The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Evenong      5th November 2017
Of whom the world was not worthy - Hebrews 11
Jeremy Fletcher

Hebrews 11. 32 – 12.2

Somewhere in the world, as I speak, someone is doing something remarkable, something worthy of recording in history. Someone is performing an action, living a life which should leave us speechless, open mouthed in awe. That person may be an aid worker, a soldier, a community support officer on a crime ridden estate, a wife caring for a husband with dementia, a nurse supporting a terminally ill patient. Examples of human brilliance, dedication, love, selflessness and humility are all around us if we care to look. Of course media attention generally looks elsewhere to create it’s heroes. However brilliantly they might dance, the celebrities on Strictly are just that: celebrities. Their fame is like a firework: fabulous and fleeting.  

The people we are offered for admiration by the writer to the Hebrews have more to them than a quickstep or a heel lead, however much they have their stories of dedication which should inspire us too. These people, in Hebrews, in the history of God’s people, have had dreadful things happen to them. They did amazing things, but often without a happy resolution in this life, and it is the fact that they continued to serve and to fight for truth and to speak when it would have been more prudent to keep silent, and that they held on in exile and pain because they had a hope which had nothing to do with success and adulation and power – it is this fact which means they are people whose lives should inspire us and not daunt us. 

I first consciously memorised one phrase in this passage – it’s in verse 38 - when reading a book about Christians who courageously crossed ethnic and tribal divides in post war Yugoslavia. The book was called Of Whom The World Was Not Worthy, and it wasn’t just the slightly tangled grammar which stuck.  The world as we know it is not worthy of those who, quietly and not for the sake of praise, get on with demonstrating that there is something better, something worth working for, something worth being attacked and persecuted for, rather than keeping quiet and taking the line of least resistance. 

In the Letter to the Hebrews these people are the heroes of faith before Christ, who looked to God for deliverance. We can add names to that list: people who have known the faith of Christ, and who find themselves in extreme situations for his sake. Some we might call saints, for their conspicuous faith and amazing deeds, but the point of a saint is that, actually, all of us are in that category, the ‘holy ones’ of God. The writer to the Hebrews reinforces the point by saying that they – the holy ones – need us, today’s people of God. Without us they are not made perfect. 

The people in Hebrews 11 looked forward to what we now have: the fulfilment of the love of God in Jesus Christ. They are, to quote the All Saints Collect, are inextricably joined to us: ‘knit together’ with us. With them, we all have the hope of glory, the promise of Christ who perfects our stumbling faith and will welcome us home. With that hope we can do anything, even if we can’t master a jive without doing our back in.  

We can’t get another Christian to dance this dance for us. The dance only makes sense when we will each other on, share our frustrations, learn from all our mistakes, travel in company, not on our own. Our walk, our fight, our dance, is run with Christ in us and in front of us. The cloud of witnesses of the past is there to tell us that brilliance and success is not the point. Faithfulness and hope and perseverance are, because the end is assured and the glory eternal. A book may not be written about us, but we are all called to live our faith and respond to whatever comes. So we should pray for those who live the heroic life of the saints in extreme circumstances in our own day, and be ready for what is required of us, that we may be the ones worthy of our calling, for Christ’s sake. Amen.

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