As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Run the Race with Endurance, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 14 August, 2016. The Reading was Galatians 1:11-24.
The final lap
Right about now, the 10,000m race is underway at the Rio Olympics. Now, when I say 10,000m it seems like it’s a really long race. And as I was preparing for this message, and I looked up to see when these various running races would be on, I saw the 10,000m and thought “wow, that’s really long.” And then I realised – wait, that’s just a 10km. What I would do in about an hour. Then I looked at the time they’ve allowed for it, and saw that they’ve allowed half an hour. Which means that the athletes will be completing the 10km in less time than it takes me to run 5km. I better get back on the training track.
I enjoy running. When I can get out, I love to go for a run, and a bit of a long run as well every now and then. But it hasn’t always been that way. I really only started running at college, running around Princes Park. I started with what’s known as a the Couch to 5k, which is designed to get a couch bound person to running 5kms in half an hour. So I did that. Then I started reaching towards 10kms. And I set myself a goal of completing a fun run that year, which I did with the 2012 City to Sea, a 14km fun run from the Melbourne Arts Centre to St Kilda. And then I did it the year after, in 2013, with some more friends. Then in 2014, I started going to Parkrun in Devonport, a weekly timed 5km run. And I did the City to Sea again that year. And I really enjoy it.
One thing I love about the fun runs and Parkruns as well is the finish line. More so for the Parkruns, but with the Fun Run’s as well, when you get to the finish line, there are always competitors around who are cheering you on, encouraging you to the finish. Encouraging you to finish well. To strive for that line, to pick up that extra second with a bit of extra effort. It focusses you onto what your focus should be – crossing that finish line.
We can get distracted
It’s easy for us to get distracted. Sometimes, our minds seem to want to think about anything other than what we should be thinking about. Did you know that in recent studies, they have found that the average attention span of a human is now less than that of a goldfish. A goldfish! And do you know what they attribute it to? TV. Sure, we can sit in front of the TV and watch it for hours on end, but do you know how they keep our mind focussed? They cut to different shots often. Next time you watch a show, see how high you can count before they switch to a different shot. You’ll never get above 30, and rarely above 10.
This can be a problem for us in our faith. We get distracted so easily, so it makes it hard to focus on what is good, what is holy. We struggle to connect with God during our prayer time. During sermons when we’re supposed to be getting fed and filled to go out into the world, we’re thinking more about what we’re going to have for lunch and the cleaning that we’re going to do after we stop procrastinating.
And as we heard last week, when we know that we may not see the end result of our faith in our lifetime, it makes it very hard to stay focussed on what we know is good, and so we let our mind wander.
But when we get distracted, when we don’t fully engage with what we are doing, we can stumble – from not looking where we’re going.
We can put our eyes on Jesus example
When I go for a run, I have to work hard to make sure my head is up, and I’m looking ahead to see where I’m running. If I don’t, then I’m likely to trip over my feet. Or I’m likely to run off course and run into a bush or a tree. But by keeping myself focussed, it doesn’t matter what I’m running over, my legs will do what they need to do.
In the same way, in our faith journey, we need to keep our eyes focussed on the prize. We need to keep our eyes focused on that which instructs us as to how to live our lives.
It is Jesus’ example that teaches us how we should live our lives. It is Jesus who pioneered and founded our faith. It is Jesus who perfected our faith. It is Jesus who showed us that for the sake of God’s kingdom, we can endure anything that earth puts before us. It is Jesus who showed us how to pray. It is Jesus who showed us how to care for the sick, for the hungry, the homeless, the neglected and abandoned. It is Jesus who gives us that example of what to aim for.
Surrounded by the cloud of witnesses, we can run with perseverance
So we know what it is that we need to aim for – Jesus, the Pioneer and perfector of our faith. But just like in my parkrun and fun runs, we can sometimes be easily distracted from the goal. I could be out there running, thinking about how sore my legs are, or how much farther I have to run, or how many people are passing me, or any number of things. But, spurred on by those who have gone before me, I can run that race, confident that if I keep my eyes on the goal, that I will achieve everything that I set out to achieve.
In the same way, we can learn from those who have gone before us. From the patriarchs of our faith, who by their example we can learn how to live out our faith. The people that the author mentions in this passage, and all through Chapter 11 of Hebrews, would have been familiar to the recipients. Their stories would have been well known, that only the mention of their name was needed. Some others didn’t need their names mentioned, only passing references to their story to illicit a response. Their stories were chosen to encourage the Hebrews that were receiving this letter, to encourage them to live out faithful lives, in the manner that these people had done.
In the same way, We can draw encouragement from the lives of those who have gone before us. We can look to the lives of the apostles, the disciples, the early church fathers and saints. We can look to the lives of people such as William Booth, Martin Luther King Jr, or Mother Teresa. We can look to those people from our own corps who have lived lives of faithful endurance, and have them be an encouragement to us.
I love this idea of the cloud of witnesses cheering you on. To know that you’re not alone in your faith journey means so much, and to have those who have gone before you, you have already walked the path that you’re walking, and that they’re there cheering you on, encouraging you to focus on the end goal – it helps you get through the tough times.
Remove everything that distracts, and run the race set out for you
We need to be encouraged, and we need to focus, but we also need to remove the things in our lives that distract us from what we should be doing. Is there a sin in your life that you often fall back into? What do you need to do to remove the temptation to fall back into it? What do you need to remove from your life, so that you can focus in on God? Is there a person in your life who when you’re around, you are easily led to gossip? Is there something that provokes you to lust after either people or material possessions? Is there anything that prevents you from showing the love of God to all people?
Whatever it is that is your sin, you need to do whatever you can to remove it from your life. The first step of that might be to come forward for prayer, to seek out forgiveness for that sin, and to ask God for the strength to remove it from your life.
Or maybe, you’re in need of encouragement from the cloud of witnesses, and you wish to come forward and spend time with God, surrounded by the cloud of saints, encouraging you in your daily path.
Or maybe, you’re wanting to continue your race, running the race marked out for you with perserverance. You might like to come forward, and spend time focussed on the pioneer and perfector of our faith, that you might continue on in your race, focussed on the end goal of being more and more like Christ.
As we take some time for that, you’re invited to join in singing this song that says we will run to you, to the words of truth. That it’s not by our might or our power, but by the spirit of truth. So let’s run the race until we see God’s face, that we might live in the glory of God’s grace.