It’s contagious!

It’s contagious!

August 22, 2021    Hebrews 11:32-12:3   Matthew 4;18-25

 It’s contagious!

            What do you do when a second or third generation are not as enthused and committed to a cause as their parents and grand-parents? What if they lose their passion for the cause AND are actually being ridiculed or threatened because of their association with the cause? What if some of them are so entitled and used to the cause that they take everything for granted? What if they are lukewarm about it because they don’t remember how much their parents and grandparents sacrificed for it?

            This was more or less the situation of the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews. Second or third generation Christians are still part of the church but they are not as impassioned by the Gospel the way their parents and grandparents were. The newness of the Gospel is waning, even as they are taking the Gospel message for granted.

            And to make matters worse the authorities are taking action against them. They are being persecuted. Some are thrown in prison. Some of them had their possessions confiscated. All of them are openly ridiculed. So, they did what all of us would have done in such a situation. They asked: “Is it worth it? Is it worth being a Christian?” And the persecution and ridicule have just started. The worse is yet to come.

            The main goal of the unknown author of the letter to the Hebrews is to encourage them and to urge them not to give up! He is saying: “Persevere! It is definitely worth it”.

            He encourages them by pointing to Jesus. He explains in new ways who Jesus was and what he did. So, he tells them that they should focus on Jesus for Jesus is the High priest to the order of Melchizidek. Melchizidek was a mysterious figure in the OT. He blesses Abram in Genesis 14. In its most ancient context, the encounter between Melchizidek and Abram, is meant to link Israel’s ancestors with Jerusalem, the City that David made the capital of Israel. So, for the Christian Jews this was a very important point!

            If they, then were to focus on Jesus, they would see that faith in Him is worth it.   

            He also urges them to look at those who are on the same journey of faith, members of the church, people of faith. He urges them to look at their faith, to follow their example, to be inspired by them and to take care of each other.

            People of faith today may lose interest in the Gospel too. They may ask the question, “is it worth it” or “does the Gospel make a difference”.  And the author’s encouragement back then still carries weight today. He still urges us today to keep our faith by focusing on Jesus and by looking at our church-family and other people of faith to be inspired and to follow their example.

            We use the word contagious in two ways and interestingly enough the author of Hebrews uses it in exactly the same way:

            First of all, we use the word contagious when we are moved by someone who is creating something special, or is doing something that is inspirational. Someone’s example is contagious, so you want to do what she is doing. Someone’s enthusiasm is contagious, you feel it and you want be part of it. Or you see someone who is successful and you are inspired by his success and you want to do the same.

            The author is saying this is how it is with faith too. People’s faith is contagious. You see it, you are inspired by it, you want to follow their example.

            In Hebrews 3:13 he says: “Exhort one another every day..” Hebr. 10:25: “…encouraging one another…..”, Hebr. 6:12: “…(you may be) imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises”, Hebr. 13:7: “Remember your leaders….consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith”.  His point is clear and timeless: Follow the example of those who are faithful!

            The Greek word used in the last two verse is mimesis. It literally means to imitate, to mime, to model yourself on their example. It calls us to imitate what we see other people of faith are doing. To follow their example.

            When I look at you, I see people who inspire me to be more faithful. I look at you and I see how your faith guides your life, your words, your interaction with others and I think: “That is how it should be! That is how I want to be!”  Your life and your faith are contagious.

            Having been at this church for more than 17 years, I can in all honesty say that my faith has grown – because of your faith. Over the years your faith has inspired me, it has convinced me that it is worth it! And I know I am not the only who has been inspired by your faith. Our young people too have imitated the faith that they have seen in action.

            This is the reason why the author is putting up a gallery of people whose faith is meant to inspire: Abel, Henoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Moses.  He is saying: “You wonder whether faith is worth it? Look at them! And how can one not be inspired when one sees these examples?

