Rev. Scott Foster
Each one of us stands on the shoulders of those that have gone before us in life and in faith. We could not have survived without the sacrifice of those that preceded us or have a Christian faith without the example of other Christians in the church. And that's what Hebrews 11 is all about.
It first defines what faith is, "being sure of what we hope for and certain for what we do not see" (11:1). But then it gives us a picture of what this looks like in people's lives. Because faith in God is not abstract. It's not something that we just come to realize one day either. Instead, it is learned through others, particularly those that have gone before us. And when we take the long view of their lives, we see what they trusted in and what they hoped for.
In this passage, we see that Abel trusted in God, for he offered some of his most valuable lambs as an offering to God. It was a better sacrifice than his brother Cain's and God judged Abel to be a righteous man.
It was similar with Enoch, who was the first man to be taken straight to heaven. Enoch's faithful life pleased God.
Noah built an ark when there was no forecast for a great storm. There was also nothing that backed up his actions except for God's word. And yet, he still trusted in it and built that ark.
Abraham could relate. He was called by God to go out of modern day Iraq on foot, and travel to a land he'd never seen before, with his wife who was old. Then God said, they would have a child on top of that!
Moses took risks and trusted God with his life too. He grew up in Pharaoh's palace, having all the privileges of living in a rich family. But he gave it all up to liberate his own people, the Hebrews, enslaved under Pharaoh--his adopted grandfather! Why? Hebrews says, "he regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt because he was looking ahead to his reward" (v. 26).
The city of Jericho was defeated by a prayerful march around its walls 7 times. Not one shot had to be fired for God's people to win.
The prostitute, Rahab, welcomed Israelite spies into her home because she believed the future belonged to Israel's God, not her own people's god. So she showed hospitality to the Israelites and trusted and hoped in their God for her future. That's faith.
And there are so many other people and things this passage mentions, particularly about those who went through enormous suffering because of their faithfulness. It says, "some faced jeers and flogging, while others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned, sawed in two, put to death by the sword" (v. 37). But you know what Hebrews says of them? "The world was not worthy of them, and they will gain a better resurrection" (v. 38, 35).
This is what faith in God looks like according to the ancients in the scriptures. It is open and transparent. It takes risks. It involves journeys, marches and hospitality…and even suffering sometimes...all for the love of God and his grace. We learn from their witness.
So who else have you learned your faith from? Who else has talked to you about God's love in Jesus? And who else has shown it in their lives?
I learned a lot about the Christian faith from watching my mother over the years. She is so passionate about being a good pediatrician for her patients. She really cares about them. She wants to get to know her child patients and she always goes above and beyond what is expected in order to treat them well. She is also active in the community, volunteering her time for different organizations and agencies that lift people up. All of this, she sees as an extension of her faith.
I also learned a lot about the Christian faith from watching my dad over the years. More than anyone else I know, he treats all people with respect and grace. It doesn't matter what you look like, what you're wearing, what job you have or what station of life you are in. He's going to treat you like you would want to be treated. This comes from his Christian faith. After all, didn't Jesus say, "Love your neighbor as yourself?"
From my grandmother and many of the folks at my first church in Newton Grove, I learned the importance of doing daily devotionals and the effect that has on you.
From my twin brother, I've learned the importance of not just living my faith, but talking about it in every day conversation.
And I could name dozens more...
But what about you? Who have you learned from, in addition to the stories in the Bible? Who has showed you what Jesus' teaching look like in the world? And who is good at talking about their faith in your circle of friends?
These are important questions to think about, because we don't come to our faith on our own. Instead, we stand on the shoulders of those that have gone before us.
But you know what might even be more crucial questions to wrestle with? What faith are we now passing on? What faith are we embodying in our own personal lives? And what faith are we living out as a community? Because people are learning about Christianity from watching us.
Your faith, our faith…it's not our own. We didn't just wake up and realize it one day. Our faith stands on the shoulders that have gone before us. So who have you learned from? Who has shown you Jesus' love? Who talks about it so graciously in their lives?
And how are we passing it on now? As individuals? As a church? And as a community?
These might be some of the most important questions we ever wrestle with, because our faith isn't our own. And others are learning the Christian faith by watching us.
Rev. Scott Foster is the associate pastor at Haymount United Methodist Church