49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
This season of days after Pentecost or ordinary time takes on some interesting journeys through the scriptures. Currently we are in an apocalyptic time, or passages that remind us of the end of times. There are lots of different view points on this subject. Many people are fascinated with end of times conversations. They get caught up in trying to discern when the end times will come. Others like to use it as warnings to get your act together before the end draws near. Then we have the rapture people who love the Left Behind series and want to make sure that their house is in order before the great day when some will be whisked into heaven and others will be left to fight either with or for Satan. But we should remind ourselves that even though it sounds cool its not Biblical.
Today I kind of wanted to go down the road a little bit with where we as Presbyterians stand with all this. It’s not that our views are so different from other main-line denominations like Lutherans, Methodists, etc. its just a stand that often gets overlooked. The way I have come to understand the end of times or apocalyptic passages is pretty simple, “Ain’t none of us getting our of here alive.” Now that may sound a little harsh and some laugh but it is the truth. We will all perish from this planet called earth. When that day comes is irrelevant. How that day comes is also irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. But what we do with the days that we have that is where there is hay to be made.
The writer of Hebrews after giving us the list of the cloud of witnesses to the glory of God says, (Heb. 12:1-2) “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Running is a crazy hobby. How many have taken up that hobby at any point in their lives? 5 years ago, I completed a marathon. Now notice I did not say ran, because I ran/walked the marathon. It all started simple enough when Mary’s brothers and I were talking and they are runners. We talked about a plan that was created by a guy named Jeff Galloway to run a little and walk a little and before you know it you have finished the distance. Let me tell you that’s easier said than done. The work that has to go into training for distance running is pretty much insane. I came to realize that the best part of all of those training workouts was when it was over.
But there is a reason for that, medically speaking and they are called endorphins or the proverbial “runners high.” It is true that when you complete a long race your body may be very tired but in the process your body as built up all these endorphins to numb the pain away. When you stop running then the endorphins are still present but they are not needed to in the same places like your legs and back so they seem to go to the brain which causes a sense of euphoria. When you see people crying at the end of races it’s because they are high. That’s also the time when they say to themselves oh that wasn’t so bad, let’s do another one and before you know it, they have signed up for another race and the pain and suffering begins all over again.
That is why the writer of Hebrews says, “let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us”. Getting ready to run one of these races takes perseverance. Making it through this life, knowing that we don’t get out of this alive, takes perseverance. Many of us gathered here today have had trials in our lives. Some of you have experienced good and bad health. You have experienced death in family members, spouses and some have experienced the loss of a child. There have been accidents, tough times in marriages, maybe divorce, estrangement from family members, siblings that have not spoken in years. Our lives are messy and it takes perseverance to get through it. Sometimes it takes professional help as well. If you are sick you go to the doctor and if our mental state is suffering, we need to see a doctor as well in the form of therapists.
Yet when we come out on the other side, when we begin to see a little hope, we too can get euphoric. We celebrate that we made it. Life will never be the same, but we know that we can do this thing called living—just one more day, then we are making progress in running our own races with perseverance. It helps us when we have a cheering section. In the races that I have completed from the local 5Ks to the Disney Marathon and the Rock-n-roll half marathon when you get to the end there are people cheering. In the longer races there are people along the side of the road that hold up signs some funny, some personal and many just help you keep putting one foot in front of the other. It is very important to have a cheering section.
The cloud of witnesses that the writer of Hebrews commends to us the reader is all about people who persevered for their faith, maybe not in this world, but realized when they won the prize—keeping the faith as best they could. The writer knows how hard this life can be. So, he takes the people who seemed to be ordinary folks and reminds us of how God lifted them up in their worst times. In the section before todays reading the writer lifts up Abraham and Sarah followed by Moses. Then in today’s text he lifts up judges like Gideon and Sampson. Kings are lifted up like David and Solomon. Even the prophets like Daniel, and the guys Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Jesus talks of the family members that fall away from one-another but some find the faith and others might not.
Ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things. All to complete the race and to see Jesus the “pioneer and perfecter of the faith”. Our faith is only made complete by the one who had complete faith—Jesus. You sitting here today are the living cloud of witnesses. People who may be struggling in life, you can be their cheering section. We can help each other out when times are the hardest. Not because we have any special training, it’s just that we have been there, experienced it and have come out the other side. There is really no middle ground. There are the times when we can be a support for others and there are times when we need the support that others can offer.
When I was running there were so many times I would wonder, why am I doing this? If I just quit right now who would care? I had many doubts that I could even make it halfway let alone 26.2 miles. I did not have much faith. That’s OK, because when we struggle, we envision the one who sits at the right hand of God the Father who will make our faith complete. We don’t have to be perfect Christians. We don’t have to have all the right answers and appear like we got our stuff together. We just have to run and become. BTW- I am doing it again in January in Phoenix with Liz and Danielle, Patrick and his Dad its 13.1 miles of perseverance. Amen.