Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 24 (Rev. Stan Temme)
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – July 31 (Rev. Stan Temme)
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 7 (Rev. Stan Temme)
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 14 (Rev. Stan Temme)
Running the Race
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text is from the Epistle reading, the letter to the Hebrews. “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses . . . 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 . . . and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Here ends our text.
You’ve seen these people on the side of the road. They’re runners and joggers. What is it with these people? Why are they doing this? They’re out there, plodding along, often with a look of grimace on their faces. They’re sweating profusely as the sun beats down upon them. Or they’re bundled up, fighting the wind and chill. Why would they endure such pain and anguish? Do they enjoy this? Why don’t they just drive in a car like normal people? It never seems like they’re going anywhere. They have no useful destination. Some of them run in circles on a track. Others have a habitual out and back course or loop that they run. They always return to where they started. It seems rather silly. What’s the point? Why do they do what they do? Where’s the joy in running. Runners don’t make any sense.
Runners don’t make any sense, unless of course, you’re a runner. A runner runs for his own reasons that non-runners can’t understand. Perhaps it’s the exhilaration of getting the lungs breathing and heart pumping, the runner’s high. Maybe it’s for physical fitness. They’re disciplining their body. It could be for the sense of accomplishment. Some runners have a goal, to beat a certain time, train for a race, or finish a marathon. I used to be a runner myself. And let me tell you, if my knees and ankles and joints could still handle the pounding, I’d be out there right now. Why is it that runners do what they do? What motivates them? I couldn’t tell you for sure. But I do know that it’s not their body, their aching muscles and sore joints that cause them to run. It’s something on the inside, an inner motivation that drives them. Something that gives them joy. Runners don’t make sense to non-runners. They appear to be nuts. But runners run anyway.
The same thing might be said of Christians. You’ve seen these people on the road on Sunday morning, driving to and from church when everyone else is enjoying the day off. What is it with these people? Why do Christians do what they do? They seem to make life more difficult than it has to be. Why don’t they behave like normal people? They do the strangest things in their habitual religious rituals. They often deny earthly pleasures and instead endure suffering and persecution. And for what purpose? Why do they do what they do? Christians don’t make any sense.
For example, let’s look at some of the odd things Christians did in the Old Testament from our reading from Hebrews. Look at this guy Noah. He builds a huge boat on dry land, not even close to any body of water. For a hundred years he labors and sweats, sawing and hammering. People come out to heckle him, but he tells them to get on board. Where could they be going? What a nutcase. And how about Abraham. He’s waited so long to have a son, and now he’s going to sacrifice him on an altar? Wasn’t this the son whom God promised was going to have all the descendants and eventually the Messiah? What’s Abraham doing with the knife? He’s some kind of psycho. And Joseph, he’s second in command of all Egypt, the greatest empire on earth. His family has a nice land to graze their herds in Goshen. And he’s talking about going back to Canaan, the place they just had to leave because of famine? Moses is prince of Egypt, brought up in Pharaoh’s household with all the perks of royalty. But he throws it all away. He chooses instead to defend a slave, but he has to flee for his life into the desert. Some voice talks to him out of a burning bush, so he returns and gets mistreated with the oppressed people of Israel. He could have had it all. What an idiot. And what’s with smearing the lamb’s blood on the doorway. That’s just creepy. How about that scene at the Red Sea? Would you go down into those roaring waters, way over your head, with nothing but wind holding them back? Better to concede and just go back to Egypt rather than drown. And what’s with marching around Jericho. They did it one day and nothing happened. They were just going around in circles, back to the same place they started. They did the same thing for six more days. Did they expect a different result? That’s the definition of insanity: doing the same thing again and again but expecting a different result. What is it with these people? Christians don’t make any sense.
Christians don’t make any sense, unless of course, you’re a Christian. A Christian does things for his own reasons that non-Christians can’t understand. Why do Christians do what they do? It’s not their physical body that causes them to do it. It’s something on the inside, an inner motivation that drives them. It’s not insanity of the mind, but a right spirit that lives within them. This spirit has faith. But it’s not just faith that believes that despite all this lunacy things will work out alright. It’s faith in the Word and promises of God.
