A sermon from Hebrews

I made a resolution to lose 30 pounds this year. I only have 40 more to go.

Here is a sermon about the believers who have gone before us and now encourage us to run the race of a faithful life.

RUNNING IN THE CLOUD

HEBREWS 12: 1, 2

AUGUST 18, 2013.

RUNNING WITH PERSEVERANCE

A.Two men are walking in the woods when they come upon a grizzly bear. One man starts to put on his running shoes saying, “That bear is going to eat one of us.” The other says, “What are you doing? You can’t outrun a bear.” And the first man says, “I don’t have to outrun the bear.” (Running Shoes) The writer of Hebrews uses the image of running a race to talk about the experience of faith. I’m not sure what kind of race she is referring to in this case.  It seems like it must be a marathon because the word perseverance is used. I’ve talked to some people who run marathons.  I asked them if they ever wanted to quit in the middle of a race. One man said, “All the time.”

B. So then I asked, “What keeps you going?” What is the motivation for running over 26 miles? I get tired driving 26 miles.  What is the motivation for persevering through the grueling painful experience of running that far? The Kenyans are known for being great marathon runners.  When asked what made them so good at it, one said it was the road signs at home.  “What kind of road signs?” “The ones that say Beware of Lions.”

C. The motivation to keep going in a long race is varied. Some run for health Others for the endorphin high they experience. Still others only run to avoid danger. There are not too many beware of lions signs here. Or they run to avoid inconvenience. If I don’t make that train I will have to wait another hour for the next one. One man said that one of the things that keeps him going is the crowd that cheers him on; that and the vision of the finish line when they will say well done.

II. CLOUD

A.Ann read the scripture that tells about the faithfulness and bravery and perseverance of Gods people who went before. And then in Chapter 12 it says THEREFORE!  Because of what the writer calls the cloud of witnesses, we are encouraged to run with perseverance the race of a lifetime of faith.  That’s a helpful image for me. Anyone who has ever tried to remain consistent and persevere through tough times will understand that it is not easy. For me, knowing that the ones who have run the race before me are now cheering me on is crucial.

B. Anyone involved in sports will tell you that a crowd cheering for you is a significant boost. They call it home field advantage. In football they call it the 12th man. It makes a difference. Who can help being motivated and energized when a group of people are cheering you on and encouraging you to persevere?

C.And so Hebrews has spent a lot of time telling us about the heroes of faith. The list starts with the Old Testament characters who demonstrated faithfulness to God. Then it tells us about the martyrs who died horrible deaths rather than quit the race of faith. But when you take a closer look at the list you realize that all of the “heroes” were flawed Abraham lied about being married to Sarah to save his own skin and cast Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert to die. Jacob was a habitual liar. Moses murdered a guy. Sampson was an incurable skirt chaser. Jepthah killed his own daughter to keep a silly oath. David was an adulterer. You get the point. These were not perfect people. That’s not why the writer holds them up as part of the cloud of witnesses. It was that they remained faithful to the end. And they know how hard it is for us imperfect people to keep going and not quit the faith race.

D. But there is another part of the cloud of witnesses that are more personal for us. That part of the cloud is made up of those people that we have known who have kept the faith and are now in the stands cheering us on. They are people like Charlie and Swiss and Terry and Mary and Susan. They are the pastors who have served faithfully throughout the years. My dad is my biggest fan. And Mrs. Sye and Mrs. Meeder and Mr. Meckey and Mrs. Sanders and Rev. Meanor are all season ticket holders. I’m sure you have your own list. Nobody can fully understand that cloud of witnesses the communion of saints until someone that they have loved is in heaven. They cheer us on and offer us encouragement because they have run this race before us. They know how hard it is. It is amazing to run the race of faith in that cloud.

III. PAST IS PRELUDE

A. But there is a little twist to the cloud of witnesses. We need them to show the way and to cheer us on. But they need us too. You see it matters to them how we run the race. Hebrews says that they are perfected in our life of faith.  You might call it a A man builds up a business from nothing. His son then takes over the business. And it matters a great deal to the father that the son is successful, even when he is gone. That same sense of legacy exists for the faithful ones who are gone

.B.They are cheering for us out of love for us. But they also have a vested interest in us persevering in our race. Do you remember the scene in Star Wars movie, Return of the Jedi when the Emperor has been killed by Darth Vader to save his son Luke? Vader, who had been the ultimate villain, has repented of his involvement in the dark side because of the love that he has seen in his son. And now Vader lay dying. Luke tries to help him up and says, “I have to save you.” And Vader says, “You already have.” Maybe the image of marathon is blended here with the image of a relay race. One generation passes the baton to the next and the race goes on. The one who runs the first leg does not win until the anchor man finishes his race.

C. Those Old Testament characters never saw the salvation that we have seen. But they believed in it through faith and watched and cheered with great interest because that faith is perfected in what they see in us. Our loved ones and past faithful members of our church have lived out that salvation. But it is not complete without them knowing that we have carried on that

IV. THE PIONEER

A.Running the race of faith with perseverance is everything that church is   Bible study is being in touch with the promise that the ones who have died are still with us. Mission is what we are doing that lets them know that we are still running the race and not quitting. Christian education is passing the story on to the ones who will be running the race when we are part of the cloud of witnesses. Prayer is the fuel that gives us perseverance.

B. And worship is our acknowledgement that we have a pioneer that leads the way. Jesus was the only one to run the race perfectly. He is our model. He endured even the shameful death of crucifixion and still he kept the faith. He kept his eyes on the prize. And that is what we are called to do when the race gets tough, when spiritual muscles cramp; when our commitment lungs burn and our flawed feet beg us to quit. We keep that vision of the finish line in our hearts. We hear that crowd cheering for us. KEEP GOING. YOU ARE DOING GREAT.  KEEP RUNNING

.C.Then we know what it means to lay aside the weight of sin that makes it so much harder to run the race. And not just personal failures, but also the corporate sin and the sin of passive indifference to suffering that builds structures that make it hard for anyone to run the race of faithfulness. Jesus is the one who leads us to something better.   I gathered a group of kids for a children’s sermon once and said, “We are going to play follow the Go!” They didn’t do anything. Finally one child said, “We can’t play that game unless we have a leader.” Well, we have a leader who is running and inviting us to follow. Are you ready? (Put on Running Shoes)