August 14, 2016
13th Sunday after Pentecost
Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
“And let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
If you’ve had the chance to get to know me over the past few years, you know that I’m a runner. I’ve dabbled in many a community 5K race, I’ve run several ½ marathons as well as a few marathons. This summer I branched out and completed my first triathlon.
As I’ve worked with different training plans, run with friends and helped coach a youth running club. I guess you could say that I enjoy running.
But here’s the thing, it isn’t all joy and celebrations. And let me tell you, not every run is wonderful, some of them are downright painful and slightly ugly.
On the day I was working on this sermon, I went for a run without headphones, so I could just run and pray and ponder this sermon. I didn’t really want to know how fast I was going, but I did wear my Garmin just to track the run itself. Only a week and a half had passed since the triathlon so I wasn’t in any specific training plan, but when my watch beeped one mile I looked at it and was disappointed. I was moving slower than I thought I was. I stopped. And then all those negative voices popped into my head.
You know, so and so is in training and busted out a fast long run this week. Just a week and a half ago this run would have been after a swim and a bike ride….what the heck? I thought of others and their skills and dedication and stamina….and I got lost in that for a second, until I remembered something. These people have told me time and again that I am an inspiration….I encourage them!! I wrestled with that thought for a moment and looked down at my wrist, to the bracelet that says, “you got this.” I said it out loud 3 or 4 times, pressed start on my watch and kept running.
As I slowly took one step after the other, I reminded myself that not every run is a perfect run and that the run I was in the middle of was just about getting out for a run. I reminded myself that when we do not feel strong enough, brave enough or that we have enough faith there are others around to give us strength, bravery and to believe for us. Those people make up the great cloud of witnesses that surround us each and every day.
As I looked down at my wrist and said, “you got this.” I also saw the cross bracelet that I wear every day. I knew that I could do the run because it wasn’t me…but it was the strength and presence of God with me to carry me through it.
Now, don’t worry if you’re not into running or racing. If your idea of a triathlon is pizza, movie, nap…there is still a connection to this text for you…because here’s the thing, it’s not about an actually road race.
This race that the writer of Hebrews talks about is different from all others.
The course is not set out with chalk arrows and volunteers telling you which way to go…the course is marked by Christ, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
This race is one that only Jesus has run to its end, though by doing so has made it possible for all others to follow.
As Jesus ran this race, he didn’t hit “the wall” which many distance runners talk about hitting and feeling like they cannot move one more step. The primary obstacle Jesus faced was the shame of the cross, which is vanquished by the power of the resurrection.
As we follow Christ crucified and risen, we are led through the obstacles of life which challenge us, stop us, scare us, but they are obstacles we can face because we know of the love and grace of God in our lives. We know that at the end of this race, this course of life, awaits Christ, enthroned at the right hand of God.
That my friends will be an incredible, picture perfect finish. Arms up, ready to be embraced by our heavenly father, knowing that God has been with us every step of the way.
Following Christ does not mean a life that is smooth sailing, full of smiles and sunshine every day. Having and experiencing faith in our lives does not make our lives easier…it does, however, make a huge difference in the everydayness of our lives.
We know the obstacles the Christ faced for us.
We know that the obstacles we face…sickness, illness, grief, the loss of our jobs, broken families, even death…are ones that Christ faced for us on the cross…and we know that that great cloud of witnesses is cheering us on, letting us cry, holding us up, and believing for us when we have questions or doubt.
Following Christ does not require you to run marathons…but is does challenge us to have the mindset of a marathon runner…rather than that of a sprinter. This is a long course….but God has already promised a lifelong relationship with us and will be with us the entire way. And by lifelong…God means eternally.
When the last of the runners make it across the finish line, Hebrews suggests, the stands of the stadium will empty. The city of the living God, made up of “the spirits of the righteous made perfect” will form around the enthroned Christ and “innumerable angels in festal gathering” (12:22). Sin, suffering, death -- all the enemies of God -- will be no more. Remarkably, this on-going “perfect” worship of God is mediated a high priest who is Christ himself (6:20; 5:2). (Heen)
That, to me, sounds like one AMAZING post-race party!
As I neared the last turn of the run portion of the triathlon there was a woman on the side cheering people on. She shouted, “Leave it on the course! Don’t take it home with you!”
It was just the cheer I needed as I rounded the last turn, had the finish line in sight and saw my family waving and cheering! My arms went up, this is my finishing stance. I knew there was nothing I needed to take home with me…the training had gotten me there, the crowds spurred my on through water, road and path, and I could give it all right there and then…and in that moment, I realized that it had been the perfect race. I trained just right, paced myself well through the swim and bike so I was able to do what I do best, run.
And isn’t that the joy and feelings we seek out in our faith lives? The fact that we know that we can rest in the arms of God, knowing that we can give and use all that we have been given…that we need to take nothing with us…because God has prepared the way, shown us the path through Christ and cheers us on with all the saints as we take each step.
The joy in our lives of faith is living as created and called children of God, loving, caring for and supporting others…knowing that because of God’s love for all of God’s children that love, care and support is given to us when we are in need.
Called by Christ, gathered in grace, let us go forth to joyfully serve those around us…and may the peace which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen.