an even fewer number of items had color pictures. At least I was spared the frustration of having the bike I wanted listed with the color as magenta, along with a black & white photo.

I am taking a little time with this story because I remember it so well. And it was really hard for me to withdraw that $80 from my savings account and order that bike. I’m very glad I did and it was a great bike and I have tons of great memories and I did take my extended camping trip and it’s all good. But it was still hard before I knew any of what I know now.

So can you imagine what it felt like for Abraham? Look again at the text I read a few minutes ago from Hebrews:  

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.

Abraham took off for a land that he didn’t even know where it was. He set out without knowing where he was going; he set out without a single picture of the land, he set without even a written description of the land. And when Abraham set out, it wasn’t just $80 worth; it was everything. It was his whole life. It was his family, it was all of his belongings, it was all of his animals, it was everything he owned and everyone he cared about. Abraham went all in for a place he knew nothing about. I don’t think he even knew what color it was. And I was worried about magenta.

You know, as I look at life today, it seems we can find out about almost anything. We can Google almost anything and get a description and a picture and it will probably be in color and high-definition. There are fewer and fewer things that simply require faith.

But what if you were called on to take a step of faith? Do we have the spiritual tools to discern what a step of faith looks like? Do we have the spiritual discipline to calm our anxiety and overcome our fears? Do we have the courage, the resolve, the spiritual maturity required to take the next step when our faith calls us forward? In this time of so much certainty, so much information, so many sources, do we have the faith to take the next step when all the information we really have is our faith? Do we have the faith to trust and believe even when perhaps our information says we should not?

There have been a few times in my life when I stepped out in faith. Even though not every time I did so turned out exactly like I had planned, I’m still glad I did. Far and away the most common outcome has been beyond my wildest imaginations; almost always, when I step out in faith, the world and the universe responds.  And I know I was the only kid in LeMars, Iowa with a 10-speed road bike that was magenta!

Go in peace, and go in faith. Amen.

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