Imperfect People, Perfect Faith
By Rev. Heidi L. Barham | August 14, 2022
Click here to listen to the service
Read Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2 (NIV)
Our text today is found in the Book of Hebrews, starting in chapter 11 which is often referred to as the “Hall of Faith.”
And while scholars have debated over the authorship of Hebrews for years… it appears to have been written to Hebrew Christians who may have been wavering in their commitment to Jesus and were thus considering a return to the Judaism of their past.
Perhaps it was a lack of maturity or perhaps it was a fear of uncertainty… or it could have been a simple case of not understanding biblical truths and not accepting that Jesus truly was the Messiah.
It is difficult to say what was going through the minds of the Hebrew Christians back then as they faced hardships and persecution…
It can be equally difficult to say what is going through our minds today as we face much of the same.
Whatever it was then and whatever it is now… in spite of any immaturity or uncertainty… any misunderstanding or disbelief… the Scriptures offer us encouragement through the witness and testimony of those who have gone before us… that even when we don’t have our act together, we can put our trust in God who has everything under control.
So, this morning, as we reflect on this text found in the Book of Hebrews, I want to invite us to think on the subject:
IMPERFECT PEOPLE, PERFECT FAITH.
Unfortunately, time will not permit us to unpack all the examples of faith that we find in the passage that calls for our consideration here today… but suffice it to say, there are some true heroes of the faith contained within these verses… those who experienced great triumph in the face of impossible circumstances… and others who overcame great tragedy even when the odds were stacked against them.
People who were not perfect but who maintained faith in who is… these were not people who were looking for an audience to witness how they lived out their faith… which is exactly what makes them such great examples for us today…
IMPERFECT PEOPLE, PERFECT FAITH
They kept the faith in moments of triumph as well as tragedy… success as well as failure… in the good and the bad…
And while some might consider these points to be opposite ends of a spectrum… in all honesty, they are just the realities of every day life… realities that demonstrate our need to have faith in God.
God who has been with us in both triumph and tragedy… God who is with us when we are successful as well as when we fail… God who will be with us in good times and in bad…
Because as we read in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 31 (6, 8) and Joshua 1 (5), as well as in the New Testament in the Book of Hebrews (13:5), God has promised to never leave us nor forsake us.
That means that even when times are hard and we cannot figure out how to make it from one day to the next, one hour to the next, or even one moment to the next… God has promised to be with us… just as He was with Rahab, and Gideon, and Barak, and Samson, and Jephthah, and David, and Samuel, and the prophets…
So, at the end of the day, whether we are joyous and jubilant or devastated and depressed… we have the blessed assurance that God will be with us through it all.
And that is surely good news for us today… particularly when we look back at the recent events of just this past week… up to and including the assassination attempt on Salman Rushdie at the Chautauqua Institution in New York… while hundreds of people, including our General Minister and President, Teresa Hord Owens, and our Regional Minister and President, Allen Harris and their spouses, watched in stunned disbelief.
For those who may be unfamiliar with Chautauqua, it was founded back in 1874 as the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly. The statement of welcome found on their website reads:
We are a community of artists, educators, thinkers, faith leaders and friends dedicated to exploring the best in humanity. Whether it’s your first time visiting or your fiftieth, our promise is the same: Wisdom will be gleaned. Memories will be made. Life will be enriched. Positive change is your charge (https://www.chq.org/).
Our General Minister and President was there as the guest preacher for the week during a time designed for renewal and restoration… in a place that is “dedicated to the exploration of the best in human values and the enrichment of life” (https://www.chq.org/).
Yet, even there, tragedy was able to find its way in to disrupt the lives of those who had gathered simply to listen to a famous author speak… many of whom would be described as people of faith…
IMPERFECT PEOPLE, PERFECT FAITH
Now, as I was working on the bulletin earlier in the week, I looked at the Lectionary texts and I was not exactly sure which one to choose. It felt like we had been using the Gospel of Luke a lot recently for our New Testament lesson.
So, I thought it might be a good idea to switch things up a little this week… but looking at some of the verses in this passage from Hebrews made me hesitate for just a moment… especially verses 35-38:
Talk about tragic circumstances… did I really want to preach from a passage that contained such doom and gloom? Especially during a time when we could all use a little more hope in our lives.
But as I kept reading… beyond the hardships that these heroes of the faith encountered… past all of the difficulties that confronted them… despite the obstacles they had to overcome… there was hope… hope for them AND hope for us as well…
Verse 39 reads, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised…” Wait a minute, Pastor Heidi… just where is the hope in that? You just said, "None of them received the promise."
The hope is in what comes next in verse 40, where we read, “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
In other words, the best is yet to come!
And as we keep reading into chapter 12, we find words of encouragement that we need to hold on… we need to persevere as we continue running in this race called life… and most importantly, we need to keep our eyes on the prize… Jesus!
The 11th chapter of Hebrews provides us with a running list of “great witnesses” whose lives demonstrate a level of faithfulness that many of us aspire to and some of us may have even achieved…
However, when we get to the last verse of our text, we find the One whose faithfulness far surpasses anything we will ever be able to achieve in this life.
“…Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
“Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of faith” … some versions of the Bible read, “Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” … while others read, “Jesus, the author and perfector of faith” I think that which ever version of the Bible we look at, it seems safe to say that Jesus is the beginning and the end, or better yet, the fulfillment of faith.
Now, it is this same Jesus who was willing to endure the cross and the shame that accompanied it because He knew that there was something even greater beyond the cross… the joy of heaven… the joy of eternity in the kingdom of God… and the joy of all of God’s children being together in His Father’s house…
Let us keep in mind these words of Jesus found in John’s Gospel:
But the day is still yet to come when our race here on earth will be done… when we will cross that finish line and enter into the kingdom of God…
So, until that day comes, we must keep running and exercise endurance… just as the heroes of faith have done for centuries…
Looking up to Jesus… as IMPERFECT PEOPLE, who have PERFECT FAITH, not because we, ourselves, are perfect but because the One in whom we have faith is…
And that is why I want to invite us all to stand now and join in singing our Hymn of Discipleship: My Faith Looks Up to Thee #576.