Inspired by Hebrews 11:1-16, 12:1-2
We made it, to the end of our five weeks in the letter we know as Hebrews. It has been fun for me to get this opportunity to preach on a part of our Bible that doesn’t get the attention that it probably should, at least not in worship. I hope it has been meaningful for you too. As I mentioned five Sundays ago, our author is just in love with Jesus, simply in awe, and uses this letter to count all the ways that make Jesus so amazing! In order they were: Jesus’ eternal nature, humanity, accessibility, and Jesus as the key to the treasure that is God’s love and acceptance. Today we come to number five, and if you thought the other four were pretty awesome, this last one is really the crème de la crème. But before we get into that, I’d like you to think of people that you have known that you have always thought of as having a great faith.
In fact, close your eyes, and picture in your mind’s eye, these people of such great faith. Maybe they’re long gone, maybe they are still a big part of your life. These are people whose faith you have really looked up to. Ok, open your eyes, thank you for humoring me. Most likely, those people that you pictured are those people that we often say things like, “She had an unwavering faith” or “he was a person of great faith” or “she is a pillar of the church” or “I wish I had as much faith as her.”
Sometimes we say those things at their funeral but we often say them when they are still alive too. Either way, to me, it always sounds a bit odd, but I think I have a bit of a different view of faith than most. I don’t see faith as something that’s quantifiable, as something you can measure, because as soon as you do that, faith then becomes a competition.
And we humans love to compete against one another, don’t we! I don’t know about you all but my family is extremely competitive! There’s no such thing as a casual card game or board game in my house. We go for blood no matter what. But it’s all in good clean fun. We’ll call them healthy tantrums! However, when it comes to faith, competing against each other is more often than not, detrimental to our faith rather than good clean fun. Here’s what I mean by that.
Think again about those people that you pictured while your eyes were closed earlier. I’m guessing, and correct me if I’m wrong, but most if not all of you probably figure to yourself that you will never get to that “level” of faith, that it somehow takes a really special person, like the ones that you thought of earlier, to reach that “level.” Can you relate to what I’m saying?
So, if that’s the way that we go into this faith business, for those of us who don’t think we’ll ever reach that “level”, we go into it already defeated, already done before we even get started. And what I, and more importantly, the author of this beautiful letter, is saying, is that this defeated attitude towards faith is completely unnecessary, not to mention that it does more harm than good, and can actually hold you back from doing the things that God calls you to do because you think you’re just not able because you lack the “proper amount” of faith. Raise your hand if at least one of the people in your life that you consider to have a great faith is in this room. And I’m guessing we’re not all thinking of the same person!
And I bet you those people would be shocked that you’re thinking of them right now, right? They’d probably say, “Me, no, I struggle too much with my faith” or “I’m not good enough” or “well behaved enough” or, you fill in the blank. And yet, they are people whose faith we look up to. That’s really the message behind our reading for today. Our author’s topic is faith, and what she does is give a laundry list of names from throughout the Hebrew scriptures, and just so you know, the list doesn’t end with our selection but continues on. We didn’t even read half of it!
But if you know anything about any of these Bible characters then you know that these people were anything but perfect, but rather were people who made mistakes, who sometimes made horrible decisions, who would laugh at the idea of being included in a list of faithful people in Holy Scripture. Well, you know Sarah would laugh! Did you see what I did there? Sorry, Bible nerd joke.
True to form, reason number five of what makes Jesus so amazing for our author, is Jesus’ faithfulness. Not our faith in Jesus, but rather, Jesus’ faithfulness—Jesus’ faithfulness to God’s will, to God’s creation, to us. Because here’s the cold hard truth, if faith could really be measured, and God was somehow keeping track of it and running the numbers on a regular basis, whew!, we’d be in a world of hurt at the end of the day. But faith doesn’t have to be that hard.
Our author and Jesus have been trying to tell us that there’s no need for any of that. There’s no need to compete against each other. There’s no need to worry about our faith. There’s no need to feel like we have to achieve something with our faith in order to do what God is calling us to do. Jesus has got this faith business all taken care of which is why our author compels us to, “fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer, and perfecter.”
So, we’re done, that’s it. Now, to come full circle; five Sundays ago I mentioned that one of the reasons why our author wrote this letter was to help a group of Christians fight the apathy that had crept into their community. And the best way to fight that apathy was to help them remember why they fell in love with Jesus in the first place. And so, she gives them reason after reason, hoping that one or more of them will stick and jar them out of that apathy.
Personally, for me, this letter basically sums up why I’m still a Christian, why I haven’t given up on this faith business. God knows my patience has been tried over the years. But at the end of the day, if we can remind ourselves, or allow ourselves to be reminded, of why we fell in love with Jesus in the first place, we too can fight apathy whenever it raises its ugly head. Thanks be to Jesus. Amen.