“Faith: Saints Wanted…Apply Now!”
Hebrews 11: 29: 12:2 ~ Northwood United Church – Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook – August 18, 2019
You arrive at the door and are greeted by a big red ‘STOP’ sign. Below the sign in bold letters are instructions guiding you to don a gown, mask and rubber gloves before entering. In this era of super-bugs and weakened immune systems, it has increasingly become important to protect a person’s health (both that of the patient and that of the visitor) and so we find ourselves donning gowns, masks, and gloves. As I visit some of the beautiful saints of this community of faith wearing this attire, I lament at how impersonal we have become. I get how important protecting one’s health is; however, I also wonder about the unintended effects. Surely, we do not want to pass on contagious germs and worsen the health of the patient, but I do worry about the sterile nature of a visitor’s presence. That visitor has come to pass on something contagious…to pass on warmth, love and faith in their time of need, yet they are hidden behind gown and mask. Who among us doesn’t appreciate the nurses and doctors who wear hospital scrubs with some character ~ scrubs with smiling faces or cartoons or animals? I’m sure you have seen these as well. When I see these medical professionals, it lets me know that they are not just a medical professional, they are also someone with a warm personality there to offer care and healing to their patients. This morning, as we continue with our conversation on faith, we move now to talk about the contagious nature of faith. To talk about how faith is passed on.
To back up briefly, we began this focus on faith just last week by looking at what faith is. We began to examine our own definition of faith. We began by taking apart the definition given in Hebrews 11: “now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. As we examined that initial text, we explored three features of faith: confidence, partnering with God, and vision. We explored how faith provides a deep confidence and conviction in the unfolding of God’s promise ~ confidence and conviction. Secondly, faith provides an opportunity to participate in a sacred partnership with the unfolding of God’s Kin-dom ~ participation. Finally, faith provides an opportunity to see with the eyes of Christ’s hope ~ vision. And over this past week, we have all been pondering what this commonly used word truly means to each of us in our lives.
This morning, we move from considering what faith is to now pondering how faith is passed on. How faith is received…how faith is passed from one to another. As we turn to the next section in the Letter to the Hebrews, we learn that there is a contagious nature to faith. Faith is passed on; it is inspired by the ones that came before. Just like the bugs and germs that we try to avoid passing on at the hospital, (in a good way) faith too is something that is contagious. Faith is passed on from person to person and faith is passed on from God to God’s followers. Let’s begin first considering how faith is contagiously passed among people. The text begins by recounting some of the amazing stories of Hebrew history, stories of faith being lived out, stories that the Hebrew people knew so well. It begins with a story of Israelite liberation ~ the story of Moses’ faith that led their ancestors out of slavery…leading them safely through the Red Sea as if it were dry…leading them safely towards to the Land of Promise while the pursuing Egyptians were drowned. That story was one of the original stories of liberation in the Hebrew people’s lexicon ~ it had been told for centuries. There would, later on, be stories that would come from their time in Babylonian captivity. There would be other stories of warring neighbours ~ like the Assyrians. And they would all serve as stories of the faith. And these stories would all be lifted up as ways to inspire and pass on, not just their faith story, but rather as to actually pass on the faith. What we learn here is that faith is contagious. We receive the faith from the faithful others who have lived lives of hope, justice, and light amidst their times of tremendous challenge and our faith, in turn, is kindled.
I wonder who YOU might lift up as being the person, or people, whose faith caused yours to catch on fire? Who have been the ‘saints’ in your life? Whose faith taught you the faith that you own today? Saints are one of those ‘churcy’ words that, I believe, are worth reclaiming. Saints are not just those people of the past who the Catholic church have beatified into sainthood like St. Teresa or St. Francis. According to Paul, the saints of the church were the believers. Throughout Paul’s letters, he referred to the saints of the church as the ones who held the faith of the community. They were the ones who inspired the faith of others. Who would you name as the saints of Northwood? Saints of the past? And also, the Saints of the present day? Who might be the Saints in your life? The saints in your family? The saints in your community? Whose deep faith was so contagious that it infected and changed you?
