Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sermon: Hebrews 11:32-12:2

Rembrance Day is a time to remember, to look back, to reflect on our recent past; on our nation's history. We're stirred to thankfulness for the bravery of those who sacrificed their lives for ours, and we can celebrate the freedom they have won for us.

Our New Testament reading this morning is very appropriate for Armistice Day, for Remembrance Day, as we remember those who have gone before in the family of faith. But more than just looking back, Hebrews 11 and 12 encourage us to look back, to look forward, and to look up. These words are words of encouragement in the battle and in the race, to keep going.

1. Look back at the examples of God's people in previous generations. The Letter to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were giving up on Jesus and returning to the Jewish ways of synagogue and temple, Law and circumcision. The writer points to their Hebrew ancestors and asks how did they please God? How did the fathers do what they did? It wasn't by works, but 'by faith'.

Hebrews 11 is a great chapter, with the stories of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and many others. It's just a pity he calls time without giving us more of the story of the judges and the kings and the prophets! But why is this written, and here? The trials that we're going through aren't new - this is how the world has always treated the people of God, but they continued on through their faith in God, depending on his promise. If you think things are tough now, see what our fathers in the faith endured!

They are the great cloud of witnesses, but what does this mean? There are two main possiblities - either we have their stories to spur us on, to encourage us; or else it's like all these saints are in the stands cheering us on as we run our race, them having already finished their races. Imagine what it would be like in the new London 2012 stadium (when it's finished) and the crowd cheering you on. The cloud of witnesses is rooting for you to be faithful as they were.

2. Look forward to the race that is set before us. We can't just look back, we also have to look forward to what remains in front of us. God hasn't finished with us yet, and has given us more to complete - we still have some way to go.

But if the Christian life is pictured as a race, then we have to be race-fit. You wouldn't set out on a run bundled up in lots of layers of clothes. I couldn't run too far in my cassock and surplice (I might trip on it!). I don't know how the marathon runners in fancy dress do it. It's so much easier to run when you're in shorts and t-shirt (although I don't recommend you try it today - it's too rainy and cold to be going running!). The writer urges us to lay aside every weight, and the sin that clings so closely.

I don't know what you're like wrapping presents, but the stick tape is just too, well, sticky for my liking. I end up getting stuck in it, and it never goes the way I want to. Sin is also sticky, clingy, as the passage says. We like it too much to really give it up. We struggle to get rid of it even when determined. Yet it holds us back, it stops us from running as we should.

What are the things in your life that are holding you back? Where are the areas that you and I need to change?

3. Look up as we look to Jesus. We're not alone in the race, we look forward and up to the Lord Jesus, who is described as the founder and perfecter of our faith. He is where faith begins and ends - the start and the finish of faith. He has also endured the race that was before him, and because he has finished, we are certain of finishing too.

Let's consider his example of running the race. He saw the joy that was before him, and so endured the cross, the horrible, terrible, painful death of the cross, to pass through to the joy awaiting him. What was the joy that sustained the Lord? The joy of fulfilling the Father's plans, of redeeming sinners, and of the throne at the right hand of the Father.

Jesus has done it, and we can be sure of sharing in his victory. There's the old slogan 'no cross, no crown.' The way to glory is tinged with pain and sadness, as we follow in the steps of the Master, bearing our cross, looking forward to sharing his kingdom.

The joys of heaven are worth the pains and sorrows of this transitory life. We are not finished yet, but God's word brings us encouragement as we look back to the heroes of the faith, forward to the remaining race (making ourselves better able to run it) and up to the reigning, glorious Lord Jesus.

This sermon was preached at the BCP Morning Prayer service on Wednesday 11th November 2009 at St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald.

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