The Olympic competitions going on in Rio de Janeiro and the muscle cars lining our Main Street for the annual Car show, are timely backdrops for the words of Jesus preserved by a physician named Luke:
“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?”
Updated to the "present time," might the reading be:“You hypocrites! You know how to admire Olympiads and muscle cars, but don’t see the relevance in a line from an almost 2,000 year old letter first addressed to Jewish Christians living in Jerusalem, with the line being:
let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.?
We’re to be people who are “revved up to make tracks!” in the race of life – with the Letter to the Hebrews” being the training manual we follow to avoid Jesus’ charge “You hypocrites!”
The first rule in training to be “Revved up” to “run…the race that is set before us” is to “look up” and “see” we:
are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,… “Witnesses” –
like the spectators in the stands who are a race car driver’s sponsors and family and friends, whose cheers are the incentive to rev up to win the prize.
“Look up,” urges the letter writer, “see who is cheering you on” along the race course of life.
The letter names extraordinary models like Abraham and Sarah, Moses, and the prophets, and ordinary – even questionable individuals like Rahab, a harlot, honored for hiding two Hebrew spies she perceived to be God’s servants.
“Look up,” the charge to those who were first to read the letter; “look up” and “see” new faces in the stands,
“see” the followers of Jesus, men and women, martyrs and others who though alive wear the scars of persecution.
“Look up,” the letter’s charge to us, “look up” and “see who is cheering us on.”
Who is up there in the grandstands encouraging us, praying for us;
who is a model for us to want to imitate?
In college I learned about the theologian, musician, and philosopher, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who abandoned all he had attained to enter medical school to prepare to be a medical missionary. He became my inspiration in my quest for meaning and purpose and a personal need to reverence God by serving others.Along with those named in the “great cloud of witnesses,” he became a spiritual model, a face in the stands who encouraged me to run the race of life.
Today we have all kinds of models who attract a following, especially in the world of sports and entertainment,
but who is worthy of being added to the company of those named in the Letter to the Hebrews?
“Look up,” and ask, “Who is my idol? Whom have I chosen to imitate?” Who meets the letter’s second rule in training, to lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,…?
The Rev. Scott Hoezee, a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church who now directs the Center for Excellence in Preaching, looks around and sees our culture …has also gotten pretty good at soft-pedaling the moral shape of our lives. God’s a pretty indulgent old man upstairs who’s mostly interested in seeing if we’re “pretty good people” overall but not too worried about the details of our daily living, (or how the decisions we make affect others.)
But, writes Pastor Hoezee, the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us—and the pioneer of our faith who has gone before us—do not exist to cheer on our moral mediocrity. They are there to cheer us on to the finish line of the race marked out before us. (Quoted adapted from http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-15c/?type=lectionary_epistle#sthash.5gjiGJDK.dpuf)
Our “moral mediocrity!” that’s a generously kind way to comment on our public and private lives,
in our messed up world where people are all revved up to make tracks that run over and ruin human life. Dark patches of Me-ism elevated to modern deism! Running a race that overruns everyone else or simply ignores them!
But those in the grandstands named in the letter and the first to read the lines, call out to all generations after them to commit to the letter’s third rule in training: run with perseverance the race that is set before us.
“Perseverance,” in the Greek of the letter it is patience that is persistent, not giving in to the pain and the strain, running even when there doesn’t seem to be a next breath to draw, staying in the race, held to the course by the fourth rule: looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
Jesus, the originator Who has run the track of life ahead of us;
the One Who didn’t let anything pull Him off course – even the shameful death on the Cross;
and the finisher Who not only waits at the goal line to welcome us,
but gives us that second breath which the Bible calls the “Holy Spirit,” the breathed in gift of God so that we may complete the race and join Him at the finish line.
“Let us run” the race run as a team that is the community wearing the name “Jesus,” each helping the other, while looking into the Biblical grandstand to see those who are cheering us on, which raises two questions for each of us to answer.
One: “Whose face do you see in that “great cloud of witnesses” who is both your mentor and
Two: (A question that comes to us from the Taize community,"A Great Cloud of
Witnesses," Commented Bible Passages from Taize, 2013)
“How do I see Jesus? How does the fact that he was not only a popular teacher but also a controversial witness affect my relationship with him?” To say it in another way: “How do you let Jesus hold you to the course laid out and run by Him?”
Just as the Olympic events begin a week of runners going for the gold, and a Sunday’s display of muscle cars built to be revved up to race for a trophy, a new Harry Potter book paints the word-picture of Harry seeing his “cloud of witnesses” – his deceased father, godfather, and professor, prompting him to ask, “Why are you here?’
and he hears his mother say, “We never left.” (Scott Hoezee, Op. cit.)
To avoid hearing Jesus call us “hypocrites” today’s letter trains us to run with perseverance the race that is set before us. In the jargon of muscle cars: “revved up to make tracks” on the course of life laid out and run by Jesus Who gives us the breath to run and make it to the finish line to stand with Him. Amen.