Hebrews 11: 1-40.
We took my two year old granddaughter Jessica to the Alloa fireworks last week.
She had been told beforehand that we were going to the fireworks and all day she was excited to know what it was going to be like.
We were concerned that although we hoped that she would enjoy them, that maybe they would be too frightening.
We shouldn’t have worried.
Just before the fireworks went off my daughter Cairy bought Jessica a flashing wand.
That flashing wand distracted her so much that she was caught unawares, pointing her wand to the sky as the first fireworks went off.
Cairy then said, ‘Did you do that?’
Jessica had a wee think about it, looked at her wand, and said, ‘Yes.’
She then went about jabbing her wand in the air with great deliberation as the fireworks went off.
There was a moment when she accidentally switched off her wand and it stopped flashing. And she went into panic mode as she tried to switch it on so that the fireworks would continue.
Then the fireworks stopped, and she took a while to understand that they weren’t going to go back on, even though she was pointing her wand.
She said to her mum, ’Again?’
And Cairy said, ‘No they are all done. It’s time to go home.’
And I presume Jessica thought the power in her wand had run out.
To a two year old. pointing her wand to the air and seeing the fireworks go off, makes sense .
She can’t see that bigger hands are involved, that she didn’t need to worry, that she could relax and enjoy the show.
I think that is what is happening in our passage today.
It may even be what is happening in our heart just now.
The world for Christians at the time when the book to Hebrews was written was not an easy world.
Many were going about in secret, scared of persecution.
Many were distraught as they were forced to leave families they cared about; forced to leave because they were being hounded out by relatives who disagreed with their faith.
Wherever they went they were part of the empire and the empire was against them.
It all seemed to be falling apart.
And it was their fault, because they were not open with their faith, they were not expressing their faith, they were hiding their faith.
And if they were not being faithful then the faith would die.
And it would be their fault.
To that fear, that hurt, comes the writer of the book of Hebrews.
And he gives them a message of hope.
The church was not dependant on their faith, the world was not dependant on their faith.
It was not their faith, their actions that made a difference.
There were greater hands involved.
It was God’s faith that was keeping the world, God’s faith that was maintaining the church.
The church was not dependant on their faith,
instead it was their lives, their hope, that was dependant on God’s faith.
And because they could trust in the power of God,
they could relax,
give the responsibility back to God,
move forward in hope because they realised it was all dependant on God’s strength, and not their own.
Now that didn’t mean they gave up and didn’t do anything.
It meant they could go forward in trust and hope.
It meant they weren’t crippled by fear or shame or guilt.
It meant that they could even be energized in what they did for the church because they knew that God would be moving things forward.
Let me give you a modern example.
Calckmannan Parish Church.
For their sins, which must be great and many, I am their interim moderator.
They have been vacant for a long time.
They have been told that their manse is not in good condition. The manse is supposedly in such a bad condition that they are getting a feasibility study done that has as one of its options to sell the manse and halls and buy another manse.
I was told a couple of Thursdays back that one of the options may be to knock the building down and build a new one.
And while they have that manse they are seeking a minister to live in that manse, at a time when there are over 200 churches vacant. Presumably 199 of those vacant churches have nicer manses.
There is nothing they can do just now about their manse.
Nothing they can do just now about all those other churches competing for the few ministers that are applying for churches.
There is nothing they can do to change their circumstances.
So the temptation is to do nothing.
But, in fact, at this very moment they are hearing someone who may become their next minister.
They are doing that because they have faith.
Not because of what they can do, but because of what God is doing.
Maybe God is stirring in their hearts a hope that things can change.
Maybe God is stirring in the heart of that minister a call and a love for the people of Clackmannan.
Maybe God is creating a firework display of faith and all he is asking of them is that they witness it and respond to it.
That was what the writer of the book of Hebrews was trying to say.
The people of his time were being weighed down by fear and worry and concern.
They thought the problems they were facing were far too big for them to cope with and that in the end they would be to blame for everything being lost.
And the writer reminds them that that has always been what people felt.
Abraham was given this huge responsibility of knowing God but he was only one man, and an old man at that.
Surely the faith would die out with him.
The people of God were nothing but slaves in the Egyptian empire. They had no power or influence. They were nothing more than living tools. They lived, they worked, they died.
Surely the faith would die out with them.
It was like a shepherd boy called David, no armour, just a stick, a sling and a few stones facing off against Goliath a fully armoured, trained warrior.
Surely he David didn’t stand a chance.
And in the end, although they didn’t know it at the time, it was like the people reading the book of Hebrews that very first time. They would be added to that list of Biblical heroes that overcame.
They would struggle and suffer and grow and overcome the Roman Empire.
They would outlast the Empire and all the empires that came after that.
Because the church wasn’t dependant on their faith. They were dependant on God’s faith, and God’s faith was more than enough.
That is what we hope to continue to do as a church.
You will read in the next church magazine that over the next few months our church will be going through a Local Church Review.
The session, our church leaders, are using that to see where God may want us to move in the future, how he may want us to move forward, and to go with God.
Every member, and even non-members of the church, that want to be part of that process will have a chance to be part of it.
I am imagining it as God giving us a sailboat where we can go off on an adventure, and all he asks is that we seek the wind that he is giving so we can catch the sails and go off together.
But what about us?
It was cute seeing my granddaughter thrust out her wand believing that that all those fireworks were dependant on her.
But that is not a responsibility I would want on her wee shoulders.
And I suspect as God looks down on us he finds it kind of cute that we worry so much that all the goodness and compassion and faith in the world is dependent on what we do.
But I suspect that is not a responsibility he wants us to have on our wee shoulders.
It is far too big a burden to carry.
If we tried it would cripple our souls and destroy our spirit.
I think God wants us to act differently.
To start off with, I think God wants us to just to stop and see what is going on.
To see in all that darkness that there are huge fireworks of light and hope going off.
My granddaughter was so concerned about getting the light on her wand back on that she missed so many of the lights that were illuminating the sky.
We can be so concerned with the struggles we have being good that we miss the wonder of the goodness happening all around us.
When we see how God's faith is out there, all the good that is being done, then that can fill us with hope, with wonder, with faith.
Only then is our heart in a place where it can respond.
And respond not in desperation or fear, but with joy and love.
There is a truth that gives us meaning.
There is a truth that if we forget destroys all hope we have for the future.
This is the truth...
The church, the faith, our lives, are not dependant on us, on our strength.
We are dependent on the abounding faith and strength and love of God, that is beyond anything that we face.
It is by living that truth that we can go forward in hope.