Sunday, August 14, 2016

“Didn’t You See It All the First Time?” (Hebrews 11:29-12:2)

One of the things I loved about my mother was her common sense.  In the eighth grade I went out for track after my mother urged me to at least consider checking out about being the manager of the track team.  It would allow me to go places, she said.  So, I signed up for track to be the manager but was convinced by the coach that I could probably contribute in some other way.  Thus it was that I began my career as a middle distance runner . . . I ran the quarter mile . . . once around the track.  That was something my mother could understand.  The second year that I ran track, my freshman year, I moved up to also run the half-mile . . . twice around the track.

Now this was something where my mother’s common sense got in the way.  After coming to watch me run for the first time in the Colorado Springs Freshman/Sophomore City Meet, my mother asked me about the half-mile race.  In particular she asked me, “Why do you run around the track twice . . . didn’t you see it all the first time?”  It was the first and only track meet she every watched me run in.  Despite my best efforts to explain the “sport” of running, she just couldn’t accept that anyone needed to go around the track more than once.

The letter to the Hebrews was written to a group of Christians who were faced with increasing opposition.  As the opposition grew more intense, the group was in danger of abandoning the Christian faith . . . they were on the brink of throwing the towel in and calling it quits.  They had run around the track once with some pretty tough results and they were not too sure that they wanted to run around it a second time.  In their minds they had already seen it all.  Enough was enough.

Yet, the writer of this letter implores them to stick to the task that is at hand . . . hang tight to their faith . . . because Jesus is the true and final revelation of God.  Through Jesus the example is set . . . the way has been shown . . . and, the goal is at hand.  Through examples of the faithful who have come before them, the writer urges the people to stick to their faith, keep their eyes on Jesus, and to endure whatever suffering and persecution may come their way.  In a way, the writer gives the people a pep talk.

The list of examples shared by the writer is pretty extensive: the exiled in Egypt; those who brought down the walls of Jericho; Rahab the prostitute; and, the many others.  All were people who faced great odds and possible death, but who stuck to their guns and did what was asked of them as a people of faith.  And, writers the author of the letter, so much more is promised.  Their example sits before those who have come before them . . . sits before a “great cloud of witnesses” . . .

So, who are they to let down those who sacrificed before them?  Who are they to disappoint God by quitting?

No, says the writer.  Do not give up!  Instead, “. . . throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith . . .”  Then, to add emphasis to his point, the writer throws in one more witness—Jesus.  Jesus who endured the cross.

The argument today, at least in the minds of many Christians in our nation, is that we live in an age of persecution . . . that we are being picked on.  And yet, compared to other nations around the world, we are living on Easy Street when it comes to living our faith.  We do not have to worry about the threat of death if we practice our faith as do some of our brothers and sisters in Christ in other parts of the world.  No, we don’t; but, at the same time we feel as if we are being persecuted.  Persecuted because our views and ways are not being allowed to be the standard for everyone.  We can’t display the Ten Commandments on the walls of our courts or schools.  We are not allowed to pray in school . . . at least not in the corporate sense of prayer.  We want to be the majority, but we are losing the battle. 

You know when a dog gets kicked enough; it gets the message that it is not wanted.  That was the feeling of those who received the letter from the writer of Hebrews.   Their first lap around the track had produced enough memories—lots of them were bad, and they had had enough.  They were going to quit before they had even finished the race.  And, who could blame them?

The writer tells them, don’t quit.

The writer reminds them that they are not the first to run this race.  There were many before them who had run the race . . . that “great cloud of witnesses.”  Their races were not easy.  In their quitting would they render the acts of faithfulness of those before them as useless?  Keep on keeping on, the writer tells them.  The problem, the writer says, is not on the race.  The problem is what they are focusing on as the prize at the end of the race.  The prize is that which Jesus promised . . . an intimate and personal relationship with God . . . a stepping into and acceptance of grace and love that knows no end . . . and spins out to change the world through the relationships that are had between the people and others.

The writer implores that the people focus on Jesus.  Jesus is the perfect example of a life of faith . . . the perfect example of how one is to live one’s life.  In Jesus the people are given the key to how to live in order to accomplish those two commandments that Jesus said were the most important . . . relating to God, relating to others.  In this way the world is changed.  In this way the Kingdom is realized.  It is all through love.  With this in mind the writer tells the people, then and now, that the key to it all is to focus on Jesus.

Unfortunately the race is never over after one lap around the track.  No, the race continues throughout the breath of our lives.  And, unfortunately, we cannot control others in the world around us.  All we can do is to keep plugging away . . . plugging away at the way that we live our lives on a daily basis.  In that living we reflect upon what Jesus has presented to us as the better way.  We focus on how he lived his life in relationship with God . . . we focus on how he lived his life in relationship to others.  We live in love.  There is nothing more that we can do; but, at the same time there is hope.  There is hope that in the way that we live our lives opens the eyes of others to live their lives in a like manner.

Common sense tells us that once around the track should be enough.  Faith defies common sense.  Once is not enough.  No, faith keeps on going no matter what.  The love and grace of God is so broad, how can we ever banish it to once around the track?  Let us heed the words of the writer: “. . . let us thrown off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us focus our eyes on Jesus . . .”  Amen.

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