The faith of our heroes — Hebrews 11

Sermon Delivered at Raysville Friends Meeting
Reading: Hebrews 11

By faith, my grandfather left his job as an Engineer at General Electric to become a pastor of a tiny rural church in South Dakota. By faith, he went from a comfortable professional position to one where the only certainty was poverty. He taught and encouraged me throughout my life.

By faith, Kansas Yearly meeting answered a call to send missionaries to East Africa during the time we call the great depression. Somehow they found the funds to open up “Friends Africa Gospel Mission” in Burundi. By faith, people such as Alfred and Ruth Miller spent their lives helping build a new church that has now outgrown its parent church in Kansas. By faith, at the time when foreigners were expelled from Burundi, they rebuilt a new work in Rwanda. By faith, Friends helped those who survived genocide and civil war. Alfred and Ruth retired to my home town of Hutchinson, and were an inspiration to me as I grew up.

By faith, some ministers in Guatemala Yearly Meeting moved to the United States in order to minister to the immigrant population here. These missionaries started Churches that served an impoverished minority population, without the support of an existing community that could partner with them. Without volunteers, stable mature members, and without adequate funding these people served and worked for years hoping to build an outpost in a land foreign to them. In Kansas, Thomas Martinez planted several churches, and has now passed the mantle of leadership to younger people. Carlos Moran has worked with Friends in California, New England, and now in Indiana to start new churches. I have seen him live out his faith as he pours his heart and resources into building a community.

By faith, ministers such as John Woolman condemned the practice of slavery, making it so that slave-holding was forbidden within the Society of Friends. By faith, Charles Osborne spoke against an economic system where even those who disagreed with slavery profited from its practice, and by faith he condemned those who made slavery economically viable by buying the cotton produced by slaves and producing textiles. By faith, Levi Coffin lead a movement to help run-away slaves escape to freedom in Canada. Both Coffin and Osborne were disowned by Indiana Yearly Meeting because the Yearly Meeting was not ready for their prophetic voice and devotion to civil disobedience — so, by faith, they formed a new Yearly Meeting headquartered at what is now Fountain City, and was devoted to living out their calling to end the evil of slavery in the United States.

By faith 19th century Friends Ministers traveled throughout the United States, and Europe preaching Christ’s power to change lives and save people from the destructive power of sin. I have found the ministry journals to be quite inspiring. I am impressed at how before the automobile or the airplane these people could influence the whole nation. I am even more amazed that they found time to make a ministry tour of Europe. By faith, some of them such as English Friend Gurney was able to travel because he was part of a wealthy banking family — but the true story of faith is the one who follows where God leads without any resources.

One of these ministers without a surplus of wealth to support him was Amos Kenworthy. Amos as a young man who grew up in Raysville Indiana. At the start of his adult life, he had to work “by the month”, for those of you who don’t know what that means — it means that he would agree to work from sun-up to sun down for a month — and he would get paid for that month of work. Eventually, he learned a skilled trade — he became a broom-maker. Amos would make brooms, then he would live off his brooms as he traveled throughout the United States in the ministry. His “Life and Works” claims that he ministered in almost every American Friends meeting (Orthodox), as well as ministered extensively in England and Ireland. What I know is that he made enough of an impression that his name is remembered in Kansas, even though his ministry there was only a few months. His funeral was at Whittier Friends, and he was remembered throughout the world.

Amos was a man of profound faith. He most often did not stay in a place very long. While he tended to be a well loved minister, he had a habit of speaking prophetically in a way that gave him powerful enemies. He believed that God gave him messages, and he delivered them, not knowing who they were for nor why. Sometimes these were prophetic messages that exposed the sinfulness of people who were about to harm the public good whether this was thief, or the angry person who had murder in his heart — and was actually carrying the knife that he intended to use. The antidotes of where the prophetic visions brought him are numerous — and like all prophets, his welcome would end when sinfulness was exposed.

If you know the history of Knightstown Friends, back in the 1877, Knightstown Friends nearly lost their meetinghouse. They were in debt, and had no way of paying off the debt. By faith, Amos sold his home, and used the money to pay off the debts of Knightstown Friends. By faith, he stayed with this struggling meeting for three years, because he believed there was a place and ministry for Friends in Knightstown Indiana.

The faith of these people inspire me. This is a faith that changes people’s lives. This is a faith that sets priorities, and causes people to do the extraordinary, without thought of what they might be sacrificing.

Too often people talk about belief or faith only in terms of what we believe. We say things such as: We believe that there is only one God. We believe that God inspired the Bible. We believe that Jesus is divine. I don’t want to discount right belief — it’s better than wrong belief, but this isn’t the faith that we are looking at.

For one thing, if you notice, these heroes of faith we find in Hebrews 11 didn’t know all the nice little details about God that we know. Many of these heroes of the faith had no scriptures at all — others had the Torah. The chapter ends by reminding us that none of these received the promise — which is Jesus Christ.

The heroes that I look up to had Someone they believed in. Yes, there is no doubt that they believed many good things about God, but the faith that led them to do these remarkable things was a belief in God. They believed in a God who brought salvation to individuals and communities. They believed in Jesus, and His kingdom. There are more heroes of faith than anyone has time to mention. I pray that God leads me, and all of us to such faith. I hope to say, with the great cloud of witnesses that comes before us: “We believe in God.”

There really is a huge difference between believing in God, and knowing about God. When I was a child, I believed in my father. I did not know anything about his childhood — as a child, it never occurred to me that he had one. The first time he shaved off his beard, my mother tells me I had no idea who he was. When I was just a toddler, my mom told me that my grandmother was with us on a trip. The car broke down, and dad coasted over to the side of the road — I told my grandmother: Don’t worry, Daddy will fix it, and we will get going again. My grandmother told me that my dad couldn’t fix everything — I assured her that he could fix anything — and, when dad grabbed his toolbox, worked a few minutes, closed the hood, put away his tools, and drove off like nothing ever was wrong, I continued to believe what I had said.

This faith meant that I had no worries about traveling, even when it seemed that things were going badly, I knew we’d soon be on our way and that we would arrive at the destination. Hebrews 11 opens by telling us that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith was knowing that we would reach the unseen destination, and that my father could get us there.

I thank God that I’m no longer a toddler. Faith comes harder than it did when I was three but there is something to be said about having more knowledge and skill. There is something to be said about being able to accomplish things with my own hands. There is something about being an adult. We are called both to have faith like a child, and we are called to grow into maturity.


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