Message for the thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Based on: Hebrews 11: 29-40 “The Other Israelite Heroes”
and Hebrews 12: 1-2 “The Example of Jesus”
Opening Prayer: May the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings we bring as we reflect together on your Word for us this day, may all of it be holy and acceptable in your sight, O God, Our Rock and Redeemer of our faith. Amen
For the whole month of August, we find ourselves sitting under God’s Word coming to us from the eleventh through thirteenth chapters of the Letter to the Hebrews.
The Letter to the Hebrews is thought to have been composed to offer a word of hope to those early followers in the way of Jesus.
Sometimes called the ‘second generation’, this refers to those living in the period 60-95 years after Jesus dies on the cross.
Biblical scholars describe this 'second generation' as ones whose everyday lives are anything but easy-everyday lives characterized by persecution, martyrdom, imprisonment, public shaming and ridicule, all in the name of faithfully following in the footsteps of Jesus, pioneer and perfector of their faith. Hence, the purpose of this morning’s readings from the Letter to the Hebrews is about bolstering those taking up the banner of faith so that they might carry on.
As we reflect on the readings, we find ourselves standing on the sidelines of the parade of the faithful ones.
Oh, look! Can you see it?
First, comes the banner of Moses and all his family, along with his brother, Aaron, and his sister, Miriam leading the way.
Jubilant at having crossed over the Red Sea and having their perpetrators the Egyptians caught up in the overflowing waves, I see a banner that reads:
WE DID IT! WE MADE IT! AGAINST ALL ODDS AND WITH GOD AS OUR GUIDE, WE HAVE CROSSED OVER!
Next, comes a banner held high by those ancient brothers and sisters in the faith who persevered in courageous faith, and as a result, the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. Their banner proclaims also: WE DID IT!
HOORAY, WITH GOD’S HELP WE DID IT!
Next, comes the banner held high by Rahab, the sex trade worker.
Rahab, the one whose ability to think strategically when dealing with her people’s enemies, is numbered among the faith ancestors as one able to save herself and others from wicked foes; able to bring a word of peace in the midst of hatred and violence.
Following on from there comes a retinue of other named warriors from our stories from the Book of Judges and then from the Prophets, messengers of God!
We hear the names: Gideon, Barak, Sampson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and so on and so on.
On their banners, I see slogans and phrases like:
WE DID IT! WE WERE SUCCESSFUL IN CONQUERING KINGDOMS!
WE DID IT! WE ADMINISTERED JUSTICE!
WE DID IT! WE OBTAINED PROMISES!
WE DID IT! WE SHUT THE MOUTHS OF LIONS!
WE DID IT! WE ESCAPED THE EDGE OF THE SWORD!
WE DID IT! WE WON STRENGTH FROM WEAKNESS!
WITH GOD’S HELP WE CAME THROUGH!
Or so the readings tell us.
Swept up in the momentary enthusiasm of cheering on winners as opposed to losers in the name of God, we shift our awareness to a different kind of homage; an homage owed those other less stereotypical 'heroes'-the martyrs, the homeless, and the destitute.
Craning our necks to see, we wonder-But what's printed on their banners?"
And then it dawns on us: These ones named here may not even have the strength to carry banners with slogans and phrases to describe or brand their experience.
Even as we find ourselves shrinking from the great gruesome details of what these courageous ones endure in the name of faithful living, it is important that they, too, be counted among the biblical ancestors.
I sense my own energy in response to the courage and resilience of these faithful ones tugging at my heartstrings and I feel my own resistance to God’s call for my life. Can I do it? Can I take that proverbial leap of faith and to join in the cavalcade?
As this cavalcade of the faithful leaping off the pages of the Letter to the Hebrews recedes into the distance, I wonder:
Do we have the depth of conviction, the strength of character, the courage and the resilience to live in such bold hope for a decidedly new and different tomorrow; a place where all are welcomed, loved, and included, where all might cohabit together for the well-being of not the few, but the many?
Do we have what it takes? Do we have what’s needed to live faithfully and well?
Then I remember this:
We each have our own experiences; our own personal stories of trial and travesty.
We each have our own experiences of doubt and despair, of ill health, be it mental or physical; of misfortune, poor judgment, unfortunate accidents, personal crises, and lifestyle choices.
Each one of us here has lived faithfully in the midst of situations that cause great misunderstanding and heartbreaking division between brothers and sisters, parents and children, friends and neighbours.
Each one of us here, sometimes alone, and sometimes together, knows and understands the perils of learning to live in faith and in hope in the midst of challenge and chaos.
Learning to live faithfully immersed in a secular culture whose primary function is to divert and distract us from what matters most is hard work. Hard to do and harder still to talk about openly.
Nonetheless, I take hope in the fact that we show up and that we gather for worship to hear and to reflect together on God’s word. I take hope in the sharing of prayer and I do find a word of hope in these words found in the letter written some two thousand years ago for an early Christian community struggling to come to terms with its identity. After all, its a community, in many ways, not so very different from our own.
I can and do rest in my own experience of the power of these readings to provide a sense of hope in a God who is abiding and steadfast in walking with us personally and in the community, here and now, this very minute.
I can and do rest in my own awareness that someday we too will join our place in the cloud of witnesses, having turned to Jesus as the pioneer of our salvation and as author and perfector of our faith.
I can and do rest in the hope that we, too can lay aside every weight that clings and the sins of doubt and fear, and that our pervasive mistrust and suspicion of the ‘other’ might be set aside.
What that might actually look like in the coming days remains to be seen.
But then, I remember, we are not alone.
We have God, we have each other, and we have the retinue of our faith ancestors, who have walked this way before.
For all of this and more and especially for our readings this day, we say thanks be to God and may it be so! Amen.