The 24th Sunday After Pentecost November 19, 2006
1, 586(1,3-4,7), 396, 566
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
In Christ Jesus who will be at Home when He brings us there, dear fellow-redeemed:
What is it that makes your home “home” for you? Perhaps it is a combination of things. Home may be home because of the people—Mom and Dad, husband, wife; or if you live alone, it may be the memory of those with whom you made a home in earlier years. Home may be home because it is comfortable and it is where you keep the gifts that God has given you—your furniture, your kitchen, your workshop, your memories, your pictures. Home may be home because it is the place where you can relax and be yourself. At home you don’t have to wear a uniform, you don’t have to punch a time-clock, you can just relax, be at home, and be yourself. Home may be home because it is where you prepare and eat most of your meals. Home may be home because it is a place of safety—a place where you can go to at night, lock the doors, and feel secure. Home is a refuge, a place where the rest of the world fades into the background while you are in your own world of your contentment.
All of these things that make our earthly home the treasured place that it is are also the things that make Heaven our true home. Heaven is home because of the people who will be there—all believers living face-to-face with God. It will be a place to be yourself in all the glory of a resurrected body. It will be a place to relax with no more sin, no more burden. It will be a place of eternal sustenance for body and soul in the presence of God and a place of eternal refuge where you will be forever safe in His loving presence.
By faith, we know that this home exists (cf. the Epistle reading). We can’t see it. We’ve never been there, but we know it is real because God says so. By faith you have a home to which you are running. By faith, through the blessings of your Savior you will reach that home and live there forever. Today, we RUN HOME! To do so we I. Get rid of the burden and run with endurance and II. Keep focused on Jesus and run for joy.
The writer to the Hebrews recorded a lengthy catalog faithful Old Testament believers (cf. chapter 11) and then writes: “Therefore, we also…” He puts us right into the same category as Abraham all the others he mentioned because they were sinners like we are. They lived on the earth while running toward home. They lived their time on earth seeking a heavenly country—a place where there is no more sorrow and where they would live eternally with God.
God says that these witnesses of faith are examples for us. They are witnesses that there is a home toward which to run. They are witnesses that yes, it is a race; that yes, the race is strenuous at times; and yes, you need to train. But they are also witnesses that the runners can persevere. We too, can get through this life and reach our heavenly home. Because we have all these witnesses who have run the race, let us run in the same way and that means, first of all, laying aside every weight that burdens us.
If you consider the names that were mentioned in the Epistle reading, there were many burdens that were borne. Abraham faced the doubts of going to a country he didn’t know and trusting that he and his family would inherit the land even though he didn’t even have any children at that time. King David faced severe battles, including the one with Goliath. Other believers were persecuted, sawn in two, and mistreated. These heroes of faith faced every kind of imaginable turmoil of body and soul, but they cast those weights aside and ran with endurance. They persevered.
We have many weights as well. As any runner knows, the more weight you put upon yourself, the harder it is to run and the more quickly you will grow weary. The more we lay the weights of life upon our shoulders the more weary we will become in our run of faith. So we are encouraged to run home but get rid of the weight.
The weight can be all the challenges we face, the individual sorrows and the emotional struggles. Whatever is a care in your mind is a weight you are carrying. What is a care to you may not be a care to me, but I’m sure to have a care of my own to offset yours. Peter says to “Cast all your cares on [Jesus] because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
In day to day life I may burden myself if I listen to gossip instead of the truth. As I hear stories I may burden myself either by worrying about a situation that may not even be real; or I’ll burden myself with thinking ill thoughts of someone else and then burden myself (and perhaps others) even more as I go forward with false information.
I may burden myself with anger. If I become angry at every little thing I am burdening myself with that emotion and struggle, with the lack of satisfaction, the lack of peace, the lack of rest. If I’m dealing with everything in anger and haste, I’m weighing myself down and I’m likely to burn out in my run of faith. If I grow frustrated and weary with what I don’t have and with what is not going right instead of focusing on how God is blessing me and the things He is giving me, I will be adding weight to my run. Then I’m going to be burdened and I will lose endurance.
You can be sure that the Devil is looking for any way possible to add more weight on each of us as we run toward Home. He does this because another thing about weight is that it distracts us from our purpose. If you were running a race and had more weight than you could really carry, you wouldn’t be thinking about the road in front of you, you wouldn’t be thinking about the goal, your mind would focus on all the weight that is making it so hard to run. “I don’t even care about the goal! I just want to live for two more steps under this monstrous weight!” Bringing Christian runners to that point is the Devil’s plan. If he can pile up the weights of life and have us carry them so that we’re distracted from the goal his hope is that we will all of a sudden say, “It’s too much!” and stop running. If that happens he wins. Rather, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us.
