The theme of faith continues with a lectionary selection from Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2. The message reminds us that a spiritual journey isn’t always fun and games. Faith isn’t for the squeamish! The emphasis is on how God’s people endure suffering. Throughout the ages people who embrace truth are punished by those who refuse to accept it. God’s liberating Spirit can set anyone free while human institutions often imprison. Evil is always with us. As God’s followers attempt to live free there’s always some king, some dictator, some political or religious structure ready to torture and kill.
It’s tempting to associate faith in God with a quiet, peaceful existence. The reality is that while embracing God provides the best life possible, it’s not easy. Life is challenging for even the most sincere people of faith. You needn’t look far to know that persecution almost always accompanies a spiritual journey. Perhaps more than politics, religion ignites hot emotions and volatile opinions. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that taking a stand in legitimate faith often entails ridicule and even death.
Old Testament prophets suffered when their message wasn’t popular (and most often it wasn’t). God’s people have borne horrendous tortures by being burned alive, drawn and quartered, and starved and beaten. Bodies have been crushed, but the truth endures. The history of religion is rife with acts of inestimable horror. History has proven that if you disagree with the fashionable theological view, you risk dismissal as a heretic and condemnation as an apostate. The theological police are glad to denounce, exclude, and butcher those who don’t go along with the prevailing yet fluctuating opinions. Some version of this process occurs when religious authorities and institutions wield too much power, all the more so when there is an unholy alliance between church and state. The founders of the United States understood these perils, which is why the Constitution framers pioneered a secular rule while preserving religious rights.
It seems like we’re treading a dark road with all the reminders of persecution and suffering. While it’s never good to dwell on negativity, it is productive to briefly but clearly know of the real and potential cost of following God. Once we get these uncomfortable truths out of the way we can feel good about who and what we are. One lesson we can draw is that even God’s chosen people suffer, often at the hands of religious power brokers who mistakenly think that they are divinely-appointed executioners. Yes, bad things can happen to even the most faithful Christians. Despite the ordeals, faith and hope remain. We can choose to persevere and become joyous despite what happens to us. We can join our hearts and minds with Christians around the world and across the ages who have kept the faith despite hardship. Faith continues despite a myriad of obstacles and persecutions.
Perhaps you are enduring a bad situation. Take comfort in knowing that God can strengthen you; you are neither alone nor forgotten. Is an illness or chronic condition dragging you down? Take respite in God’s care. Are even friends or relatives not supporting you? God is there to lift you when no one else can. Feel unfulfilled in your job or relationships? God’s Spirit will comfort and guide you. Let’s marvel at what faith can accomplish when we prioritize proclaiming God’s love and truth.
God reminds us that no matter what we lose in this life, we will gain far more than we’ve lost. Ultimately none of us is getting out of our earthly existence alive, at least not physically. Take cheer in knowing that your spirit is safeguarded against any and all threats, including death. Rise above your circumstances knowing that nothing can separate you from the love of God that endures forever.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey