“If we are honest, we have spent the better part of our lives trying to get the approval of others. No matter what stage of life or station in life, it is what we long for,” said the Rev. Cynthia Hale. She preached at the 9:15 a.m. Thursday worship service. Her sermon title was “How to Win God’s Approval” and the scripture text was Hebrews 11:1-6.
“This is natural for humanity, but it is like drinking salt water to alleviate thirst; there is an insatiable desire for more,” she said. “We seek approval from some who will never be satisfied [with us] who will prove fickle and we are caught in a vicious cycle.”
Having God’s approval is satisfying and eternal. We all want to have friends, Hale said, and we like praise but it doesn’t mean anything without God’s approval.
“God is an audience of one,” she said. “Consider Job, who God called blameless, and Moses, who talked with God.”
Hebrews 11 describes those who walked by faith with God.
“They dared to step out and take God at God’s word and they accomplished all for God’s glory. Everyone lives by faith,” Hale said. “We drink from a faucet, expect a chair to hold us up, the brakes in the car will work, our prescriptions are filled on time, the surgeon will operate well and our government officials will live up to their promises.
“This is natural faith but an object is not necessarily reliable,” she continued. “Water can be polluted, a chair can break, the brakes might fail, the prescription is not filled on time, the surgeon might make a mistake and our government officials break promises all the time. We have to commit to someone more real, who will never let us down, who cares more about us — God, [who] will never let us down. God is the object of real faith. Those who live by faith take God’s promises and put them in the present tense; they are confident and have reliance on the one who made the promise.”
The writer of Hebrews called faith the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hale said that, in Greek, assurance meant the foundation, the legal documents that give someone rights to property.
“When God makes a promise, God puts God’s name on it,” she said.
Faith is a concrete conviction. The person with faith is fully persuaded, not given to doubt in dire circumstances, she said.
“They rest in, are sure of, the future reality [of God’s promise]. God said we are fearfully and wonderfully made,” Hale said. “Who will you believe will meet your needs? Do you believe it or not!”
You can trust God’s character, Hale said: God is absolutely reliable.
“What the eyes do for the visible order, faith does for the invisible order,” she said. “When we have faith, God gives us power for daily living. God formed the world and we believe that by a leap of faith. God is revealed in creation and by faith, creation points to the invisible God.
“The universe is more than the physical world,” she continued. “The visible world came from the invisible world. The visible is temporary; the invisible is eternal. [Theologican] Paul Tillich called God the unseen mover. When we wonder if God is working, remember he does his best work behind the scenes. While we are wondering, God is working it out.”
Hale continued: “God has the power to speak light in the darkness, joy into sorrow, fullness into emptiness. The way to get God’s approval is to take God at God’s word. It is God who witnesses about us. The way to win God’s approval is to act on God’s word. As my grandmother used to say, ain’t everyone talking about heaven, going there.”
Enoch walked with God, according to the Bible, and did not experience death. He walked with God for 365 years and then “one day he just kept on walking. That is the way I want to go,” said Hale. “He trusted God and held nothing back. He lived in sweet communion with God and just kept walking.”
When people seek God, they pursue God, crave God, demand God.
“What you desire should be worthy of the pursuit and God is infinitely more worthy than anything else,” Hale said. “We should pursue God with reckless abandon, with insatiable desire, throw caution to the wind, to be desperate for God.
“Too many of us are casual: we can take God or leave God,” she continued. “Some of us are timid and think we are not worthy. Yet Jesus died to make us worthy. We should come boldly, no intellectually, but personally committed, surrendered to God. I could not preach if I wasn’t surrendered to God; it is too much responsibility.
“We are all called by God to represent God in the world and it is too much responsibility. We are called to be God’s man or woman in the corner where we live and it is still a lot of responsibility. When we live by faith in God, God gives us the words and the things to do. When you seek God’s kingdom and righteousness first, everything else will be added to you.”
The Rev. Ed McCarthy presided. Juanita Wallace Jackson, a year-round Chautauquan, read the Scripture. Joe Musser, piano, and Ann West, cello, provided the prelude. They played “Arioso” by Johann Sebastian Bach, “Le Cygne” by Camille Saint-Saëns and “Ave Maria” by Bach arranged by Charles Gounod. The Motet Choir sang “Thy Holy Wings” with text by Caroline Sandell-Berg and music arranged by Emma Lou Diemer from a Swedish Folk tune. Bob Bonstein, recorder, and Ann West, cello, accompanied the choir. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, provided piano accompaniment and directed the choir. The Daney-Holden Chaplaincy and the Jackson-Carnahan Memorial Chaplaincy support for this week’s services.