Not only do we face cares and concerns, but also temptations. We can be running weight free, but if we are running down a path of sin, it is no better in our race toward Home. So, lay aside those things that would ensnare you. Lay aside the temptations that seem to keep catching you in sin. Strive through the working of God and using His Word to put away those things that are sinful in your life. Then run with endurance. Keep taking the weights off and putting them on Christ. Then run weight-free because Jesus is bearing them, and run sin-free because He has redeemed you and equipped you to live for Him in your race of faith.
It takes strength and training to run our race successfully. We need to go to the Word of God daily and again revisit what God calls sin and get it out of our lives. We need to again revisit the Gospel to strengthen our faith and increase our love for Him. We need to train. We need be active in the Word for the energy to run.
Our journey homeward is a race and we should run it. Imagine an athlete who trained and was capable and ready to run a race, but then he just walked and ambled lazily toward the finish line. We wouldn’t expect this at all. An athlete who is well trained and ready runs that race! So the writer to the Hebrews urges us to run! Do not lollygag through life. Do not meander your way, (yawn) ho-hum, through your time of grace. We have a goal! We have a purpose! We have a path and we are trained by God in His Word to run—not walk—to work, to serve Him, and to glorify Him.
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Solomon’s advice is really rather practical even from an earthly standpoint, but think of it from a Christian standpoint through the eyes of faith and the Gospel. We have a goal, there are many souls who need salvation. We have a goal to run for our own lives as well. Run it! Pursue it! And serve the Lord as you do it!
We run the race that is set before us through our Christian lives, seeking to follow God’s will in all that we do and to conduct ourselves as His children. We run the race that is set before us when we share the Gospel. God has set before us the commission to preach the Gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15). This is part of the race that has been laid in front of us.
Another part of the race is our own individual callings. It can never be over-stated that each of us has calling from God. He has given each of us gifts to use in that calling. That calling my alter during the course of our lifetime, that calling may grow and then shrink in terms of what we are able to do, but no matter who you are, no matter what your age, no matter what gifts and abilities you have been given, God has a calling, and a purpose, and a ministry for you.
You run the race that is set before you when through God’s guidance and with His Word you seek to find what that calling is, pursue it, run through it, and serve God all the way.
This race is one we may run with joy even as Jesus did His work with joy. The writer to the Hebrews continues, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” [v.2]
Jesus is the author of our faith because it is the good news of His redemptive work that the Holy Spirit uses to create faith in our hearts. He is the finisher of our faith because it is through His Word that we are kept strong and preserved in the faith. The Holy Spirit uses the news of Jesus and His Word to help us beat back the attacks of the Devil, the world, and our flesh. It is Jesus who began and will finish our faith, bringing us to our eternal goal. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “[I am] confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
Jesus had a run of His own. He, the eternal Son of God, came to be our Savior. His run involved setting aside His divine honor and glory to be our Servant and to die on the cross. “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8). This was not an easy run for Jesus to make. It was not a “step up” to become man and be our servant, but He did it for us and for the joy He would have.
When Jesus came to the final stretch of His run, He prayed mightily, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus would have gladly accepted release from His suffering and pain, but not if it meant the loss of souls. Because the way of salvation had to include His suffering and death, God did not spare Him, but offered up His only Son.
Even though Jesus faced intense suffering in His race, He ran it with joy. It was not joyful to be spit upon. It was not joyful to be mocked and to be whipped and to be killed, and it was not joyful to bear the sins of the world and endure Hell itself for all people, but Jesus looked toward the goal—the joy of knowing that through His suffering, souls would be saved. That joy was prophesied by Isaiah, “When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied…” (Isaiah 53:10-11).
With His eyes focused on the goal, Jesus could look beyond the suffering and see the glorious results of what He was doing. Out of love for you and out of joy at the prospect of earning salvation for sinners and, He gave Himself up to death.
So we too can run with joy. Run with Jesus, keeping your eyes focused on Him knowing that you’re not living this life for yourself. So, if you don’t accumulate as much as the next person, that’s OK. Keeping eyes focused on Jesus means that if you are sick or are going through a hard time physically, it is God’s will and He is using it to bring you safely home. Keep your eyes focused on Jesus and run with joy if people ridicule you for what you believe. Keep your eyes focused on Jesus and run the path of His commandments even if friends laugh and go another way.
Why endure all of this? Because Jesus is worth it! Because Jesus is our Savior and we want all people to know it! So we run home, eyes focused on Jesus, eyes focused on Heaven, knowing that we’re going home, and we don’t need to be overly concerned with what we’re leaving behind.
As we run toward Home we will have blessings from God and enjoyable seasons. It’s like being at a friend’s house and enjoying it there, but then the time comes to leave and go home. When the time here is done we won’t want to stay because of the glory that awaits us at Home.
At the end of his life, Paul told Timothy.. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
There is a crown of life awaiting you at Home. Run Home by faith! Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.