Walking On Glass
Sun, Aug 14, 2016


(HEB 11:1-3, 8-16)

                Last October, a floor panel in a newly opened glass walkway cracked.  The skywalk was suspended some 325 feet above a canyon floor in central China. Think about the height of a basketball hoop - 10 feet.  Think about the height of a high diving platform – 10 meters … that's high.  Now think three ... hundred ... and twenty-five feet above the canyon floor, and you're standing on a plate of glass suspended in midair, as it were, and the glass suddenly CRACKS!  To say that this freaked everyone out is an understatement.  Terror among the tourists!!!  That was the screaming headline on media sites.
                Hearing that news is I suspect enough to send a chill up the spine of even the most intrepid among us; seeing pictures of the bridge makes it even worse. They show a narrow, 1,300-foot-long glass-bottomed walkway, part of which is wrapped high in the air across a cliff face, and part of which is suspended between two canyon walls in Yuntai Mountain Scenic Park in Henan province, China.
                According to witnesses, when the crack happened, there was a sudden loud bang, and a tremor beneath the feet of bridge crossers who weren't even near the shattered section.  People started screaming and running to the ends of the bridge.
                The good news is that the cracked panel did not give way and no one was hurt, but the bridge was immediately closed for repairs.  Park officials say there never was any danger, as the crack, probably caused by an object a visitor dropped, was only in the top layer of the panel - and the panes are reportedly designed to carry 1,700 pounds … but people on the walkway when the shattering occurred weren't comforted by these “design specifications.”
                Even before the crack, many people were uneasy crossing the bridge - a bridge of nothing; a bridge of … air.  The glass creates an illusion that you're walking in space with nothing to support you.  Yet, you don't fall.  Gravity is thwarted by a pane of glass beneath your feet.
                The whole idea is to let visitors see the depths below them, and for those who try it, I suspect it takes more than a bit of courage to venture out.  Some people reportedly got on their hands and knees and crawled across.  Others grabbed the side cables and shuffled their grasp of the cables as they inched across.  Some others walked confidently - but quickly, preferring to get across as soon as possible.
                Here in the United States, we have our own glass-bottomed attraction, the famous Skywalk Bridge in the Grand Canyon National Park.  Visitors can walk out on a glass-bottomed platform that juts out into thin air more than 700 feet above the canyon floor.  It's beautiful and terrifying at the same time.  In your mind, you know the glass will support you, and that the structure is completely safe.  But your gut doesn't quite embrace what the mind believes.  Tourists report that their heart rates go up.  Some sweat a bit.  And many try not to look down at their feet, which appear to be suspended in midair … which is kinda’ counterproductive to the whole experience it seems to me.
                Still, most people have faith.  They walk out on the glass, and enjoy the remarkable vistas created by God.  …..
                Glass-bottomed bridges and platforms are good metaphors for faith it occurs to me.  Faith is "the conviction of things not seen," our text says, and walking on glass means we're not seeing that which supports us.  What we are seeing are the dangers below, and they can be terrifying.  We may grasp the "cables" that give us comfort (think God's word) or perhaps we crawl on our knees (think prayer).
                Our faith in Christ is like that, isn't it?  Especially these days when what we can see beneath our faith can make us wonder just how substantial such trust is.  For example, we may look down and see many other people who seem quite content to carry on with life without commitment to any being higher than themselves, and they appear to be getting along all right.  Perhaps it crosses our minds that by trying to live righteously, we're missing out on something.
                We may also "see" the arguments of atheism that have seemingly grown more popular in recent years, and which today are put forward by some eloquent spokespersons.  Those arguments can be persuasive, and perhaps it crosses our mind that we are being naïve to ignore them.
                We can see our doubts as well.  They sometimes dance before our eyes when we're struggling to walk by faith.
                What's more, we can view certain Christian doctrines - such as the idea that God's kingdom will come, and those who believe in Christ will have eternal life, and realize that we can't prove such things.
                And one more thing we sometimes see: that a significant chunk of the culture doesn't value lives lived in faith.  Secularism, political activism, humanitarianism, and even materialism seem to be more valued, if sometimes criticized, approaches to life.  But, living a life based on faith, and a meaningful adherence to a faith-based lifestyle which includes obedience to a sacred and divine word - not so much.  Not too many people into living by faith … and one gets the sense that such people, people of faith, are not even particularly admired.  Instead, they're often likely to be misunderstood, pitied, or ridiculed.
                So, as people of faith, sometimes we may feel like Peter walking on water; sometimes we might feel like Peter sinking in the waves.  Faith, sometimes, can feel like following the unseen into the unknown.
                Our text from Hebrews speaks of what we see and what we don't: "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible" (v. 3).
                We might actually find comfort and hope in the fact that we can be so easily misled by what we see.  We can misunderstand the nature of almost anything and any person when we are working from just the externals.  Conclusions based on external information or impressions will more often prove wrong than right, and can lead us to invest ourselves in that which has no real substance.
                We can also take some comfort and hope from the fact that faith is a way of seeing which looks beyond appearances.  Abraham is a case in point: He "looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (v. 10).  Abraham wasn't looking with his physical eyes, of course, but with the eyes of faith.
                In other words, faith is not something we somehow drum up with gumption and by stifling the clamor of doubts and other voices.  Rather, faith is a way of seeing that what's under our feet, though it appears transparent, is actually the solid rock of Almighty God.
                One of the means the writer of Hebrews uses to drive home his argument for faith is to give a lengthy list of examples - a "hall of fame" as it were, of people from Israel's history who, through faith, acted in ways that showed they trusted God.  They did this without really understanding that their actions were generated by great faith.  They simply believed, trusted God, and got on with it.  They didn't agonize or rationalize … they simply got it done.
                Abraham leaves for a new country … Moses leads Israel out of bondage … Rahab shelters some Hebrew spies … David kills a giant … Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Samson, Gideon, Samuel - same thing.  No big deal.  …..
                Stan Purdum, author of New Mercies I See, He Walked in Galilee and other writings, tells the story of Don and his wife Nancy.  Several years ago, having no children of their own, they decided to adopt, and over the course of time, they welcomed three children into their home.  These were kids from some other countries where the future otherwise would likely have been bleak for them.