There is a further question that comes from this pondering about faith. And that is concerning how YOUR faith is touching the lives of others. Have you ever considered how your faith is being passed on to the lives of those around you? There is a wonderful saying that I came across (sadly, I cannot credit the name of the author) which puts it this way: “Your life may be the only Bible others read”. That is quite the responsibility…but there is truth in it. Have you considered how your faith is passing on faith to others? How your faith is infecting others with hope, with light, with peace? This other side of faith transmission is the challenging part of the gospel, isn’t it? We honour and celebrate and mourn the saints of the past who have contagiously passed on the faith. Yet, we also need saints of the future to rise up and take their rightful place in passing on the faith in the days ahead. There is a current job posting: ‘Saints Wanted…Apply Now!’ Do you think you might consider applying?
If this job description seems to large or daunting, fear not…I think we are all qualified for the task ahead! As we examine the many faithful people lifted up in the letter, we find they are far from perfect. Moses, of course, was the one who led the Israelites out of Egypt, yet a full examination of his story would recall his hesitation and lacking in his very ability to fulfill this destiny. In the end it was God that helped him liberate the people. Some of the other characters in the Old Testament are ones that are not heard of as regularly ~ and I think there is a reason for this…they are far from perfect as well. Gideon was a warrior, but he was a reluctant warrior who was not confident in his ability and even asked for proof that it was the Lord speaking to him. (Judges 6-8). Barak was entirely unwilling to enter battle without Deborah at his side, and was then told that the honour for the victory would go to her (Judges 4). Samson, despite his super-human strength does not come off as very bright and, in the end, he dies making his point (Judges 16). Jephthah, another mighty warrior, essentially traded the life of his only child in return for a military victory (Judges 11). And lastly, David, despite being remembered as the ‘ideal king’ of Israel committed adultery and arranged for the death of Bathsheba’s husband (2 Samuel 11). My point is that the common thread of these heroes of faith is that they are not perfect. They are like you and I, yet their deep faith continues to be spread to those who follow. Their faith continues to be passed on through those who remember and lift up the light, the hope and the justice they lived. Saints Wanted…Apply Now! The first things we learn is that there is not a job requirement of our perfection. Each and every one of us is qualified precisely because we are God’s imperfect piece of creation who come together to make the world whole.
There is a second piece that makes us all qualified in our role as contagions of faith. This qualification is based on your deep participation in this race called ‘life’. Towards the end of the reading, the writer refers to “the race” writing: let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us”. The reference to “the race” is a very different one compared to our modern day thinking of something that is centres around winners and losers. The Greek word for race is ‘agona’ which, as you can guess is where we get the word ‘agony’. In this journey called life, we are to live it fully. Sometimes the race of life is filled with joys and celebrations; however, in all times it is filled from time to time with agony. Living a full, deep life requires us to endure some of the challenges, some of the struggles, some of the agonies of life. The text continues “let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” with “Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”. Part of living a faithful life entails our engaging in the parts of life that bring pain and suffering, just as Jesus did. The faithful life we live has, and always will contain, some parts that bring suffering, sadness and pain.
This, kind of, sets life in context, doesn’t it? It helps us realize how our faith allows Jesus to be present now and into the future as our faith spreads. The late Harry Emerson Fosdick, arguably one of the greatest preachers of our time, once said, "The world has two ways of getting rid of Jesus. The first is by crucifying him; the second is by worshiping him without following him." There is a lot of truth in that. In one sense it's pretty easy to worship Jesus on Sunday, but it is something else to follow Jesus out there in that world the other 6 ½ days of the week. It's easy to be a member of a church. All you have to do is show up. Woodie Allen once said, "Half of life is just showing up." But discipleship, faithfully running the race of life, truly living your faith is the truly difficult and demanding proposition.
It seems like there is an increasing appeal towards avoiding pain, avoiding suffering, avoiding the ‘real stuff’ of life these days. I wonder if we were to truly consider the suffering and the sacrifices we make as part of living a full, rich and faithful life, it might make the running of the race and its glorious finish all worth the while. I’ve been noticing this call to authenticity coming up in some of the popular music my teenagers like to play. This thread of living through the suffering and pain is a strong theme in rap music that our Millenials love. I heard it well articulated in a Modern-Rock band’s song entitled “This Life”. Vampire Weekend sang the refrain about not cheating on life this way: You've been cheating on, cheating on me. I've been cheating on, cheating on you. You've been cheating on me. But I've been cheating through this life. And all its suffering. Oh Christ. Am I good for nothing?
My friends in faith, there is a deep need for the contagious infection of faith in the world. We give thanks for the saints of the past. And, we are invited to be the saints of the future. Saints Wanted…Apply Now!