God told Noah, build a boat and I’ll save you. Noah believed God, so he built the ark and was saved when all the unbelieving hecklers drowned. It was by faith that Noah did this. God said to Abraham, “Isaac will be your heir.” But to test his faith, God said, “Sacrifice your only son whom you love as a burnt offering.” Abraham believed in God’s promise so much that he figured, “Even if I kill my son, God will just raise him from the dead to keep his promise.” It was by faith that Abraham did this. God told the patriarchs that he would give them the land of Canaan for their inheritance. Joseph believed God’s promise. So by faith, Joseph said, “When you go back, carry my bones with you.” Moses believed God’s promise as well so he gave up all the pleasures of Egypt to suffer with his people. It was by faith in God’s Word that the blood of the lamb saved the Israelites while the firstborn of the Egyptians died. It was by faith that the people walked through the Red Sea while all the unbelieving Egyptians drowned. It was by faith in God’s Word that the Israelites marched around the city and the walls fell down. Christians don’t make sense to non-Christians. They appear to be nuts. But Christians believe the promises of God. That’s why they do what they do. It’s by faith.
Think about all the things you do as a Christian which seems so silly to unbelievers. You’re one of those nuts who’s driving to church on Sunday morning when everyone else is sleeping in or enjoying brunch. You come here and confess your sin to a God you can’t see. You can’t hear him speak, but in absentia some man in a white robe absolves you for him. Like that’s going to work. You bring your babies up here and pour water on their heads. You’ve already bathed them. It just makes them cry. They don’t even know what’s going on. What’s that all about? You bow before bread and wine and say that’s it’s the body and blood of your God. How can that be? And you actually give a portion of your hard-earned money to support all this. Aren’t there more tangible things you could buy with it? And when people heckle you and mock you for these odd religious practices, you invite them to come aboard and join in. What you do doesn’t make any sense.
But it does make sense to you. It makes sense to do what you do because you believe it to be true. You have faith. You have faith in the Words and promises of God. God says that in his stead a Christian can absolve your sins and you believe it. God says that he washes away sin in baptism and brings a child into his kingdom, and you trust his Word. God says it is his body and blood in the bread and wine, and you have faith that it’s true. You trust God’s promise to provide for you so you tithe, believing that he’ll continue to provide your daily bread. By faith you give of your time and talents because you want others to hear the Word of God and be saved. That’s why you do what you do. Faith is your inner motivation. It’s all by faith.
But your faith isn’t in fables or the stories of men. You have faith in Jesus Christ who is the founder and perfecter of our faith. The things that Jesus did don’t make sense to the world either. Jesus is the Son of God. Why would he give it all up, come down to earth, and become man? Why would he humble himself and suffer with his people? He could have enjoyed the pleasures of this earth, the wealth and power and the high society that went along with it. But instead Jesus ate with sinners, fed the poor, and hung out with fishermen and tax collectors. Why didn’t he at least speak up at his trial and defend himself. And then to die in excruciating agony on the cross? He must have been some kind of lunatic. It doesn’t make any sense at all.
It doesn’t make sense, unless of course, you’re God. For Jesus is God, and he saw the joy that was set before him. He looked to you. He endured the cross for the joy of saving you. His breath was panting, his heart stressed. The cross was his marathon to endure. And he finished the race for you. He looked to heaven to the will of his Father. He suffered, he bore the pain, he endured the cross that he might sit at the right hand of the throne of God and reign over heaven and earth. Jesus saw the joy of bringing people into God’s heavenly kingdom. His suffering, death, and resurrection made sense to him because he saw the joy that was set before him. He saw you.
You also have a joy set before you. The world sees you as a runner, plodding through life, enduring pain and suffering, doing things that don’t make sense. You run the race of life, but you don’t run alone. You run with all the saints, Noah and Abraham, Joseph and Moses, your Christian brothers and sisters. We don’t grow weary or fainthearted. We run with the same desires, the same goal, the same inner motivation. We run with faith in Jesus Christ. And that gives us joy. For Christ is the joy set before us. As Jesus looked to us and our salvation as his joy, so we now look to Jesus as our joy. As our text reminds us, “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses . . . 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 set before him endured the cross . . . and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” It doesn’t make sense to the world that we run this race. But it makes sense to us who look to Jesus. We run with faith in him who is the joy set before us. Enjoy the run. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.