August 14, 2022——-10th Sunday after Pentecost——-Rev. Patrick Mecham
Psalms 80: 1-2, 8-19; Hebrews 11: 29 – 12: 2; Luke 12: 54 – 56
Anybody here like to watch the Olympics when they are on TV? It’s kind of hard to not get drawn into all the excitement! And we get inspired and amazed by the dedication and work and PERSEVERANCE each of these athletes has displayed.
While hearing our passage from Hebrews this morning, it sounded as if that writer was inspired by something similar—talking about “running the race that is set before us” and “throwing off any extra baggage” and persevering in the faith. Only, instead of Olympians, we are directed to look at Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Persevere!
Soon after I graduated from college, I went to Scotland for a year of graduate school. I got there several days before term began in order to participate in an orientation provided by the “Overseas Student Society” (I was a foreign student!), and I stayed in a bed-and-breakfast until the residence halls opened up. During my free time, I walked up and down the ancient streets of St. Andrews, getting familiar with my new “stomping grounds.” It was wonderful! Only one thing troubled me: as I passed people on the sidewalks, and tried to greet them, I rarely got any response! When I discussed this with one of the leaders of the orientation, she said, “Aye, we’re a reserved people. But persevere, Laddie! Persevere!”
Now, of course, one of the key verses in our text from Hebrews is “Run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” Then the writer to the Hebrews shows us examples of folks who have, in faith, found a way to do just that. The folks that this was written to 2000 years ago needed this word of encouragement to “hang in there”—and you and I need it today!
Our text from Luke is also an encouragement to “hang in there,” especially when difficult things are happening. Our reading from Psalm 80 is both a Psalm of praise for the Shepherd of Israel AND a prayer that God will continue to give us life as we continue in the struggle.
Easy to Give Up
Have you noticed that there is a tremendous deficiency of perseverance/stick-to-it-iveness in our culture today? People try something ONCE, and then give up, saying, “I tried that—it didn’t work.” Have you noticed? We live in a world of quick fixes, and we seem to have lost the capacity for tenacity!
It’s so easy to give up on things that are really important, things that deserve another effort, and another. Instead, we resign (with a whimper) in defeat. What we need is a measure of hupomone! Some of you may remember when I preached on this several months ago. Paul wrote about the ability to experience all the discouragement the world could throw at us AND YET persevere to triumph, all because God has filled us with hupomone. This is the Greek word for that indomitable spirit that is able to withstand difficulties and still overcome them.
At the Rio Olympics in 2016, there was a tiny gymnast named Laurie Hernandez—one of the “final five” who swept the gold in the Team Competition. She was only 16 years old then, but she had already had some amazing struggles on the road to Rio. She had broken her wrist—twice. She had fractured her left elbow. She had dislocated her right kneecap, torn her patellar tendon, and smashed her teeth on the uneven bars. But she persevered! And she stated that her greatest desire was to give glory to God in all her gymnastics—win or lose! That’s hupomone!
[Since that time, she has appeared on “Dancing with the Stars” where she won the competition. She has been an actress, and has authored two books. I don’t think we have heard the last from this little dynamo!]
My Grace Is Sufficient for You
Paul himself is also an amazing example of hupomone. He was an energetic (one could even say intense) single-minded man who took the gospel of Christ into a lot of Gentile territory. But Paul had a problem. We don’t know exactly what it was—probably some kind of illness that slowed him down—and he prayed that God would remove what he called his “thorn in the flesh.” And what was God’s response to this prayer? These words: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.”
Paul contented himself with his own weaknesses so that
the power of Christ might dwell in him!
In other words, hupomone (the power to prevail over difficulties) does not come from ourselves but comes from Christ. Paul would famously write, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”
Look to Jesus
That’s why the writer to the Hebrews urges us to run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith! You see, the Scriptures don’t tell us, “Hey! Power up! Do this! Get yourself in gear!” No—they tell us that 1. Our weakness is perfectly normal, and 2. The power of Christ is available to us. We persevere in the race because Christ is running with us!
