Hebrews 12:1-3; Luke 12:22-31
9th Sunday after Trinity
St Barbara’s 18.08.2019
Rev Tulo Raistrick
At our 10am service this morning we will be baptising a little boy, welcoming him into the family of the church and welcoming him to the beginning of the Christian life.
Our two readings from the Bible are relevant to him, but also to all of us, as we ask the question how can we live a life following God, and how can we help others to do the same.
The reading from Hebrews uses the example of sport to help us think through how we are to live the Christian life.
The writer describes living the Christian life to the churches he is writing to, as a bit like running a long-distance race – think the London marathon or Coventry half-marathon. What do you need to do to prepare for it and complete it?
A first piece of advice he gives is “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” When I first started running a few years ago, I would dress up to go out for a run. I would put on an extra jumper because it could be cold outside; I would wear a waterproof coat in case it began to rain; I would carry a water bottle in case I got thirsty. However, it didn’t take me long to realise that all this extra stuff was weighing me down, making it far harder to run – stuff that I thought may help, was actually a hindrance.
It is the same the writer says with the Christian life. We can weigh ourselves down with things we just don’t need. We can get ourselves too caught up in worrying about other things – getting the next job, earning more money, finding the perfect retirement plan or care plan for our parents or ourselves. We become weighed down with worry. Living the Christian life is about placing our burdens, our worries, into the hands of God. As Jesus said in our second reading, do not worry. Instead, focus on him, and the things that matter to him. Don’t weigh yourself down. Free yourself up to run the race more freely.
The second piece of advice the writer to the church gives us is to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. To persevere and not give up, even when the going gets tough. Some people are just natural athletes, people who can run for miles and not feel a single bit of pain or discomfort. I can only dream of what that must be like! For most people, and certainly for me, a certain degree of discomfort, tiredness, pain, is part of the territory when it comes to running. It took me a while to realise that is just how it is. That wasn’t a reason to stop or give up, it wasn’t a sign that I could never run and that I was foolish to try, it was just a recognition that running involves a level of discomfort.
The same is true of the Christian life. The Christian life isn’t a perfect panacea that promises all happiness and no pain. Far from it. Just before the part of the first reading we heard, the writer speaks of all the hardships followers of God have suffered down the centuries. Living the Christian life can be hard. It can be hard when we go through difficult times and we wonder why God allowed such things to happen. It can be hard when we stand up for what is loving and right, and get criticised by others for doing so. It can be hard when we share what we believe, and we are met with stony opposition. But those are not reasons for giving up. They are reasons for keeping going, for holding onto faith, for persevering.
The third piece of advice for running the Christian race is this: fix your eyes on Jesus. I know a number of people at St Barbara’s are in running clubs. Often, if you are running a distance further than you have run before, you will have a more experienced runner with you, running slightly ahead of you, helping to set your pace, encouraging you along the way. You can have confidence in them – you know that they have run this distance many times, and they know the route – they won’t get lost and add extra miles to your run. If you just fix your eyes on them, and follow them, it makes all the difference.
Well, Jesus runs the race with us. He is our companion, our source of inspiration, our guide, our encourager. He gives us the strength to run and finish the race. He has run the race himself, he has accompanied countless others too – he is totally trustworthy. So all we need do is to fix our eyes on him, and he will lead us through.
And finally, a piece of encouragement. Those who have run the London marathon or other big runs say the thing that keeps them going is all those cheering them on. When you are in the final few miles and your body is feeling exhausted, it is the support, the encouragement, the cheering of the crowds, that gives them that extra energy boost to complete the race.
That is how the writer to the young Christian churches two thousand years ago described the Christian life. We are surrounded, he said, by a great crowd of witnesses, a vast stadium of supporters cheering us on.
As a family we went to the paralympics in London in 2012. As we arrived in the stadium, a partially-sighted British athlete, Libby Clegg, was just about to run. The entire stadium was chanting: “Libby! Libby! Libby!” What a boost that must have been for her.
Well there is a vast stadium of people chanting our name this morning. Be encouraged that the saints in heaven are cheering us on. We can also be part of the crowd cheering one another on, doing our bit to help one another live a life for God and for others.
So let us together put on our running shoes, and run the race, cheering one another on, and fixing our eyes on Jesus.