In preparing for today’s sermon, I have been captivated by the 4th verse of the 11th chapter of Hebrews. This verse is based on the story of the first two brothers of the Bible, Cain and Abel, found in the 4th chapter of Genesis. As you will recall, each brother made an offering to God, Cain from the fruit of the ground and Abel, from his flock of sheep. God accepted Abel’s offering and declined Cain’s offering. Cain’s response was to kill Abel. Hebrews 11:4 describes the incident in this way:
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks.
“Through his faith he still speaks.” Powerful words that speak to us as we hear this definition of faith in the first verse of the 11th chapter of Hebrews.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Known as the Hall of Faith of the Bible, the 11th chapter of Hebrews is the story of biblical faith that still speaks today as we live almost 2,000 years since the Epistle of Hebrews was written. A portrait of the infinite painted on the canvas of generations of finite humanity, the story of faith is realized through the lives of people who had not seen but yet believed. People such as:
- Noah who trusted God by building an ark when there was no rain
- Abraham and Sarah who pulled up roots and travelled to a land where they had never lived before
A portrait of the infinite painted on the canvas of finite humanity, the story of faith is told through people who saw and yet believed. People such as Moses who encountered God through a bush that burned but was not consumed as he answered God’s call to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.
It is the story of faith told through people who were called to unexpected responsibilities. People such as Samson who had physical strength and moral weakness. It is a portrait of the infinite painted on the canvas of generations of humanity that are both named and unnamed in the Hall of Faith. Generations who through their faith still speak today when we do not see and yet believe, when we see and yet believe, and when we are called to live with faith in unexpected times in our own lives. Those questioning times when through our faith we speak to the unspeakable.
Sunday, May 3, 2015, was a beautiful Spring-evening when Jon and Erin Stoffel and their three children, 11-year-old daughter Olivia, 7-year-old son Ezra, and 5-year-old daughter Selah were walking on the Trestle Trail Pedestrian Bridge in Menasha, Wisconsin. In the middle of the bridge is a red pavilion with some benches. As they approached the pavilion, Erin says she noticed a man slumped over on one of the benches with another man standing nearby. Ezra was further ahead with their dog, Sammy. As they approached the bench, Jon approached the man to see if he needed assistance. Erin says that nothing could have prepared her for what happened next.
Without warning, the man pulled out a 9 mm gun and shot Jon point blank in the chest. He also shot Olivia and then shot Erin through her leg. They all went to the ground as Erin grabbed the hand of her 5-year-old daughter Selah who was standing next to her in shock and they started to run. More shots were fired as Erin approached Ezra and told him to run and get help. Erin was shot two more times as they ran off the bridge, one of the bullets hitting her left hand, lodging in her wedding ring, the other through her abdomen.
Finally, Erin reached the end of the bridge and collapsed to the ground. She says she did remember feeling any pain until she stopped to lay there. Telling Ezra and Selah to get help, she looked back toward the bridge but did not see anyone coming. She would later learn that the gunman had taken his own life. Erin’s husband, Jon, their daughter Olivia, and another innocent bystander named Adam did not survive. Erin says that as she lay there, waiting for help, she knew her whole world was changing.
She never lost consciousness as she was transported to the hospital where she underwent emergency surgery. When she awoke from surgery, reality came flooding back into her mind, and her worst fears were confirmed. Jon and Olivia were dead. She could not speak because there was a tube in her mouth, and she was still foggy from the medication, but she had to tell everyone what the last words of her husband Jon were, the last thing she heard him say. Olivia says the words came from the heart of a man who loved Jesus and understood what it meant to be forgiven.
Jon said to the shooter: “May God forgive you.” Erin struggled to write this down on paper since she could not speak. Erin says her physical recovery was slow and painful, with multiple surgeries required to repair the damage done to her hand. Her relationship with God was tested as she dealt with many questions about why and how this had all happened. The man who killed her husband and daughter and who had shot her did not know this family that happened to be in that place at that time.
Reflecting on the pain of that day, Erin knows that Jon’s words of forgiveness shared with his killer are words of faith that still speak. She says that she has come to understand that God does not waste our pain as we are transformed by our faith through tragedy, death, and suffering.
In an interview, Erin was asked, “Have you been able to forgive the shooter?” Erin replied, “Yes, If God can forgive me, he can give me the strength to forgive as well, it is not like I have Jesus in my life and so everything is good. No, there is pain. There is always going to be pain. But I can say because of him I have joy,” https://wasitgod.com/erins-story/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwuaiXBhCCARIsAKZLt3lKCv2nQKgR3IRzbVa1TWH6qYxxtZWeId6CJf1kWV5N9PYLUgaNUmEaAhrdEALw_wcB
I would suggest that through her faith Erin lives in the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. I would suggest that it is through her faith that Erin still speaks.
Faith That Still Speaks
by Pastor Marc Brown
August 7, 2022
Accompanying Scriptures: Hebrews 11:1-4
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for August 7, 2021
Scripture Lesson Hebrews 11:1-4
The Good News “Faith That Still Speaks”
Music “Ancient of Days” by Jonny Robinson & Rich Thompson
Closing Music “Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty” arr. Carly Rawlings