The text also advises us to “Lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely” and run the race. Imagine watching the Olympics, and someone is trying to run a race weighed down with ankle weights and a heavy backpack! No, “lay aside every weight.” And what might some of those weights be?
- GUILT Feeling bad about something we’ve done (or failed to do) burdens us with a sense of guilt. That’s not a bad thing, because guilt can drive us to God, to seek forgiveness and cleansing. Just imagine what history might have looked like had Judas Iscariot responded to the burden of guilt by turning to God for forgiveness! He would have been cleansed, forgiven, restored—and might well have been a powerful agent for the Kingdom. Instead, he gave up too soon. Instead of running the race with perseverance, he took his own life. Tragic! Friends, you and I need to lay aside the weight of guilt—by confessing our sins and allowing God to restore us—THEN we can run the race!
- Disordered Priorities “Chasing after the wrong things or the inferior things distracts us from pursuing the best things.” Some years ago, I was invited to address a M.O.P.S. group (Mothers Of Pre-Schoolers). The national theme for that year was “A Beautiful Mess”—and I found that to be a very apt description of the endeavor of raising preschoolers! I told them, “IF your priority is keeping the house looking like something in a magazine—or keeping yourself looking beautiful—or keeping the kids perfectly shined up and polished, then you’ll be missing out on the Real Beauty of having preschoolers!” Friends, when you and I get our priorities straight, and we let go of those things that truly are not that important—we will experience the beauty of running the race with perseverance!
- Voice of Defeat Sometimes we make the mistake of listening to that voice that speaks up when we encounter difficulties, when the going gets tough. It says something like, “I’m never going to succeed at this” or “I always fail when I try to do this.” Just keep this in mind: Meryl Streep shares that, when she auditioned for a role in King Kong, she was rejected and told that she was “too ugly” for the part! She decided to reject this voice of defeat, and now she has 21 academy award nominations, and she has won “best actress” 3 times! So, whether this voice is an inner voice OR another person expressing their opinion—you and I must ignore the voice of defeat in order to keep running the race. And, even if we are in last place, we will finish the race!
- Losing Sight of the Goal Jesus endured the cross because he kept his ultimate goal in sight—salvation for you and for me. It was that joy, says the writer to the Hebrews, that kept Jesus on the cross and restored him to his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. When we lose sight of the goal, our ultimate priority, it’s like a tremendous weight is holding us back, holding us down. But when we refresh our vision, we see that we are pilgrims on a journey with Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
- Other Weights to Lay Aside Barclay says, “There may be habits, pleasures, self-indulgences, associations which hold us back. We must shed them as the athlete sheds the warm-up suit when going to the starting-mark; and often we will need the help of Christ to enable us to do so.” Friends, you know who or what is holding you back, weighing you down, hobbling your efforts to run with perseverance the race that is set before us.
I want to finish today by going back to my year of study in Scotland. I took the advice to “persevere” and I went out of my way to be friendly to folks on the streets of St. Andrews. I began to see a slight warming-up of the people I greeted day after day. Well, at least they looked less shocked when I hailed them with a hearty “Good Morning!” Mrs. Wishart, the woman who (as it turns out) was a housekeeper at my residence hall, actually replied to me one chilly winter day. After I said, “Good Morning!” she smiled and nodded and said, “Cold!” It was a breakthrough! You see, even when we seem to be failing, perseverance will often win through to victory. It’s like learning to ride a bicycle: you must have movement in order to get the feel of balance. You cannot learn to ride a bike by safely sitting motionless on the seat—you have to get the bike going. Sure, you might be wobbly. You might even fall and get scraped up. But to experience the joy of cycling, you must persevere! And, just like Abraham and Isaac and Jacob who did not know exactly where they were going—taking one step in faith will eventually lead to RUNNING ON FAITH!