                Then, sometime later, Nancy experienced a mental collapse and entered a dark period of her own.  Although she eventually recovered, she was not the same woman.  She could no longer handle crowds, and her emotional life remains precarious.  Periodically, she has to return to the hospital to get herself stabilized again.  Therefore, most of the parenting falls on Don.
                "At the time of my last contact with Don and Nancy," Purdum says, "their two older children had done well, and were typical teenagers, but the third child, Michael, who came to Don and Nancy's home at age 2½, brought very tough challenges.  As he grew, he did not bond with his adoptive parents, seemed not to be guided by conscience, and had no concern about consequences of his actions.  Eventually, his behavior became so bad that Don and Nancy had to have Michael institutionalized.  But still, Don visited him every Saturday."  Purdum continues:
   "'How do you keep hope in God alive?' I asked Don one day.
   "'I don't know.  I guess play the cards I was dealt,' he said quietly.
   "Obviously, Don's not a complainer, but that was not really his whole answer.  In his Sunday school class, he occasionally shared his worry and concern with a few of us.  People in the class prayed for Don and his situation.  People offered words of support.  In short, Don didn't keep his faith alive all by himself.  The church community rallied around him and helped him nourish his faith.  It's not the only factor, but it is one that helps Don to not give up his faith ... that keeps him believing that his life, and Nancy's life, and his children's lives - including Michael's, are in God's hands."
                That's walking on glass, fully conscious of the dangers below, but believing that God will not let us down.  And over the centuries, millions of people have discovered that faith is the tangible surface of the path of life, even when it may not be readily visible, and that that is enough.

                …..  And let us pray  …..