“Faith to Run the Race” (Hebrews 11:17-31; 12:1-3)

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 18, 2019

“Faith to Run the Race” (Hebrews 11:17-31; 12:1-3)

I read recently that Rosie Ruiz died. Who was Rosie Ruiz, you ask? She was the woman who cheated in order to win the Boston Marathon in 1980. She had jumped out of the crowd about a half-mile from the finish line and just ran that little distance. But at the award ceremony, when they put the laurel wreath on her head and she raised her arms in victory, it appeared strange that she had no sweat under her armpits. She was not breathing hard, either. After an investigation, she was stripped of her title. And it turned out she had cheated in the New York City Marathon the year before, in order to qualify for the Boston Marathon. In New York, she rode the subway to a point near the finish, and did the same thing there, only running the last little bit. Rosie Ruiz did not have the endurance to go the distance, so she cheated instead.

Dear friends, the Christian life is like running a marathon. Only, you’ve actually got to run the race. You can’t ride the subway for the hard part. And most of life is the hard part. So how are you going to make it to the finish line? Brothers and sisters, you will need endurance.

Our reading today from the Book of Hebrews is about finding the endurance you need to run the race and cross the finish line. The race is not easy. It will be arduous. There will be obstacles in the way, things to slow you down. You will break a sweat. The race will require your sweat, your tears, and maybe even your blood. But God will provide you with the endurance necessary to finish the course. And here is what you need: “Faith to Run the Race.”

“Faith to run the race.” Reading from our text, Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

First of all, what is this “great cloud of witnesses” that our text refers to? These witnesses are all the Old Testament saints mentioned in the preceding chapter, Hebrews 11. “The Faith Hall of Fame” we sometimes call that chapter. There we read about people like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel–the list goes on and on. Now these were not perfect people. In the Old Testament, we not only read about their heroic exploits, but we also see them up close and personal, warts and all, with all their flaws and failings and sins. These people were not any superior intrinsically to you and me. But what makes them notable is that they bear witness to us about running the race. About looking forward and not giving up. About holding on to God’s promises. And that is faith. It was the gift of faith that God gave them that gave them the endurance to carry on. And that is how they bear witness to us today. It’s like they’re speaking to us from the pages of Scripture and saying, “Don’t give up! Keep on running the race! It’s worth it. God is true to his promises. Keep the faith. Keep your eyes on the prize.”

We do grow weary, don’t we? Sometimes we feel like giving up. We feel the weight of sadness and frustration. It seems like it’s taking so long. I don’t always see my prayers being answered. Life is not going as I hoped. The Christian life is not easy. I keep falling for the same old temptations, because, well, those temptations are so tempting! Am I some great overcomer, always triumphing over the devil, the world, and my own sinful flesh? No. All too often I give in. Which makes me feel like giving up.

What weighs you down? What is slowing you down as you run the race that lies before you? Does the finish line look too far away for you to run the distance? Keep in mind, there’s no subway for you to hop on to skip the hard part. ’Cause it’s all the hard part.

Lord, help us, we pray. Have mercy on your people who struggle and grow weary. Give us the help we need to carry on and cross the finish line. Help us be the faith-filled people you want us to be, so that we can run the race with endurance and even with joy.

Faith is hanging on to God’s promises. All this comes from God. He makes the promises. He generates the faith. In Hebrews 11 we read about how God gave those Old Testament saints promises to hold on to. And the faith to believe the promises. The chapter starts out: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.” And then it goes on to give examples of those people of old and their faith in things not seen yet promised by God. For example: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents. . . . For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”

You see, Abraham was a sojourner, a pilgrim, not having a permanent home here on this earth. And in this way, Abraham is representative of the people of faith. “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. . . . But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”

Brothers and sisters, we are sojourners. We are pilgrims. We are strangers and exiles on the earth. This world is not our home. We are out of place here. We don’t fit in. We are a people on the way. We’re on the way to the true Promised Land. We’re not there yet. We don’t see it with our eyes yet. But we have God’s promise. And that’s as good as gold.

Actually, it’s even better than gold. The psalmist says of the decrees of the Lord, “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold.” And the promises of God are guaranteed with something much more valuable than mere gold: You were redeemed from your sins “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” The promises of God centered in Christ–this is the sure basis and the solid foundation of our faith. “For all the promises of God have their Yes in him.”

Christ is the one who shed his blood, sweat, and tears for us, for our salvation. Jesus shed his tears for us, when he wept over Jerusalem, when he wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Sweat poured forth from Jesus’ brow as he prayed for us in the agony of Gethsemane. And blood–how much blood did our Savior shed when he endured the flogging by the soldiers, the crown of thorns on his head, the nails driven into hands and feet, and the spear thrust in his side. All for you. For without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. But with the shedding of the blood of the one and only Son of God come in the flesh, dying on the cross as the sacrifice for all sin–with his holy blood, there is full and free forgiveness for all sinners of all times.

This forgiveness is offered to you and promised to you in the gospel. It is yours by faith. Faith, engendered by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word–this faith takes hold of the promise. God is doing this work in you here again today. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Your faith is being refreshed and strengthened today by means of Word and Sacrament.

And so the promise is yours. The inheritance is yours. And what an inheritance it is! Eternal life! With Christ! With all his saints! Just imagine: You’ll be able to hang around with Abraham and Sarah and Moses and David and Mary, the mother of our Lord. Oh, over there! There’s Martin Luther working on a hymn with J. S. Bach. It sounds heavenly! And who’s that? Why, I think it’s your sainted grandparents, looking very spry, with no more physical ailments. You see, all these people have crossed the finish line. They made it. They’re all wearing the white robes and the victor’s crown. And they’re all singing hymns in praise of Christ the King, the Lamb who was slain to win the victory for them.

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar.” They desired a better country, a heavenly one, and God has prepared for them a city. It’s the new Jerusalem, and you and I will be joining them there. Eternal joy and gladness! This is the joy that is set before us, as we run the race that is set before us. And all the while we’re running, we’re fixing our eyes on Jesus. For it is Jesus who will get us across the finish line. As surely as he said, “It is finished,” so will he give us the strength and the endurance we need to finish our course.

Looking back on the saints of old, that great cloud of witnesses, whose lives bear witness to the faithfulness of God; looking constantly and confidently to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith; looking ahead to the joy set before us–this is how we run the race. Holding on firmly to the promises of God, while we run. This is how we find the endurance we need to keep on running. For this week. And for the long haul. It’s a marathon, this race we’re running. And there are no subway shortcuts.

Oh, look up ahead! Can you see it with the eyes of faith? Yes, up ahead, I see you–and what’s this? The laurel wreath of victory is being placed on your head! And you’re raising your arms in joy and in praise to God for bringing you home.

Published in: on August 17, 2019 at 6:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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