I wonder if you’ve got a hero? Someone you look up to, someone you wish you were more like, someone who inspires you. This week the Catholic church recognised the great work of Mother Theresa of Calcutta, her love and humility, her care for the poor, her inspiration in reaching out to the least and the lost. To many people she is a hero. This week sees the start of the Paralympic games, where people who have faced significant personal traumas and disabilities will engage in astonishing acts of physical courage, strength, and endurance. They are heroes to many. What about you, who is your hero?
For the people of God, for many centuries, the go to hero from their history was King David. He was the underdog, the youngest son, the shepherd boy, who had made it all the way the throne. He was the one who had defeated the giant Goliath with only a sling and some pebbles. He was the brave and mighty warrior who had defeated the people’s enemies again and again and again. He wasn’t only a secular leader, he was a spiritual leader, unashamed to worship God in dance and song. He was the hero. When young Jewish boys were out playing Israelites and Philistines, everybody wanted to be David.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking more at the story of David, and what it has to teach us in our lives, as we follow Jesus in the 21st century. But as we start that journey, I want to sound a note of caution. It can be great to have heroes. When seen positively they can inspire us to try new things, to go beyond what we thought was possible, and to live life more fully. However, sometimes there’s a flip side. Sometimes we look at our heroes and think, we can never be like that, and we give up. Or we look at our heroes and want to be like them so much that we forget that actually God is calling us to be us, and not be someone else.
Our theme this week is “Start from who you are.” David had to start from who he was, a simple shepherd boy with a love for God. Every hero has a humble beginning, and if we feel humble and insufficient, then we are starting in the same place as everybody who we’ve ever looked to as a hero. And we have to start from who we are, not from who someone else is.
There’s another reason that it’s really important that we start from who we are. A few years ago I entered a half marathon. It was by some distance the furthest I had ever run. I knew the target time I had. In order to work out a training schedule to get me that target time, I had to know how quick I was already. I had to start from who I was, so that I could get to where I wanted to go. If I’d downloaded a training schedule for an experienced marathon runner, and tried to follow that, I’d have not been able to do half of it, I might have got discouraged and I probably would have injured myself. Now we’re going to think a bit later about where it is we are going, but the important point now is that we need to know who we are before we start.
So, the big question is, who are we?
Well, what did we read in our first reading? From the first book of the Bible, from the beginning, from the Genesis, who are we?
We are humankind, and we are created in God’s image. Male and female, God created humankind in God’s image. And God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good. But what does it mean to be in the image of God? Does it mean our physical appearance? God has two arms, two legs and a head? I suspect not. It seems to me that it is about the shape of our spirits, or our souls, of our emotional selves. What are the core things that we know about God?
God is Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Three persons in one God. In the very essence of who God is there is relationship, and not just any relationship but a relationship of love, of dancing, of mutual regard. Not exclusive or cliquey, but inclusive, open, and inviting. God is holy – perfect, without sin, beautiful in wisdom and glory. God is majestic, with a dignity and gentle winsomeness. God is love.
This is the God that we see in Scripture. This is the God that we see in the life of Jesus, God made human and living on earth among us. This is the God that we experience by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and hearts. This is what God is like, and we are created in God’s image, so this is what humankind is created to be like. We are created to show what God is like, in love and relationship, holiness and faithfulness. At our core we are created in God’s image and this is good.
Hold on a minute though. When I look at myself, when I look around the world I see a whole load of stuff that clearly isn’t good. I’m not always loving, or holy or faithful. There seems to be something broken, marred, distorted in the image of God that I bear.
David knew this, he knew that he wasn’t perfect. That theme, and how he felt about it comes through in loads of the songs he wrote, some of which we find in the Psalms. He talks about it in the Psalm we read together a little while ago. He celebrates the fact that he has been created by God, but then goes on to say, “See if there is any wicked way in me” He started from the knowledge that he had been created in the image of God, but knew that the image was spoiled, that he did have wicked ways.
That knowledge doesn’t lead him to despair, it makes him ask God to lead him in the way everlasting, the right way, the loving way. He knows that he can’t do it on his own, he needs God’s help.
