13th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) – August 14, 2016 – Hebrews 11:29-12:2
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Keep Running – Pastor Evan Davis
Brett and I’ve been watching a little bit of the Olympics this week, as I imagine you have as well. There are so many races – swimming, biking, running. Of course, they all want to win but only one person can. Personally, I think they’re all incredible just to get to that point. I hope they feel that way. They’ve all got to be masters of motivating themselves to do the fantastically difficult work required to get to the Olympics, and they need incredible motivators in their lives One motivator that I know helps is the crowd cheering you on.
I used to run track and cross country in high school, and I don’t think anybody can deny that being cheered on by people in the crowd gives you a jolt of energy and confidence….you think, “hey, I’m great, they love me, I can do this!” I can remember one time I was running in an indoor track meet – it was the two miler. Indoor tracks are not as long as regular tracks, and so the two mile race at this one track was like 32 laps. I remember running along, feeling pretty terrible, nearing the end of this way-too-long race, when I start hearing all this cheering. And I felt great, I was like, “yeah! I’m awesome!” In all that sound, I could barely hear the distinctive growl of my coach’s raspy voice…but eventually I made out, “Davis – you ran an extra lap!” I’m telling you, that cheering gets you up on Cloud Nine…I just thought I’d extend that experience another lap. You’re not worrying about anything in the world. It’s a powerful motivator.
The writer of Hebrews is giving us a tour of God’s Faith Hall of Fame – those who have run their races and crossed the finish line. You remember he started last week by saying “now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Then he spent a while telling us about Abraham, who by faith left his home, not knowing where he was going, but only that God’s hand was leading him. He mentions Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, who believed in the promise God was giving through their family, even when their family was a bit more than dysfunctional. We come to Moses, who led the people on the greatest jail break of all time and into the scorching wilderness where only God could sustain them. Today we heard a longer list of those who had the faith to walk through the Red Sea, to speak truth to power as they circled the walls of Jericho, to go against their own leaders as Rahab did, putting herself at risk. We heard of those who who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness. And we heard of those who suffered torture, imprisonment, and death – of whom the world was not worthy.
We can put so many more names on this list. How about Dr. King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela? How about some of your parents and grandparents, who had the faith to be generous even when they had little, or to believe in the mission of this congregation perhaps even when times were hard? Or to walk with grace and magnanimity, even through cancer or debilitating illness?
Look at this great cloud of witnesses, going back to Jesus and the apostles, through all the generations, through the generations here at Trinity/St. Jacob’s. They ran a great race, didn’t they?
But they didn’t receive the promise on their own. By their heroic acts of faith they didn’t gain exclusive access to the promise of God. No, because God provided something even better than what their acts could ever accomplish – something that we can only receive, and receive together. That’s the resurrection that awaits us all, that’s the kingdom which is ahead of us, but also that kingdom God is bringing to earth, the kingdom that’s breaking forth all around us every day. You see, God didn’t want to give it to anyone until God gives it to everyone.
Now it’s our turn to run. We’re in our lane. Maybe you’re tired, the wind is picking up, blowing against you, and it’s hard to keep going. Look around. The wonderful thing about this race is that we’re not running against each other. No, it’s about using the faith God gives us as a gift to get us all to the finish line together. Where Jesus is standing and waiting for us, even as he has run this very race himself, even as he runs it with us and as the Holy Spirit is the energy moving us even if it’s two steps forward and one step back. And we’re not alone.
Can you hear them? The great cloud of witnesses? They’re in the stands, cheering us on. Some of their names we hear in Scripture, others in the stories of the church. Some of their names are right here on these stained glass windows, others are embedded in your memory and written on your hearts. Remember what they did to build this place, working with a whole lot less than we have now. Remember that this is not a race we’re trying to win. It doesn’t matter if Trinity/St. Jacob’s ends up being big or small, with lots of money or little. What matters is that we hear the good news, that our faith is deepened, and that we practice our faith in how we live – how we speak, how we spend our money, how we work and what we do, how we spend our time, what we’re able to share with others, who we’re willing to associate with, and above all, how we love our neighbors as Jesus loves us. The outcome of all this is in God’s hands, and God’s hands alone. But we know one thing – we’re all on the same track, and we all cross the same finish line, where Jesus waits to embrace us in his Father’s kingdom.
As I go forward to run my race, I know that you will be up in the stands cheering me on, along with many others from my life. And trust me, although I can no longer be present with you, and I cannot be any longer, I will be up in the stands hollering for you to keep running!
God tells us through this passage to lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely. But only because we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. Embraced by these sisters and brothers, we can see that while we will be sinners until the day we die, in light of Christ, sin has no power over us or our destiny – only God does. While there are many scary things in this world and so many pains and anxieties, in light of Christ and supported by each other and cheered on by those who have run this hard race before us, we can see that these weights only hold us back if we let them. Even a person lying in a hospital bed or a prison cell can change the world by how they live with faith. Even a small church on a beautiful hilltop can, through its acts and words of faith, change many lives.
So you can lay aside your fears, your doubts, every weight, and run this race….looking to Jesus….for though he endured the cross, now he sits at the right hand of God. Keep on moving forward. Don’t let anything stop you. You have all you need. The great cloud of witnesses surrounds you, and Christ lives in your hearts. Keep running, and I will too, and with your cheers from the stands, I might just run an extra lap. Amen.