I believe in quarks.
I believe in quarks even though I have never seen them. I believe in quarks even though NOBODY’s ever seen them. But I believe in quarks, and I’m not alone. Hundreds, if not thousands of scientists worldwide believe they exist. The quark I’m referring to is not the beloved bartending Ferengi on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but instead what scientists believe to be the smallest unit of matter in the universe. Smaller than the molecule, smaller than the atom, and even smaller than the proton, all of which were at one time considered to be the smallest unit of matter in the universe. Now, there’s the quark – even smaller than all of these. Quarks come in six different types that they call “flavors” for some strange reason because they’re not named things like chocolate and strawberry, but instead are called up…, down…, top…, bottom…, charmed…, and strange.. These different flavored quarks combine in different ways to form protons and neutrons which are the basic elements of the atom. But again, no one has ever seen them! So how do we know all of this? How do we even know that quarks exist? You can’t see them, you can’t touch them, they don’t exist by themselves but only in packs of three, why are scientists so sure they’re even there? Because, when they examine the evidence, there is no other logical explanation other than to say quarks exist. They EXPERIENCE the existence of quarks through the observation of the things around them.
We encounter the living God in much the same way.
We find God, not in seeing him but in our experience of him in our lives. By the power of music to move us. By seeing his handiwork in the birth of a child. By his saving grace which makes a heart “strangely warmed.” And by the Word of God. Today we’re going to be reading from the letter to the Hebrews, beginning with Chapter 11, verse 1. Hebrews 11:1. In the previous chapter of Hebrews, the letter tells us to persevere in faith. The Hebrew people have gone through much in their support of the Word and those who now call themselves Christians are under persecution simply for their beliefs. So the letter encourages them to hold on to what they believe and not to lose their faith. And by holding on to their faith, they will be rewarded through Christ’s promise of salvation.
1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
4 By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.”[a] For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. And we can be assured of that which we do not see. Just as we believe in quarks, we CAN believe in God. Scripture is one way for us to experience God’s redemptive power in the world. It is a written testament to the story of God. It is not only meant to be a guide to proper living but as evidence of things unseen. As it says in John chapter 20, verse 31, “But these are written (the Scriptures, the stories of Jesus),” “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” That’s why it was written. That you may believe and in believing have life in the name of Christ. But the Bible also shares these examples of faith through Abel, through Enoch, and through many others in this chapter of Scripture. We hear about the faith of Noah and of Abraham, of Moses, Joseph, and Jacob and many more, because these are the ways we experience God’s presence in our lives – by the evidence of God’s work in our lives and the lives of others.
That’s what helps to secure our faith.
Not just in what we read. Not just in the testimony of those in the Bible. But in the continuing testimony of the lives that God has touched. The Bible was written to be a framework for our understanding of God, but it doesn’t have answers to every problem humanity has ever encountered. And even those problems the Bible does address are often content and context specific, meaning that God’s answers are for his people at that time and place. We have to go beyond the literal written word at times to understand God’s overarching message of love, hope, and faith. Because the Bible doesn’t have an answer to illegal immigration. The Bible doesn’t tell us how to handle gay marriage. There isn’t a passage about global warming. It’s times like this that we feel like crying out to Jesus as the young boy’s father did when Jesus was there to help his son. He said to Christ in Mark 9, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). When we open up to the possibility of Christ in our lives, we can see the world with new lenses. We can overcome our unbelief by looking around and experiencing God’s work in our lives. That is when the Bible becomes real to us. That is when GOD becomes real to us, when we can join together what is written with what we know and our faith becomes stronger. Because without faith, there is nothing. There is no belief in God and we need faith, faith in what we cannot see, to believe.
Some of the wisest words I ever received came from someone when I was at Alpharetta FUMC.
His name was Steve and I’ll never forget him because he made such an impact on my life in just one short moment and I know God put him in my life for just this specific time so that I would not lose hope – so that I would not fall victim to my unbelief. But there was a time when I was struggling with my faith. I had never really questioned God before, never questioned his existence or my faith in him, but suddenly I lost my job, my third since moving to Atlanta, the events of 9/11 had just recently happened, and Cassie told me she was pregnant with Emma. And I started wondering, why in the world would this happen to me? Why would I lose my job right before we’re about to have a baby? What kind of world am I bringing my child into? It made me wonder if there was any purpose or meaning in life. I started waking up in the middle of the night, cold sweat running down my forehead, shaking like a leaf. I think I got about an hour of good sleep each night before I would wake up like that, terrified about the possibility that outside of what I could see and hear, there was nothing. I just kept thinking, “Is this really all there is?” And I kept praying. Praying that somehow God would reveal himself to me. And it was at this time I bumped into Steve. We were at a men’s group meeting at church, and there was always fellowship time after the speaker and after the food, so during this time, I don’t know what possessed me to ask him, but I went up to Steve and just said, “How do you know God is with you? When you’re having doubts about God, how do you know?” And he looked at me and said, “Craig, you are still young, but when I look back at my life, I can see where it was God carried me through the difficult times, and it gives me hope in times when I doubt that God is still there even if I can’t see him.” And that was it. Those words have stuck with me ever since, and sure enough as I look back at my life, I can see where God carried me like in the story about the footsteps in the sand. I can see where God has given me nudges over the years – placing people like Lisa and Mark and Steve in my life to encourage me to come to church when I was distant. Where God put Cassie in my life to be my anchor and my inspiration when I needed it so badly. Why I kept feeling out of place in the marketing world even though I was succeeding materially. Over and over and over, God was there. I just didn’t realize it. It wasn’t until I started opening my eyes to God’s work in my life that I started noticing God had always been there and it was then that I decided to dedicate my life to giving something back. And ever since that day, I have been able to trust more and have more faith in something I have never seen, because as I have opened my eyes to the possibilities of God’s endless and abundant love in my life, I have been rewarded like it said today in our passage from Hebrews. Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
As I continue to encounter God, I am better able to meld the Word of God into my life.
I am better able to understand it. I am better able to cut to the heart of the Scripture and see what it is that God wants from me. And I am able to have faith in the promises he has made to us. Because even though Scripture provides the handbook and the guide to our experience in life, even though it provides the framework and essential elements of faith for us all, it is made REAL through our experiences. It is our experience that better enables us to understand what it is we read. As the Methodist Book of Discipline states, “Experience authenticates in our own lives the truths revealed in Scripture… enabling us to claim the Christian witness as our own (BOD, ¶ 104).” Experience authenticates in our own lives the truths revealed in Scripture… enabling us to claim the Christian witness as our own. In Scripture, we are given all we need to understand our living Lord. But until it is made real for us. Until you know in your heart as Wesley did that we must trust in Christ and Christ alone for our salvation; that Christ gives us the assurance that “he had taken away my sins, even mine…” then Scripture will never be truly alive in your heart.
So in the end, I believe in quarks.
And I believe in God. Because even though I can’t hear him, see him, or touch him, God has revealed himself to me through the experiences in my life. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Albert C. Outler, ed., John Wesley, New York: Oxford University Press, 1964, 66.