Preached at Center Moreland and Dymond Hollow UMC’s, August 19, 2007.
Who are your heroes?
On my MySpace page, there is an area where they ask you to name some heroes. I have listed some well known names, like Martin Luther King, Bono (the lead singer for the band U2 and an extremely effective activist against hunger and AIDS in Africa), and Bishop Desmond Tutu (the former Anglican Archbishop of South Africa who worked so hard to end Apartheid). They are on most lists.
But then there are heroes of mine that you probably don’t know. John Thornburg (who was my mentor in seminary), Bill McElvaney (another wise old preacher from my seminary days), Billy Crockett, (An unorthodox Christian musician), and Bishop Susan Murch Morrison (our former Bishop here and the Bishop down in the Peninsula Delaware Conference when I began my journey to ordination) finish off that particular list.
If I had the time, I would be able to tell you the story of each person, and why they are on my list of heroes. If I were to think some more, I could think of others who led lives that were exemplary, committed acts of bravery and revolution, or merely impress me for their physical accomplishments.
With or without steroids, for instance, Barry Bonds’ lifetime home run record is impressive. His personality is irrelevant. Cal Ripken’s iron man record of consecutive games played is even more impressive, and his being a good guy is icing on the cake. I am a native of Northern California and a Niners fan, so Joe Montana is a hero. I look at someone like Jackie Robinson, and he is a hero as much because of his courage and character as it is about his playing ability.
If I were to write a list of people who were exemplary faith models from Christian history, the list would include names like St. Patrick, St. Theresa of Avila, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Mother Theresa, and of course John Wesley. We could talk about less well known names like Jan Huss, Albert Schweitzer, Dorothy Day, Billy Sunday.
If we made a modern list, we could consume much coffee as we sat around a table and argued over names like Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, John Stott, Martin Marty or Rick Warren.
The list that the author of Hebrews writes in our passage today is a list that would be similar to our Luther/Calvin/Wesley list—a list that his readers would be instantly familiar with, a list of names where the stories are well known. What the author has been doing since way back in the beginning of chapter eleven is naming examples of people from what we Christians know as the Old Testament (the author and his readers would have just known it as “The Bible”) who are to be remembered because they knew that God was building up to something. They were willing to do their part, even though they knew they probably wouldn’t get to see the finished product.
Before our passage, he spends a lot of time on Noah and others from Genesis, a long bit about Abraham and Moses, and then, in our passage, the laundry list of heroes from Judges and the prophets, and finally down to the people who are living at the same time as the readers and the author.
Hebrews’ author’s point is this: The story is not yet done, the work is not yet finished, and more people are going to be hurt and maybe even die for what is coming, maybe even some of them. They may not get to see what is coming, and none of us really know what that is.
Even if you haven’t seen the new Harry Potter movie, you may know the line from the advertisement—“every single great wizard started out as nothing more than what we are right now.”
Every single saint of the faith started out as nothing more than the kind of people we are right now. Every single saint knew as much about what is coming as we do now.
We don’t wear togas, but really we are no different than the ones who were fed to the lions. Some of our generation, our time, will live lives of quiet and solid faith that historians will not record. We will pass on the faith to a new generation without note. Some of us, on the other hand, will commit great acts of faith, known by many.
Ultimately, we will add our spirits to that great cloud of witnesses for those who come after us. And we will all persevere in our race, knowing that it was in the name of Jesus that we ran it, that we made the choices we did.
Bishop Tutu, who in faith was willing in Christ’s name to fight injustice and suffer at the hands of the Racist Apartheid government of South Africa;
John Wesley, who in faith believed that Christ was more energetic and cared more for all people than the church he served was acknowledging at the time;
Mother Theresa, who in faith worked in Christ’s name with and for the poor of Calcutta, when she was not her self Indian and was just as susceptible to disease as those she cared for;
The list can go on and on.
What will members of our churches say about you after you have gone? What will you have ultimately done in Christ’s name? Will you have been good stewards of the faith passed to you by your parents, your Sunday school teachers, your church? Will you have taken the faith of Christ to new areas, to new cultures? Will you have taken it with you to all parts of your life, even into the doubting and scoffing world?
Will you work it, use it, get it dirty, beaten up, torn up, rained on, and ultimately lived in and reliable, like an old ball glove? Or will you keep it safe, locked away and pristine, like a chair that is beautiful and antique, but you can’t sit on it?
Heroes of the faith, the ones that really matter, did the former. They are the ones named in Hebrews. They are the ones we all know by name, now.
Which will you be?