Summary: Faith is a journey, but it is not one we ever take alone. We can be draw strength and encouragement from those who have paved the way ahead of us.
Hebrews 11:29-12:2 – “A Well-Worn Path”
I learned the stories of the Bible through flannel board narrative in Sunday School as a child. While not as high tech as a 3D Moses crossing the Red Sea on Blue Ray, it stretched my imagination to make room for these people and their stories. To this day when I read about Samson, David, or Joshua I see their images on green flannel. As we grow older these people still seem larger than life and their faith can seem out of reach.
As much as we want to relate to them, you can’t help but feel disconnected from them in some way. The image of this text reminds us of Greek gods looking down from Mount Olympus on us mere mortals and our foolishness. Some people think God is just like that… removed, amused, & indifferent, but that’s not our story.
The writer of Hebrews believed the early church needed to hear these stories again. They were at risk of forgetting or worse, becoming indifferent toward them. Many people today have done just that. We need to tell these stories to one another, to sing them to one another, to ask hard questions of them and one another. This is our story.
These are Real People.
If I asked you to name a few of the greatest U.S. Presidents, I doubt any of you would name James Tyler, William Henry Harrison, or Franklin Pierce. Some of these names you would expect to find here: Abraham, Moses, David, but others you may not have ever heard of or at least wonder what put their name in this list of great men & women of faith.
Illus: Hodges Chapel at Beeson Divinity School has a dome 90 feet above the pulpit featuring an amazing work of art called “The Great Cloud of Witnesses”… featuring portraits of Perpetua, Thomas Cranmer, John Leland, May Hayman among other more familiar names like John Calvin & Dietrich Bonhoeffier, but not one portrait of Elijah, Peter, or Paul in the Great Cloud depiction. There are examples of ordinary people who lived exemplary lives of faith and made significant contributions to the Church.
I love the Bible because you get honest depictions of people as they are… triumph and failure, virtue and vice. We see them at critical moments of decision when they acted in great faith but also in moments of weakness when they stumbled.
Illus: Billy Graham is one of the more recent figures in the Church who can seem larger than life to many, as though his faith is somehow above and beyond our reach. In his autobiography Just As I Am he described his first meeting with a President at the White House with Harry Truman… That story is important to me because it humanizes him.
I can relate to people who make mistakes, who have questions, who have doubts, who try again. I can’t relate to people who get it right every time… who never blow it. While these people and their stories seem extraordinary to us, their lives were marked as much by their shortcomings as by their faith:
• Those who crossed the Red Sea did a whole lot of complaining and begging to go back to Egypt before the waters ever parted
• Rahab wasn’t exactly a role model of virtue, considered an outcast
• Gideon asked for a sign from God three different times before he agreed to do what God led him to do
• When Deborah commissioned Barak to lead an army of 10,000 against a multitude, he told her, “I’ll go if you go with me, but if you don’t go, I won’t go.”
• Samson was a strong man with a weakness for women and partying that cost him his life
• Jephthah tried to bargain with God and make a deal that would guarantee him victory on the battlefield
I’m not disparaging these people or their faith. I’m trying to make the case that they were real people just like us full of faith and doubt, hope and despair, love and cruelty. Many of them overcame enormous odds and are remembered for heroic deeds, while many others paid the ultimate cost and met tragic ends. They were real people just like us, and their story is our story.
This is a Real Journey
What is faith? How do you describe it? Some would say it’s something you either have or you don’t. You can have a lot or a little. Jesus sort of blew that theory out of the water when he said if you only had faith the size of a mustard seed you could move mountains. It’s not about measuring up against one another. I don’t know who said it first but “faith is a verb.” It’s an action. It’s a way of living. This writer describes it as a running a race.