Today's reading from the book of Hebrews 11:29-12:2 continues what we heard last week. The author of this letter was trying to encourage the faith of a struggling church community. When the church was new, the members within it had shown great love for each other. But now, as the church grew older, some members of the community were struggling with their faith and others had stopped attending. The confidence of the community was drifting, and they were trying to figure out what to do next.

The writer, after spending last week retelling the story of Abraham and Sarah, turned to share other stories from the Bible. We hear of the Exodus, when Moses led the Israelite people out of enslavement in Egypt. We relived the moment when the city of Jericho was captured. We meet Rahab who violated the law of her city to protect some Israelite spies. Her faithfulness to God was remembered and her name included in Jesus' genealogy. The writer continued, name dropping people the community knew. They pointed to Biblical stories but also stories from their local context. We're not sure who the author was referring to when they mentioned people who were stoned, killed and harmed for their faith. But we can, I think, assume the community knew who they were. The writer mixed the Biblical story and the community's story to remind everyone that they were part of something so much bigger than themselves.

When you look at the story of your own faith, I am going to invite you to remember every part of it. You shouldn't be ashamed of any doubts you've had or questions. You should admit those times you stepped away from church and those times when you came back. Being faithful isn't always easy, and we can struggle to see God in the midst of everything we're going through. Yet you are also part of a story that is bigger than yourself. Your faith is intertwined with a faith story that began thousands of years ago. The God who never gave up on the Israelite people is the same God who will never give up on you. Your faith story matters. Your faith story makes a difference. And you might be surprised to know that your faith isn't only for yourself. Rather, your faith also inspires others to love God. Your faith, right now, is helping others see Jesus a little more clearly because you are also part of the great cloud of witnesses.