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Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-12, 29-12:2

        Before we really get started, I want to teach a song—because what better way is there to hear and share and internalize a message than through song?

        Many of you probably know the spiritual “We’ve Come This Far By Faith,” but just in case some of us don’t, the chorus goes like this:

        You know we’ve come this far by faith
        Leaning on the Lord;
        Trusting in God’s Holy Word,
        God’s never failed us yet.
        Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, can’t turn around,
        We’ve come this far by faith.

        Will you try those last two lines with me?

        Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, can’t turn around,
        We’ve come this far by faith.

        Excellent! Now the first verse goes like this:

        Don’t be discouraged with trouble in your life;
        God will bear your burdens,
        And move all misery and strife.
        That’s why we’ve . . .

        Come this far by faith
        Leaning on the Lord;
        Trusting in God’s Holy Word,
        God’s never failed us yet.
        Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, can’t turn around,
        We’ve come this far by faith.

        Let’s sing those last two lines again:

        Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, can’t turn around,
        We’ve come this far by faith.

        And the second verse:

        Just the other day I heard some people say
        They didn’t believe God’s word.
        I can say the Lord will make a way;
        God’s never failed me yet.
        Thank God we’ve

        Come this far by faith
        Leaning on the Lord;
        Trusting in God’s Holy Word,
        God’s never failed us yet.
        Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, can’t turn around,
        We’ve come this far by faith.

        And once again:

        Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, can’t turn around,
        We’ve come this far by faith.

        Wonderful!

        We’re going to come back to those two lines. We will sing them as a way of remembering how far God’s love and grace and blessing have brought us, how our decisions to trust in God’s faithfulness have taken us to places and situations we could have never even imagined, how our faith and God’s goodness have together created entirely new worlds from things unseen.

        We’re going to talk about faith and sing about some of the ways God has made out of no way because we, much like the original readers of the Letter to the Hebrews, find ourselves in need of a little encouragement. Maybe we haven’t been tortured; surely we haven’t been sawn in two; certainly we haven’t been stoned to death, as some of the ancient Hebrews and early Christians were.

        But, just as surely, our hearts have been broken, our hopes have taken a real beating, and some days our ridiculed, cast-aside, worn-down, and disappointed faith can barely manage to get out of bed and crawl across the floor.

        Because hate-inspired mass shootings and racist statements and policies that dehumanize and demonize immigrants and other people of color. Because children on the border are taken from their parents, and parents in chicken-processing plants are taken from their children. Because climate change and people without homes and health care. Because Toni Morrison will never write another book. Because depression and unemployment and loneliness and getting old.

        Because sometimes we get discouraged—and that makes it hard to hope. Because sometimes it’s hard to believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel or, if there is, that we will ever get there. Because sometimes just getting through the day is such a struggle that we don’t hear the wood thrush calling or appreciate the fireflies, and we don’t notice the child whose hand is reaching for ours. Because sometimes we don’t know who to trust or what to believe or how we can carry on. Because sometimes we’re tempted to give up and inclined  to give in.

        And so we need the structure of a roll call. We need the inspiration that comes from remembering where we came from and how we got here. We need to hear the stories of old struggles and thrilling, unexpected victories. We need to look for signs of God’s ever-present hand, and feel the constant tug of that thread of grace. We need to hear the names of our heroes.

        We who are bombarded by information everywhere we turn need to let ourselves be led toward what is not yet here. We who fear there might be no way out of this mess we’ve made need to put our trust in the One who parted the sea, brought down walls, healed the sick, enlisted the outcasts, loved the untouchables, and raised the dead. We who like to build our lives on what is certain and sure need to learn to embrace uncertainty. We who are surrounded by reasons to fear and warnings to hunker down need the courage to leap in faith.

        So let us consider just a few of the places faith has brought us:

        From the rock bottom of addiction to healing and health.

        So let us sing:

        Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, can’t turn around,
        We’ve come this far by faith.

        From the depths of depression to the capacity to feel joy again.

        Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, can’t turn around,
        We’ve come this far by faith.

        From the dehumanization of slavery to the inhumanity of lynching and the injustice of Jim Crow and segregation to Brown v. Board of Education and the first African American president and the Black Lives Matter movement and talk of reparations even as racism persists.

        Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, can’t turn around,
        We’ve come this far by faith.

        From women as property to women with the vote and agency and choice, to women as equals and pastors and priests, to women who won’t be silenced to the #MeToo movement to the fight for equal pay to multiple women running for president.

        Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, can’t turn around,
        We’ve come this far by faith.

        From shame and fear and abomination and life in the closet and people wearing bags over their heads at Pride to anti-discrimination laws and gays in the military and same-gender marriage as the law of the land and preferred pronouns and the ongoing movement for trans rights and recognition.

        Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, can’t turn around,
        We’ve come this far by faith.

        From rivers on fire and skies thick with toxic exhaust and species and public lands disappearing to cleaner water and air, skies dotted with bald eagles in flight and a growing movement to address the climate crisis that threatens every living thing.

        Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, can’t turn around,
        We’ve come this far by faith.

        From the anguish of infertility and childlessness to the miracle of IVF and the gift of adoption to the shock of love, the fog of sleeplessness, the joy of watching them grow, the relentlessness of parenting, the wonder of getting to know them, and the pain of letting go.

        Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, can’t turn around,
        We’ve come this far by faith.

        From the shock and grief and fog of loss to learning to live again.

        Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, can’t turn around,
        We’ve come this far by faith.

        From an unchanging church of rules and requirements, judgment and exclusion, to a ever-changing church of open hearts and minds and doors and sanctuary, extravagant love, wide-armed welcome, amazing grace, and transformative community, where people listen together for the voice of a still-speaking God.

        Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, can’t turn around,
        We’ve come this far by faith.

        Therefore, beloveds, since we have come so far, let us not give up the struggle now. Since God is not finished with us yet, let’s not stop trusting in God’s power to create what is yet unseen. Since God’s love has always been with us, let’s leap together over the next abyss, trusting that love will catch us. Therefore, beloveds, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses and so awesome a living community of faith, let us journey forward together—in faith, in hope, in love.

        And let us sing it one more time:

        Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, can’t turn around,
        We’ve come this far by faith.

        Amen!