As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Who are your spiritual heroes, was given at Waverley Temple Salvation Army on Sunday 18 August, 2013. The Bible reading was Hebrews 11:29-12:2.
Who are your faith heroes? In the bible reading today, we’ve heard a few of the faith heroes that were of importance to the faith community that this epistle was addressed to. We’ve heard of Moses and of Joshua and Rahab. We’ve heard of Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah – Judges of the early Hebrew tribes, and of David, the king, and Samuel, the prophet. We’ve heard all their actions attributed to their faith – by Faith, these great people did these things. These are people that they hold in high esteem in their faith, because of the things that they have done.
So who are your faith heroes? Who are the people that, by acting out their faith, have meant that you hold them high in your own faith understanding? Maybe it’s someone like Martin Luther King Jr., who fought for civil rights for all people. Or maybe it’s someone like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who led the South African people spiritually, while Nelson Mandela was leading them as a nation towards freedom. Or perhaps the early Salvationists, who persisted in their faith despite near constant attacks from the Skeleton Army. Or even someone from here, or from elsewhere in your life who has inspired you to keep going in your faith journey?
I’ve mentioned some of my spiritual heroes – Martin Luther King, and Archbishop Tutu, but some of my lesser known ones are those from my life. Like Max, who only last year celebrated the 60th Anniversary of his ordination, who still runs an active ministry for those in his community. Or Gray, who’s strong faith has deeply impacted his vocation as a lawyer, and as such fights for justice for the oppressed. Our faith heroes are important to know in our lives, because they inspire and strengthen us in our own journey.
We hear at the end of the reading about the “great cloud of witnesses” that surround us as we run the race. I think the writer of Hebrews had in mind the end of the Marathon race in the Ancient Olympics, where the runners would enter the stadium, much as they do today, and run a lap around the stadium before they finished. The stadium would be filled with people cheering them on to completion, and the rewards that await them. While I think the writer would never have imagined running into a crowd of 80,000 such as what Stephen Kiprotich experienced in the 2012 Olympics, the idea of being surrounded by countless people who had gone before them in their faith certainly would have inspired those that received this letter.
Last year, I ran in the City2Sea, a 14km fun run from the Arts Centre to St Kilda. Now, I know that 14km isn’t exactly a marathon, and St Kilda Beach isn’t exactly an 80,000 seat arena, but go with me here. My preparation for the event didn’t exactly go as planned. Prior to the beginning of last year, I didn’t really run – I was still recovering from surgery on my ACL. But last year I got into it, and built up my running. I got to 5km, and thought that I might push on to do a 10km fun run. The City2Sea fitted into my college requirements, and so I went for it. I trained, and built up my distance, but for some reason, I couldn’t break 9km. My legs wouldn’t want to carry me any further than that. Minor injuries slowed my progress. I couldn’t do it on my own. After some rest, and a change in route, I was able to break 10km, a few days before the race. I was happy with that. My goal was only 10km, not 14, and I figured that if I hit the 10km running, and walked the rest of the way, I would be happy with that.
The day of the race came, and I headed down to the arts centre, and found thousands of people waiting to start their race with me. As we headed off, I found it a lot easier than when I was running by myself. I had people all around me, there were bands on the side of the road, and when I got to the 10km mark, I was feeling great. I kept running. I got to the foreshore, and I was still running. As I was heading down into the park where the finishing line was, I picked up my pace – not only was I going to finish the 14km, but I was going to finish it at pace. There were people lined up around the finishing line, cheering on those who were finishing. Now sure, I may have been three times slower than the fastest competitor, but those cheers pushed me on to finish the race strongly.
That’s what we find with our faith journey. Those faith heroes, who have gone before us, are cheering us on, and we find encouragement in that. Whether it’s being inspired by the work of someone else, or relief and thanksgiving that you’re not going through the persecution that they went through, they inspire us to keep going, so that we can receive the reward, along with them.
That’s one of the interesting things I find about this reading. All these great heroes of the faith, those that are held in great regard by the community that was reading this letter, the author says that while they are commended for their faith, they have not received their reward. This is an odd thing to say. Abraham’s descendants are “as numerous as the stars.” Moses did see the Promised Land. The promises to prosper the Hebrew nation in their battles occurred. They have all received their immediate rewards, so how can the author here say that none of them have received their rewards?
Here, the author is talking about the reward that we will all get – to live again with God in heaven, with Jesus at his right hand side.
So, how do we get there? What is this race that we are being encouraged to run?
The race is run to heaven, and the author tells us how to get there – we are to “lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely.” Some early copies of the text have “the sin that easily distracts.” The message is clear – we need to remove that which distracts us from God.
Our faith should be something that pervades our entire lives – not just a couple of hours on a Sunday. When we declare “Jesus is Lord” we are actually saying “Jesus is Lord over all of my life” – there are no part time lords. So how do we reflect that in our own lives?
A couple of weeks ago, I went to the footy to watch Liesl’s team, Geelong, take on North Melbourne. It’s an interesting thing to go to a game where you don’t support either team. I found myself enjoying the game, the spectacle of the game, every aspect of the game, yet my cheering was quite different to when I watch the (at the moment, not-so-)mighty West Coast Eagles. It caused me to think – do I reflect biblical values when I support my team? Do I encourage my team, but curse the other team? Do I allow filthy language to enter my mouth? In realising this, it made me rethink my behaviours so that I can allow God to be Lord over all of my life.
This can be difficult. There’s part of us that wants to engage in sin. Now, I’m not talking about big things – I hope that no-one has committed murder in the past week – but places where we may not be reflecting Jesus as Lord in every part of our life. Maybe we are holding a small grudge against one of our brothers or sisters in Christ. Or we are engaging in gossip – did you hear that so and so is doing this? Or maybe not looking after the world that God put into our care – littering, wasting power or resources.
However, when we declare Jesus as Lord, and we choose to live a holy life, we make a choice – quite against what our culture and our nature would suggest – to live in ways that are honouring to the teachings that Jesus has given us. Every time that we choose Christ’s way, we are cheered on from heaven. From choosing not to engage in gossip, through to looking after the environment through not littering or saving power, there are many ways which we can continue to seek to have Jesus as Lord over all our lives. I have one friend who feels so strongly convicted about this command to live a pure and holy life that she cannot leave a shopping centre unless she has returned her shopping trolley to the trolley return. Now, that may sound silly and trivial to you, but it’s all these small things that add up, and though a small action, it is one example of how our actions can help us live in a counter-cultural way that promote Jesus over ourselves.
From physical actions to personal behaviours, we are asked to take off anything that distracts us from the goal. And though it’s hard, we can take encouragement from those who have gone before us, from the cloud of witnesses who are cheering us on, to live the pure life where Jesus is Lord over all our life.
So, a couple of questions for you – who are your spiritual heroes, and if you want to get a bit deeper, what physical behaviours (like my footy cheering) have you reconsidered to try an live a more spirit-filled life? Let me know in the comments below.