            We could of course add our own examples: “Harold and Helen Joslin, Bob and Carol DeYoung, Lee Williams, Rick Mills, Irene Brimlow, Eileen Graham, Larry Gray and many more. 

            Faith like this is contagious.

            Then the author concludes in 12:1: “Therefor, since we are surrounded by so great cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely…” 

            These witnesses, living and dead, inspire us to continue on our journey of faith. 

            We believe because God uses others to mediate faith: parents, family, church family, neighbors, Sunday school teachers, ministers, friends. They all play a role and that is how it should be. The Bible in fact uses a word to describe this connection between people: Covenant!

            There is however a warning too: If you fall out of this circle, out of the communion of saints, if you stop participating in worship services, then you are in danger to lose your enthusiasm, inspiration, and perhaps even your faith!

            There is second way we use the word contagious. We know about this too well during the pandemic.  You can catch it, you can get it, you can be infected even without you knowing it. And once you have it, it grows and grows. You get it simply by being close to it. You can avoid it only by not getting close to it.

            The author of Hebrews says it is the same with Christian faith. When you get close to Jesus, then you are infected by faith, it grows in you, it changes you, and it becomes part of you. 

            Listen to these words in Hebrews 5:9: “..he became the source of eternal salvation”, in Hebr. 6:20: “..Jesus the forerunner on our behalf…”, in Hebr. 2:10: “ …(he is) the pioneer..”,  and in Hebr. 12:2: “… (he is) the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…”.

            These expressions show Jesus as the One who makes our salvation possible. It is he who creates our faith, he strengthens it, he deepens it. It is He who, by way of speaking, infects us. If we get close to him, we will be infected, we will get it.

            The author of Hebrews says the same when he refers to Jesus as the High Priest of our faith (3:1). And this theological key is so important that he spends the biggest part of his letter on this. Jesus did not only sacrifice himself once for all, but he also intercedes for us every moment, and he mediates our salvation.

            People of faith are important examples. They inspire, they are contagious in what they do and the way the encourage us and others. But an example only helps to a point. At the end of the day we have to walk the walk, we have to make a decision, we have to follow the example.

            Jesus however is different: He is more than an example. He is the source, he is the guarantee that we will succeed on our journey of faith. He is our help, He provides whatever we need, now and always!

            Allow me to use another metaphor from the world of sport, one with its own limitations: people of faith are extremely important. They inspire us like other athletes inspire you. You see their performance and you want to do likewise. They inspire you to train harder, to be focused, to be disciplined.

            Jesus on the other hand is like the coach. He inspires us in a different way. He helps us, coaches us, and enables us to be better athletes.

            This is why the author says that we should “keep our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”. It is in his presence that we are “infected” with faith. He warns us not to move away from Him, for if we do, there is a danger that we may lose our faith!

            It is true that faith is God’s gift to us, a gift that we don’t deserve. However, it is a gift that we receive when we expose ourself to the Giver, when we get and stay close to Him, close to His Word, close to His congregation. This is how our faith keeps burning and how it stays alive and vibrant.

            The Book of Hebrew still has something to say to those who long to find rest and peace when they feel their faith is weak. It gives us hope and courage in times when we feel our hope, trust and courage are faltering. It is still helpful when we long for spiritual growth and inner peace. In short, the book is guiding those who want to grow in faithfulness and commitment.

            It does so in two ways: First it encourages us to look at people who are faithful and committed to God: those in the Bible, those who are our sisters and brothers in Christ here, our faithful family members and friends. We should look at them and imitate them, look at their example, be inspired by them, becoming engaged and committed like them. We need each other, we need to be infected and enthused by their faith journeys. They show us how it can be done.

            Secondly, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus. We need to think about him, his life, his words, and let his Spirit guide us. We should get close to him so that we can be infected by his love, gentleness and kindness. We need to keep our eyes on him, pray for His support and trust that He is with us always.       We need to walk with Him, search His way, look for His will, and be willing to let Him guide us in His truth. This takes a lot of work, but it is a journey that is worth it. Amen.