Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Proper 15 (20) (August 14, 2016)
Hebrews 11:29-12:2 | New Living Translation (NLT)
It was by faith that the people of Israel went right through the Red Sea as though they were on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to follow, they were all drowned.
It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down.
It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death.
But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
Keep Running the Race
This week we pick right up where we left off last week – in the book of Hebrews – the 11th chapter – often called the “Faith Hall of Fame.” The writer now recounts the Hebrews crossing the Red Sea by faith and defeating Jericho simply by marching around its walls. He recalls Rahab who was saved by faith for protecting the Hebrews. He presses on to recount other heroes of the faith, Gidon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, Dave, Samuel, and the prophets.
Listen to what they did – by faith:
- They overthrew kingdoms
- ruled with justice
- received by God had promised
- shut the mouth of lions
- quenched the flames of fire
- escaped death by the sword
- weakness was turned to strength
- became strong in battle
- put armies to flight
- women received loved ones back from the dead
And yet then the author turns a corner. It is easy to press on by faith when we think God is on our side and all these great things happened. But what happens when we still live by faith and yet:
- others were tortured for refusing to turn from God
- they were jeered at
- their backs were cut open
- they were chained in prisons
- some died by stoning
- some were sawed in half
- some were killed by the sword
- some were destitute and oppressed
- they hid in caves, wandered in deserts and hid in holes in the ground
These people earned a good reputation our author tells us – because of their faith in God – despite the circumstances. It is easy to say that we will follow God when the going is easy – when it seems like God is on our side, but what about when it seems like God is distant – when it seems like God is not on our side – it is in those times that we still need to have faith — we still need to press on in the life of faith – we need to continue running the race with faith because until we cross from this life to the next, we don’t receive our ultimate reward.
These that are listed in the Faith Hall of Fame are witnesses to the promise of Jesus – this Jesus who came to earth to be God with us – Emmanuel (God in the flesh) — this Jesus who died for our sins – to pay the price for our sins – this Jesus who rose again – to free us from the curse and bondage of sin. Jesus did these things — once and for all. Meaning his sacrifice was good for all time for all people and it only happened one time, unlike the constant sacrifice of animals in the temple.
This faith in Jesus – surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses
It’s been interesting to watch the Olympics this week. This morning we watched as the 10,000 meter race was run (6.2 miles) – 25 laps around the track. It became quite clear – even early on that the Olympic record and world record was in danger of falling and by quite a large margin in running terms. As the lead runner began to press toward the final lap, the crowd rose to their feet and began cheering loudly.
What a great way to envision Hebrews 12:1-2 – Imagine all those who have gone on before cheering us on – knowing what it means to live the life of faith – cheering us on to the finish.
When we remember those who have gone on before, we know we need to get rid of those things that slow us down. As a runner, I like to run in as little as possible – the weather usually plays a role in that. But when we put too much on, it slows us down – that’s why I prefer shorter shorts – not short shorts, but shorter shorts than basketball shorts. Obviously, in the winter I need to put more on to stave off the cold, but in the summer, I like to keep cool when running and the less the better and the better the times. It even includes the extra weight that we put on. I know at the moment I am at least 10 to 15 pounds heavier than I would like to run at a decent pace. I’m hoping my more rigorous training runs of late are going to help that.
In the Christian life, we need to do the same thing, stripping off the sin that easily entangles us – it slows us down. On Tuesday, my run took me through a heavy undergrowth – it was stupid on my part – the place was filled with spider webs – yuck. I kept pressing on, but it wasn’t easy. Sin can do the same thing in our lives.
We need to do that so we can run the race with endurance – who needs extra weight in a long race? How do we do this? We fix our eyes on Jesus – Jesus is our great high priest – he knows what we are going through – he knows how to help us. He initiates and completes our faith. One version says that Jesus is the perfector of our faith – Jesus helps us mature as believers – Jesus endured the cross for us – he endured the shame – so that we could live lives of faith. That gives him the joy that he needed to do what he did for us.
Live the life of faith – run the race – keep pressing on – through the cloud of witnesses – it is worth it!