Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, 32-40, 12:1-2
The Holy Club: A Matter of Faith
Today we’re continuing in our sermon series on The Holy Club. The Holy Club, remember, was the name given to John and Charles Wesley and their friends who started gathering regularly - several times a week - to encourage each other in their discipleship, to be accountable to each other in their faith journeys. As part of this plan of accountability, they had a set of questions - twenty-one (ish, depending on how you count) that they would use for self-reflection, and then share their reflections with their group. And during this series, we’re trying to follow along with them.
You can see in your bulletin insert the next set of questions from the twenty-one that we’re focusing on today: When did I last speak to someone else about my faith? Am I defeated in any part of my life? Am I proud? Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying? Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican? Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it? Do I grumble or complain constantly? Is Christ real to me? Like last week, I find all of the questions challenging: I’d have to acknowledge, if I’m honest about these questions, that sometimes, for example, what I’m doing about the feelings of resentment I have toward someone is nurturing them, rather than working for healing and reconciliation. But today, we’re particularly focusing on the theme of “faith,” having faith, growing faith in our discipleship journey, and so I’m particularly keyed in on the first and last question on that list.
First: When did I last speak to someone else about my faith? When we asked ourselves this question at Bible study last week, I asked the class to further narrow the question: When did you last speak about your faith to someone who wasn’t a part of this congregation, to someone who wasn’t perhaps part of any congregation? You might think that as a pastor, I have this question in the bag. I talk to people about faith all the time, right? And truly, I do. But if I am not careful, not intentional, I spend so much of my time attending to the ins and out of our church life here, in this place, that I’m not spending nearly as much time talking to folks who aren’t connected to this faith community or any faith community as I think God calls me to be. I have to be intentional about cultivating relationships with folks who aren’t already moving in the same circles as I am. And what’s more: I have to be interested in real relationships with people. If I’m trying to get to know people just enough that I can tell them how much better off they’d be if they shared my faith? Well, people will not be impressed by that kind of inauthenticity! Sharing my faith with others also means living without fear of whether others will like me or not. I’m not saying we’re meant to boldly thump people over the head with our faith. In my experience, that basically never produces the desired results! But I’m saying: sometimes claiming the faith of Jesus is hard. We might feel uncool, out of step with culture, old-fashioned somehow, or like we’ll be labeled as overzealous, self-righteous folks. It can be hard to talk about our faith when it would be easier to get along if we stayed quiet. Easier, for sure. But if we’re not sharing our faith with others, and our faith is a significant part of who we are, then we’re never be able to share our full selves with others if we keep holding back. Sometimes young people are our best models for sharing faith sincerely, sharing their whole selves without editing because of how they might be received. That’s one of the things I appreciate about Taylor sharing today: Taylor is pretty transparent. She’s sincere, and you don’t have to wonder about the things that are important to her, because they shine through. How well do the people in your life know what’s important to you? Do they know how your faith shapes you?
The last question asks: Is Christ real to you? How would you answer this question? Some days, maybe you struggle to say yes. Or maybe it’s easy for you to affirm this statement all the time. And if that’s the case, I’ll ask a follow up: How do you demonstrate it? How do you show that Christ is real to you? What evidence is there in your life that Christ is real to you?
Our scripture text today is from the book of Hebrews. Hebrews 11 has been one of my favorite chapters of the Bible since I was little. It is a beautiful litany of the ways in which people all throughout the stories in the scriptures relied on their faith in God to help them do the seemingly impossible, to confront injustice, to stand up in the face of persecution, to travel to unknown places and face hostile opposition. It’s a litany of people who heard God’s promises, believed them, and lived their lives accordingly, even when they didn’t get to see those promises come to pass in their lifetime. I encourage you to read the whole chapter.
The author writes, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” After listing many we might think of as biblical “heroes,” the author says, “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.” And he concludes, “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.” For every name listed in Hebrews 11, God was very real to them, and it showed. Because their faith in God was firm - not because they were so wonderful, but because they believed that God was truly so wonderful - they were able to live faithfully, serve faithfully in God’s name.
As we reflect on these Holy Club questions today, as we’ve listened to Taylor’s testimony, as we are full of hope for the lives, for the futures of the people we celebrate today: the newly baptized, our friends heading to a new place, our graduates entering a new season of life, as we hear the litany of faith in Hebrews, I have a few questions of my own to add to Wesley’s.
What have you done by faith? In other words, what has your faith enabled you to do that you couldn’t have done or wouldn’t have done otherwise?
Who is in your cloud of witnesses? The author of Hebrews lists so many from the biblical witness. If you had to write your own version of Hebrews 11, whose faith stories are the ones that are shaping and inspiring you, beyond the pages of the Bible?
Have you endured consequences for your faith? What helps you get through, when keeping faith is hard?
What promises of God can you see being fulfilled in your life, but maybe still at a distance? Today when I think of Hadley and Sutherlynn, Shea-Marie and Taylor and Emily, Cadie, Kelly, Ayse, Killian, Bryn, and Rhydian - I see people in whom the promises of God are at work. And the unfolding of some of these promises, I hope we get to see up close, as young lives unfold in our midst, and with our support. And some of these promises we’ll see unfold but from a distance. Wherever we are, wherever we go, whatever we encounter: God is faithful. Christ is real. And God’s promises are realized in their time. That’s a blessing worth sharing, a faith worth sharing. Thanks be to God. Amen.