Transcribed from the sermon preached November 16, 2013
The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor
Scripture Readings: Hebrews 11:24-12:2, Romans 5:1-10
- After being cut from his high school basketball team he went home and cried. Michael Jordan
- He wasn’t able to speak until he was almost four years old and his teachers said he wouldn’t amount to much. Albert Einstein.
- Was demoted from her job as a news anchor because she wasn’t fit for television. Oprah
- Fired from a newspaper for lacking imagination and having no original ideas. Walt Disney
- The teacher told him he was too stupid to learn anything and that he should go into a field where he might succeed by virtue of his pleasant personality. Thomas Edison
- His first book was rejected by 27 publishers. Dr Seuss.
- His fiancé died, he failed in business, and was defeated in 8 elections. Abe Lincoln.
Sometimes, some of us defeat ourselves because of our past, because we pull out the file of disappointment, failure, and weakness and dwell on that evidence. But there are others who change what is possible because they pull out the file of faith, courage, inspiration and achievement.
The longevity and resilience of the Jewish people is truly remarkable. It is a story of incredible oppression and hardship and there were some slips along the way. But that is not the focus of the story. It is also a story of perseverance and faith in the face of hardship. It is a story of faith in family, education and God. They could have focused on the negativity, on the hardship, but they focused on the endurance, on the faith that is steadfast even when it looks like there is no hope.
The author of Hebrews is writing to his church which is experiencing difficulty and persecution. I only give you half of them in this morning’s passage, but the list of biblical heroes functions to inspire faith in salvation, even though present circumstances may warrant despair. As with most of the lists of people in the New Testament, the people listed are not perfect, there are some shady parts of their lives. Moses is a murderer, but becomes a liberator.
Rahab is a prostitute in Jericho. We know Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumbling down. But the victory owes a great deal to Rahab. Rahab who was likely an outcast of her family winds up saving her family; then she marries Salmon, one of the spies who visited her. One suspects it wasn’t just the city he was spying on. Anyway, Salmon was a prince of the house of Judah. And the two gave birth to Boaz, who married Ruth who had Obed, who had Jesse the father of David. So the foreign prostitute helps win a battle, saves her family and becomes a princess and the ancestor of Jesus, the Son of God. Nothing about our past will keep God from using us to do great things today if we have faith.
We all have handicaps and weaknesses. Some we can see, some we can’t. We may have physical, intellectual, emotional or attitudinal handicaps. Hang-ups, baggage, sins, disorders, whatever you want to call them. We can accept the grace that we cannot be all things for all people. We can’t change what has happened to us. We are not responsible for everything that happens to us. But we can be responsible for how we respond. The baggage we bring is not what justifies us. If God offers forgiveness, which we see through the love of Christ, then it is by faith we are justified. We start from here, from the Grace of Christ available today.
I love the positive attitude of Lois. At the church retreat a bunch of us went to the beach and we got to talking. Did you know Lois used to racecars? Sally asked if she still races. No she said, “My feet don’t react on the pedals like they used to. That is one of those things I can’t do anymore. Like I can’t go down to the water and go swimming anymore. But there are so many things to do. There is always something fun or beautiful to do. The list is endless.” Now that is an inspiring attitude.
We can look at our past and the trouble it has brought and think it assures that we will amount to nothing, or we can listen today to how God would use us with the gifts that have been passed down to us or developed within us along the way. And we gain insight and motivation today by listening to what God wants for the future. We find motivation today by seeing the possibility of tomorrow, the dream of the way it should be. We rejoice in the hope of sharing the glory of God.
It may seem like we are going backward. For example, our society since 9/11 is reacting in anxious fear. There is propaganda provoking fear and hatred. Here yesterday at the UN Peacemaking conference, a Pakistani American woman told the story of being in a department store on 9/11. Having no idea what had happened she came upon the TV section and stopped to watch with the others. As tears ran down her face, a man looked at her and asked, “What are you crying for?” “What do you have to cry for?” Some have decided that we are at war with Islam and Muslims. Another crusade. To some, a Muslim woman couldn’t be human enough to be sympathetic, to be hurt, to cry.
In the aftermath of 9/11 homeland security made military equipment available to local and regional law enforcement, so they could be ready against radical Muslim terrorists attacks. What we know from history, from the crusades, is that as a society whips up fear and hatred, and dehumanizes an enemy out there, the same tactics, the same weapons are turned against those others we too easily dehumanize within our own society. The crusades turn to pogroms against Jews and discrimination of people who look different. It is no surprise that police forces amped up with all sorts of new exciting military equipment find a convenient excuse to use it, even if it is against American citizens as in Ferguson. We know there is something wrong when in Florida it legal to track and shoot an unarmed teenager but a minister gets arrested for feeding the homeless. We can find the political will to spend money on prisons, but we won’t spend the same amount of money on education. Child immigrants fleeing from starvation and rape are labeled terrorists with Ebola, an existential threat.
I believe part of the reason we dehumanize others is that if we don’t, we have to acknowledge they are like us, or worse, we are like them…that we have selfish interests, that we have inclinations toward violence and sex, that we are inclined to make God in our own image and invoke holy war, that they might have some valid points of view, that we fear change just like them and have a reactionary response against it. So we project our sins upon others so that we can justify ourselves and demonize them.
The key is grace. If we are justified by grace through faith, then we are free to look at and acknowledge all of whom we are. We are free to see our enemies as children of God. What would a world look like where we each saw each other as a beloved child of God?
I have a friend who was a waiter at a five star restaurant in Carmel. He is one of those guys who can taste a glass of wine and tell you what it is, what it tastes like. But I have no class and no taste so I know nothing about what I am drinking. But I still like to read the signs describing the taste: hints of blackberry, oak and licorice, overtones of rose blossom and a lingering finish of wet socks. I sometimes think I can taste those overtones.
The Jewish Annotated New Testament says that Faith has “Overtones of endurance, trust, and insight into spiritual truth.” It implies substance, firmness, groundedness. Isn’t it interesting that the ethereal faith, the unverifiable faith implies substance, firmness and groundedness? But it does: through thick and thin, faith keeps us grounded, carries us through.
It means that as we are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we are not going to be blown to and fro by every wind of fear. We can stay joyous about all the beauty and goodness we find in life and people. We can keep the vision of that world in which we are all God’s beloved children. We can look at our own sins and mistakes just as we look at others. We can recognize boundaries and limitations without feeling we are useless or condemned or unlovable. We can recognize that a nation must defend itself against serious threat, and send our soldiers to war, and care for them when they return, without pretending everything they do or every battle we send them to fight is entirely just. We can listen. We can ask for forgiveness and receive it. We can call upon the Holy Spirit to give us the power to live in love. We are not responsible for everything that happens to us, but we can decide how we are going to respond. We do not have to let terrorism make us terrible too. We can acknowledge history. We can examine racial stereotypes and fears and reject them. We can be inspired by the faith, courage and growth of our forefathers and mothers, but reject the racism and prejudice. When we have a negative image jump up in our mind, we can reject it, and do the opposite. When we sense fear in ourselves, we can step forward in love. We can listen; we can grow. We can make peace. Yes we can. Taking inspiration from the faith of our foremothers and fathers, we stand grounded with the integrity and power of love, inspired by the vision and hope for a world of peace. We cannot do everything, but we can do something. What is God calling you to do?