My nephew Justin loves Spiderman and runs around pretending to be Spiderman and pretending the web anyone he deems to be a bad guy, which is just about everyone. He tries to do flips and says that he is flying around to save the world. Justin is not too different than anyone else in our culture. Our culture loves its superheros. Every summer there is usually a new super hero movie out, whether it is Iron man, Spiderman, Superman, or the Fantastic Four. Every culture has their hero that they look up to for inspiration and a sense of hope. Now in our culture, as my husband reminded me, we don’t believe these super heroes to be real even as children. But in the ancient world their superheroes were based in real people. In Greek culture, they were the half Gods, like Hercules. In the Hebrew culture, they were the people who became the four fathers and mothers of the faith.
These are more equivalent to those individuals in our lives that we look up to, those we gain a sense of safety and hope from, those who inspire us in our lives. For some these are their parents. For me, this person was my Great Uncle Arty. He was someone who was always there. He was there to care for me when I was ill and my parents had to work. He was there when my bike was broken and needed to be fixed. He was there when my grandparents passed to be a grandfather figure and a father figure my father. He was there when we were trapped in the house by a particularly mean billy goat. He was there to fix our problems and to save us when we needed to be saved. These were the types of heroes that people admired in Hebrew society. The people who made a difference in their cultural lives. The people like Samson, David, and Moses. The people who risked everything to face off the enemies of their people and succeeded.
In the early Christian world, Paul looked to the same types of heroes or examples of individuals who went above and beyond in the name of faith. Those who risked everything to share the message of Christ. Those individuals who had the courage to stare their enemies in the faith and to still proclaim the good news of Christ resurrected. Those individuals like Paul and those others who went out and were arrested by the people they preached to, some were tortured and many were killed. They knew the risks when they went out to share the message and yet because their faith was that strong they could not help but preach and to share what they had come to know as the truth with others. They wanted all to know that Christ had come, and not only to save the Jews, but to offer salvation to all who were in need. They were not afraid to face the odds.
So too in our lives Paul is still encouraging us not to live in fear. He encourages us not to hide our faiths for fear of retaliation from others. We are encouraged to live our faith in our interactions in life and in our care for one another. So this morning, I would like to share with you a YouTube video of just that. People who live their faiths, taking those chances, and risking everything to do the right thing. (show video)
These people live into their faiths fearlessly. They live by a mantra, “let me live my life to help others”. They live with the faith that God will be in their work and that what they do will make a difference in the world. This is what really makes these people, individuals who are worth looking up to. No they will not have action figures made in their image and they probably will never have children dressing up like them leaping about the room pretending to save the world. But each of the people mentioned from the Old Testament, from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews and all those people from the video risked everything to live into God’s call for us to live into his compassion and in his light. They have been in their own rights heroes to those who were in desperate need of experiencing God.
There are people in the world, in this country, in this town and perhaps even within our congregations who are in need, in need of experiencing hope, hope of salvation from the stressors of the world, hope of a better day when their days have just been plain awful. This is where we are called to have faith like those forefathers and mothers before us. We are called to believe that the hope of Christ is alive in this world and to live into that hope. We need to live our lives by that very same mantra saying to ourselves, “Let my light shine so as to brighten the day of someone else”. So that maybe when our time is done we might have made a difference in the life of at least one other person.
We are each called to not only claim to have faith. That’s easy enough. We can claim anything we want in this world, but that does not necessarily make what we say true. It takes more than just occasionally attending a church service a couple of times a year. It takes more than saying, “Well I give my yearly donation to the church, or to the local shelter”. Paul is trying to encourage us to live our lives a little more like those role models from early Christianity. Those individuals much like Paul, who went out into the world to share the Good News with those that they met. Individuals who, if you read Acts will find out, often died at the hands of those who felt threatened by the healing and freeing message of Jesus Resurrected. Remember Paul’s words from this morning, “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, 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”.
It is now our turn to lay aside our anxieties, our worries, and our stresses. It is our turn to start living into the mission of Jesus in this world. We are called to stop worrying about the end of the world. To not just see all the troubles of the world, allowing for them to wear us down. We are called to look beyond all that to see how others live their faith and help those who are in need. We are called to join the cloud of witnesses, the people who actually work to make someone else’s day just a little bit better. So let’s start making a difference. Let’s start caring for those around us. Let’s be someone’s hero, mentor, hope for tomorrow, and let’s open ourselves to the possibility of helping someone else connect to Jesus through our interactions.
 Hebrews 12:2, NRSV.
(based on Hebrews 11:29-12:2)