By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace. And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets- who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented-of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
I don’t consider myself someone who is very handy with tools, but I like to think that I enjoy doing that kind of work every now and then. Sometimes I’ll turn to the internet and see what kind of fun and random DIY projects people are up to these days. One such project I recently came across was a video of someone attempting to repair an old pair of shoes that they found in their closet. The meticulous work of replacing the soles and other parts of the shoe for some reason satisfying to watch, but it was intriguing to read a few of the comments. While most were positive, there was a good number who wrote things like, “They could’ve just went out and bought a new pair of shoes for the time it took to repair the old pair.”
If you’ve ever invested that kind of time into something you know that’s not the reason why we sink our time or resources into doing tasks like restoration or the types of jobs that require more of our attention. It’s not about what is easy or what is fastest, but what is valuable in terms of feeding our souls and nourishing them. The path that is laid in front of us requires that we be persistent and that we forge ahead with faith that God will do what God needs to do and that we will continue to be the hands and feet of God. The readings we have had for the past couple of from the Book of Hebrews brings this understanding of faith to the forefront. Faith is the endurance of our souls to find rest and encourage in the Word of God and the strength to overcome the hurdles that lie ahead of us.
There are a couple of essential stories that the Book of Hebrews evokes in this morning’s reading. The first is Moses’ parting of the Red Sea. Moses certainly didn’t have plans to be a part of God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from the land of Egypt. I’m sure that Moses had plans. I bet that Moses had his sights set on living a “normal” life. But things happen, things change, and sometimes we are moved to take actions that will change the course of history. Moses didn’t start the day thinking that he would kill an Egyptian overseer who was beating an Israelite. Moses didn’t know he would stand before the throne of Pharaoh and uttered the infamous words, “Let my people go.” On those days when Moses thought that all for naught that his life was over the Spirit of God revealed a different path. A path that would lead Moses to possess the faith that God would separate the waters of the Red Sea; allowing the people of Israel to escape.
But if you were listening to reading this morning, you would notice that it wasn't just Moses' faith that allowed the waters to be parted, but it was, in fact, the people of Israel's faith. They, by faith, walked through the roaring waters of the Red Sea as if they were walking on dry ground. But when the Egyptians try to do the same, they were washed away the collapsing waters. Why did the waters swallow them and not the Israelites? Because the Egyptians did not have faith, only vengeance, only hate, and malice. A lesson that should strive to remember every day. Hatred and vengeance have no place in our life of faith, only love. And I don't say that with some glib attitude, I mean it! God is more than willing to sweep away the hatred we bring and will find ways to intervene.
Rahab too is lifted up as another story for us to turn to as we look at our ongoing journey of faith. Rahab, the Canaanite woman, hid spies from Israel as they were collecting information about the city of Jericho. She didn’t meet the Israelites with malicious intent but instead welcomed them in peace. And because she did not allow them to fall into the hands of the guards, Rahab and her family were spared. As a Caanite and an outside, Rahab still welcomed faith in God even in the face of possible death. But setting aside her fears, we find that she and those who were close to her were given new life. To welcome in strangers, spies no less, from a foreign place and hide them from guards who were searching for them. That takes guts, that takes courage, and it certainly takes faith that something much more significant is at play.
As I've said before, on different occasions, the work of faith isn't easy. The late Harry Emerson Fosdick, who was a fantastic theologian and preacher, once said, "The world has two ways of getting rid of Jesus. The first is by crucifying him; the second is by worshiping him without following him." In that short sentence, there is a lot of truth to Fosdick's words. On the "bad days," I often look back at this passage and realize just how bad things could really be. Faith is messy, and faith on good days is still hard work, but the payoff is more rewarding than anything we could imagine. All it requires is that we be willing to take a step of faith as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
Following in those footsteps seems to often go with being a member of a church. But being a member of a church is easy, but the task of discipleship in the community of the church is something else. You might have figured it out, but the world often looks down on the things that are considered “wretched.” But those things that are “wretched” are actually blessed in the eyes of Christ. Blessed are the have nots. Blessed are the meek and humble. Blessed are the ones who show mercy and compassion. Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty so that God’s righteousness and justice may flow down like a raging river. Blessed are the ones who are peacemakers. Blessed are the ones who have been persecuted for who God created them to be, beautifully and wonderfully made. Blessed are those who have been chastised just because they showed love, because they showed compassion, and because they spoke for justice, not only for themselves but for those who need justice the most.
It is that kind of faith, that kind of discipleship that should give us the motivation to keep moving. As we hear in this morning’s reading:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Faith requires us to get down into the ground and get dirty. We need to get dirty to see that the reward for our perseverance exists outside of ourselves. It's not about what we contribute to one church, one town, one county, one state, or even the one country where we live. When we get into the messy work of faith, we'll find that God has called us to be a part of a much more expanse community of human beings. That might seem overwhelming, but it's part of one long relay. The work we do not will be passed to the next generation, and then they will pass it on to the generation that comes after them.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
In the end, all I can really say is keep the faith. In the messiness and the chaos, keep the faith. Keep the faith when you feel it strong and keep it when you don't. Hold onto faith when you're exploring the mountaintops and hills and keep it when you're in the valleys of angst and despair. Keep it when you feel like God is close to you and keep it when it feels as though God isn't there.
God has faith in us, in you, so much so that we are given the gift of life. Isn't it worth it then to get our hands a little dirty so that our lives are not just lived to the fullest, but those who come after may be full as well? So may you, and we, have faith and courage to run the race as run the course that is ahead of us. Amen.