Sermon given at Glen, Trintiy 11, 15.8.10, Isham T12 14.8.16
Readings: OT/Epistle Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2
Gospel Luke 12:49-56
When my children got engaged and married, and again when their first children came along the family photo albums all came out – I think it helped them reflect on the their own family history, it was a way of showing their friends and spouses something of who they are. Photo albums are a record of snapshots of various moments in the story of our lives – and looking at them reminds us of our past, where we came from, and how much we’ve learned and matured!!
I think too, for young people at that moment when they’re moving on to create the beginning of their own family story, looking back at the past is a way of beginning to think about how they want to live their future. What ARE the important things they want to share with THEIR spouse and children in their future lives?
The writer to the Hebrews is presenting them with written snapshots of their family story – so they can reflect on where they’ve come from, and the sort of faith their ancestors had – so they can begin to see something of the long story of God’s purposes – and understand how these have come to fulfilment in Jesus, and how we can now begin to experience the new life, life in all its fullness, that is available to us when we choose to follow Jesus wholeheartedly.
It wasn’t easy being a Christian in the early years. No doubt it did tear some families apart – especially if the family faith was closely tied up with their culture and the festivals and religious ceremonies the family observed. It isn’t easy for some people today – especially in some parts of our world, when they leave their family’s faith in order to follow Jesus.
And, of course, there was a lot of persecution in the early years – Emperor Nero in the 60’s killed many, and the letter to Hebrews was probably written at the time of persecution (purges) by Emperor Domitian. We’re all aware that in some parts of our world today Christians face persecution and even death.
It isn’t that easy being a Christian even for us – trying to live our lives as Jesus wants us to is difficult, it’s hard to change our ways, and sometimes when we think of our own Christian journey it feels as if we’re getting nowhere slowly! And it’s not only our own lives that need changing – sometimes God calls us to challenge what’s going on around us. Whether it’s at work or in our local community or nationally, there can be issues that need addressing and that only begins when someone, or some people, challenge the status quo.
Like the Hebrews who received this letter we need the encouragement of stories of faith. We need to be reminded that God through Jesus DOES offer us something of enormous value. And he will support and encourage us if we are trying to put things right or make them work better, more justly than they do at present.
Life is not always a bed of roses – as people sometimes say, one problem gets sorted only for another to come along! Things can challenge both our self-belief and our faith in God.
“Women received back their dead, raised to life again” – this is a reference to the stories of the widow of Zarephath whose son Elijah brought back to life, the widow whose children were saved from slavery by Elisha who prayed for her small jar of oil to fill lots of big jars so that she had plenty to sell instead of having to sell her children to pay her debts, and the childless Shunammite woman whom Elisha blessed so that she gave birth to a son, whom he later restored to life after he’d died from illness.
All these women put their trust in God, and obeyed his prophets. Jesus is the greatest prophet of all time – stories like these remind us of that when we follow him and die to self we shall live to God.
We should remember too that God’s intention, his promise to us, is that when the world is finally redeemed, when heaven and earth are joined together, things will be a whole lot better and more wonderful than they are now – and we shall see that along with all those OT characters too!
Those OT characters were out of tune with their times because they were living by faith in God’s future world while society all around them was living as though the present world was all there was or ever would be. Those OT characters knew that God was giving them strength to live in faith – they felt that showed that God would redeem the world one day.
Bible stories are there to be read – to remind us and to encourage us. But it’s good to tell one another current stories, even those minor God-incidents – they’re all so encouraging.
Our prayer must be for God to give us the strength to live in faith, to endure the troubles we encounter with hope and trust, to have the courage to challenge what is not right in God’s eyes, and to encourage and help one another along the way, always knowing there is something far more wonderful ahead of us – because, according to God – YOU’RE WORTH IT!