He believes that God will help him, because he is sure that God created him as an individual. Sometimes we can look at creation, and we can hear the words of Genesis, and we can see the beauty of the world and look around at humankind and believe that God created all that, but we can find it more difficult to believe that God created and knows each one of us as individuals.
I used to work in the motor industry, and when I was going through my introduction to the company we were taken to see the production line. Cars going down the line, different colours, different trims, different bits of kit, different engines, but all the same model. The design team had done their job and now the production team were doing theirs, churning out car after car. In some senses each car was the “creation” of the original designer, but there was no personal input to each car. This is not how God works with us. God creates humankind one person at a time, individually, personally, intimately. God created you, and you, and you, and everybody here, one person at a time, in God’s image.
So that is who we are. We are each, individually, created and loved by God and bear God’s image. That image has been spoiled, but Jesus has dealt with the sin that spoils that image and opened up the way everlasting so that it can be restored. If we decide to walk that way then we become God’s children, and the family likeness becomes more apparent in us every day.
So back to our theme – Start from who you are. So far we’ve been talking about knowing who we are, but that isn’t the whole story. It’s not just about knowing who you are, it’s about starting from there. And if we’re going to start from there, then it means we must be going somewhere, somehow. So, where is it we are going and how are we meant to travel?
For this we turn to our reading from the book of Hebrews. In this passage the writer instructs us to do three things. Firstly, make every effort to enter that rest. Secondly: Hold fast to our confession. Thirdly: Approach God’s throne of grace with confidence.
So where is it are going? We are going to the rest that God has prepared for us. We are going to the throne of grace, the place where God’s rule and reign, where God’s kingdom has come. We pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” At the moment we know that that prayer hasn’t been answered. We still see things on earth that aren’t part of God’s loving and peaceful reign. On a global scale we see war, persecution, injustice, slavery, starvation, disease. None of these have a place in God’s kingdom. In our own lives we see relationships breaking down, bitterness, unforgiveness, selfishness, prejudice, jealousy. None of these have a place in God’s kingdom. We are not there yet, but we are heading for it. We are heading for the place and time when all these will be done away with, they will not exist any more. They will be finished, in God’s rest and in God’s throne room. This is where we are going. This is where we can go because we are God’s beloved creation, redeemed by Jesus’ death and resurrection.
So, we’ve talked about where we start from, knowing ourselves as God’s beloved, created, redeemed, children. And we’ve talked about where we’re going – to enjoy the fully revealed kingdom rule and reign of God. But how are we going to travel?
The first thing to remember is that the writer to the Hebrews says that it is going to take effort. When I was training for that half-marathon I had a choice. I knew where I was starting – I was someone who was fairly fit but hadn’t done a lot of running since school. I knew where I was going. I’d entered the race. I had the training plan and some new trainers. My choice was this. Was I going to do the training? It was going to be an effort. Some days it was raining, cold, the route was hilly, I didn’t feel like it. But if I didn’t make the effort then I would not have achieved what I wanted to in the race.
Following Jesus as a faithful disciple takes effort. Jesus talked about it as a costly decision, a decision that needs to be made every day. What decisions are you facing at the moment. Maybe about your work, your family, where you live, your money. What is the Holy Spirit saying to you about them? What level of effort are you are putting into your prayer life, your Bible study, your love of others and love of God?
Secondly, we hold fast to our confession. The basic Christian confession is that “Jesus is Lord”. We might still have the House of Lords, and the contestants on the Apprentice might still refer to Sir Alan as Lord Sugar, but we don’t really have Lords in the same sense any more. In Jesus’ time, in David’s time, your Lord was the one who had the absolute right to direct every aspect of your life. Your Lord was also the one who had the absolute duty to protect and sustain your life. Jesus is Lord has that sense. Jesus is the one who has the absolute right to direct every aspect of our lives – where we work, where we live, how we spend our money, what we do with our time. Jesus is also the one whom we trust to protect and sustain our lives. That is what we confess – we trust Jesus and we will obey Jesus. If we hold fast to that then we will travel well, and reach our destination safely. It will also give us the strength and courage we need when the effort seems too much for us.
Finally, we travel confidently. We are confident because we know where we start from, as God’s creation, known and beloved. We are confident because we know where we are going, to the promised Kingdom of God. We are confident because we know that we can depend on the grace and Lordship of Jesus to see us safely home.