By Amber Noel
A Reading from Hebrews 11:32-12:2
32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets — 33who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented — 38of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40since God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect.
1 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, 2looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
There’s a home movie somewhere in my parents’ basement in which my adorable younger sister, four years old, is crying because the older cousins and I have just rushed out the door to go sledding. “But they can’t weeve wifout me!” she pleads pitifully at the door, nose running. She wants to dash off, but can’t even zip her own coat. It’s not fun being the youngest and getting left behind because you’re not as big or as fast as the others.
That’s how I feel sometimes reading accounts of the saints. Contemplating the heroes of the faith and their accomplishments can have the effect of making me see my own life as measly, small, slow. What, after all, have I done for God? I can barely zip my coat.
But there is good news here. The first and most obvious point is that each of these models of faith knew their share of sin, suffering, unfulfilled desire, complicated situations, mistakes, rebellion, etc. etc. You might say the author of Hebrews is really making a point about God’s grace and patience (and perhaps his sense of humor).
But lest I take too much comfort in what’s wrong about others’ lives, or wallow in “the beauty of complexity” until I find an excuse not to pursue transformation, verse 39 is cold, fresh air: no matter how deserving any of these blessed folks are, they “did not receive what was promised.” They did not get to run off sledding, as it were, “so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.”
Whatever your state of faith right now, be encouraged. God would rather have you and I cross the same simple finish line of trust in him, from where we are, from the starting point of today, than have a kingdom full of the biggest, fastest, and most efficient. Our elder siblings are cheering us on — most of all, the Lord Jesus himself, your faith’s author and perfecter. So get out there.
Amber Noel, M.Div., is Associate Editor at the Living Church and Associate Director of The Living Church Institute. Off the clock, she is the author of short fiction, book and culture reviews, and work for the stage.
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