Yesterday, in Canton, Ohio, eight men were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Each year, more than one million high school kids play football. It is, by far, the most popular high school sport in the country. Of those million, only 12,000 make it on to a college football team. Of those 12,000 less than 1,700 play professionally in the NFL. And of all those NFL players, only eight were invited to join the Hall of Fame this year.
Those eight are people who made a mark: Marvin Harrison and Kenny Stabler, Tony Dungy and Kevin Greene. But of the eight selected, there is one in particular who I find most interesting and that is Brett Favre.
I was born in Toledo, raised in Indiana, but mostly grew up in Wisconsin. We lived less than an hour south of Lambeau Field. In the 1970s and 1980s I went to a lot of bad games in a lot of bad weather. But if there is one person who is the face of turning the Packers around it is Mr. Favre. The gunslinger, the risk taker, the one with whom you knew your team always had a chance to win the game when he walked on to the field.
But the most interesting thing about Brett Favre is not his individual skills or abilities, but how he changed the attitude of a city and a team. In the 25 years before Favre, the Packers were a perennial early draft pick team. In the 25+ years of and since Brett Favre they have been a perennial playoff team.
What people think of when they hear the name Green Bay has changed. In my high school yearbook the most popular sports team listed was the Oakland Raiders. We lived near Green Bay and in 1986 the most popular team was the Raiders. Today, the Packers are one of the most popular teams in the entire country. This change in attitude and perception largely came through Favre.
This illustrates the impact one person can have.
It is easy to underestimate the influence of one person. Our world often seems big and overwhelming and we wonder how much difference we can make. In contrast to the negative news we hear every day, we feel small and insignificant.
But one person can make a difference. Throughout scripture we hear the stories of people who left the world different than how they found it.
This is the story of Abraham.
Abraham, who followed God’s call to go, even before he knew where he was going.
Abraham, who showed hospitality to strangers and in doing so he heard a promise that despite his and Sarah’s old age, that they would have a child.
Abraham, who even followed God to the point of being willing to put that child, Isaac, on an altar before God, in a measure of faith I couldn’t share.
Abraham changed the world. How we understand God and faith and even ourselves has forever changed because of Abraham.
But notice how Abraham did this. Abraham didn’t change the world through his own strength, because he was strong or clever, but he did it “by faith”. In just this portion of Hebrews 11, that was read earlier, it says four different times that Abraham lived this life “by faith”.
By faith, Abraham obeyed.
By faith, Abraham stayed.
By faith, Abraham received.
By faith, Abraham offered.
It wasn’t that Abraham lived this life from his own strength, but he lived it by faith.
It was through this kind of faith that Abraham left a legacy. Abraham, to this very day, is known as the father of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religions.
We often undervalue the meaning of the word faith. We think of faith simply as a noun that describes our belief system. We turn faith in to agreeing with the historic principles of a creed or scripture. That is a very early level of faith, and an important level, but it is less than the kind of faith described here.
This faith is not a noun, it is a verb. This faith is not just acknowledging that God exists, but describes trusting in God. By faith, Abraham could trust in God even when he didn’t know where he was going, he could count the stars in the sky as his descendants even at an old age, he could even trust God even with the life of his firstborn son.
To live “by faith” is to know that God is with you, especially in times of hardship and struggle.
Abraham was not alone in this kind of faith. In fact, if you read all of Hebrews, Chapter 11, you hear person after person who lived “by faith”. This chapter is the closest thing that the Bible has to a Hall of Fame. I would encourage you, when you go home this afternoon, to read this entire chapter. You will hear person after person who relied on God and lived “by faith”.
By faith, Abel offered.
By faith, Noah warned.
By faith, Moses led.
By faith, prophets conquered.
By faith, women received.
By faith, this cloud of witnesses ran with perseverance the race set before them. Not from their own strength or inertia, but by trusting in God.
And not only these, but we can name the people who have continued to show us what it means to live “by faith”.
By faith, John Wesley started a movement of personal piety and social holiness that has brought us to this church today.
By faith, Martin Luther King quoted from the prophet Amos and challenged our country to be a place where justice would roll down like water.
By faith, Mother Teresa taught us what it means to serve the poor.
By faith, Bishop Desmond Tutu worked to end apartheid in South Africa.
By faith, we wake up every day seeking to do good, do no harm, and stay in love with God.
This term, “by faith” means that anything is possible.
It is impossible that I will ever be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I am too old, too slow, and definitely not strong enough. No one from Canton is calling.
But “by faith,” all things are possible through Christ who strengthens me. By faith, all things are possible, because it is not about me at all, but it is completely about trusting and relying on God. When I say that I am living “by faith” it does not describe the quality or depth of my own understanding, but the grace and power of God within me.
In that way, I hope that I can say I have lived by faith.
After graduating from high school, I enlisted in the Air Force. After a 20 year career I was preparing to retire from the Air Force, I had a sweet civil service job all lined up. I was going to retire on a Friday and come back on a Monday wearing better clothes and making more money. And then, I received a call to ministry.
I asked the person who God used to deliver this call if God bothered to tell him what kind of ministry I was being called to, what seminary I would go to, or how I would support my family, since my wife was seven months pregnant at the time? He looked at me and simply said no, that’s called faith.
I began my ministry in an expected way; I pastored a couple of churches in Texas and served as an associate pastor of a large church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There, I fell in love with the homeless community I served and felt a second calling in my life to dedicate myself to the work of ministry with the poor. I applied for a missionary program with the United Methodist Church called Church and Community Worker. I now serve as a missionary and the director of the Healthy Eating and Living program at the Church for All People on Columbus’ South Side.
As many of you know, the Church for All People is a phenomenal place and a great ministry, but in order to get here our entire family had to live “by faith”.. We moved across the country, to a city where we knew no one, to new schools for our boys. We had to trust that God would be with us, and God has provided. So much so, that my wife Jennifer is also a missionary now, building a faith health connection that is working to empower churches and create a healthier community.
Every day we both get the honor of helping people live in to their own health. I get to feed people who are hungry, offer health coaching and education to people who aspire to a fuller life, watch people become more active and exercise, and journey with an entire community that is being transformed.
Every day I am humbled as I see people live “by faith” in ways I could never imagine. I hear the testimony of people who live in deep poverty talk about how they are blessed. I see the actions of people who live amongst drugs and violence who give of themselves to build a healthier community, and in contrast to our country that is still so racially divided, I get to work together with a diverse group of people.
Perhaps the greatest strength of our community is our diversity. On Sunday morning we are a congregation of people black and white, rich and poor, conservative and liberal. In a country that is so divided by race and class and ideology, we have this amazing place where we not only worship and serve together, but these diverse voices are given a place to be heard through the songs we sing, the prayers that are shared, the voices of those who lead worship. In this diversity we create a beautiful and unique place.
And all of this happens, by faith, by trusting and relying on God.
This isn’t just my story or the story of our Christian faith, this is also your story. Think of all of the things that this church has done, by faith.
By faith, this was the first church in Hilliard. The first place that proclaimed the good news! Through your presence in this community, the first senior center opened, the first food pantry served. And you didn’t only do ministry here in Hilliard, but you provided for our church. By faith, for 15 years, Hilliard United Methodist Church served breakfast at the Church for All People.
By faith, here in the Warehouse 839, you are seeking to bring a contemporary expression to our historic faith, so that people might find a new relationship with Jesus Christ.
For over 150 years this church has done amazing things, by faith.
But living by faith is not about resting on the past. You have an advantage over Abraham and Favre and anyone in any Hall of Fame. Hall of Fames are for people who have completed their race. The Hall of Fame in Hebrews Chapter 11 is of people whose stories have been written and have been dead for thousands of years. The Hall of Fame in Canton is a place for people who will never throw or catch a touchdown pass again.
But your story is still being written. You have the opportunity to live by faith each day. Diversity is not just something we have in the South Side, but there is great diversity here in Hilliard. Go to a park or the grocery store and you will see people from all over the world who now call Hilliard home. Our school system includes students from more than 40 countries who speak more than 40 languages. Hilliard has some of the highest percentages of students learning English as a second language in the state of Ohio.
This is an incredible opportunity. People coming here from other languages and countries are people of great faith, people looking for belonging and community, people looking for home.
What would it look like for you to intentionally welcome the diverse community to your church? It wouldn’t just mean opening your door to different faces, but allowing different voices to be heard and different expressions of faith to be shared. In doing this, you would hear in even greater ways what it means to live “by faith”.
In a country that remains so divided, you have an amazing opportunity to connect with a diverse group of people in new ways, to continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and to provide a place where people can experience the kind of hospitality Abraham shared.
This week, I want to invite you to think about two things.
First, take this phrase that is repeated across Hebrews, Chapter 11, and apply it to yourself. Instead of saying, by faith, Abraham obeyed, insert your name and the adjective you would want people to use to describe you. By faith, place your name among these saints and ask yourself what legacy would you want to leave? Maybe you would want people to know that you loved, gave, forgave, taught, and helped. Take some time to prayerfully consider what God might be calling you to do, by faith.
And then, ask the same question of your church. By faith, Hilliard United Methodist Church, _____. What would you want the legacy of your church to be? What would you want people to say about this church? When people drive down Main Street, what do you want them to know about who you are? Who is God calling you to be?