Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hebrews 12:1-2; Tenth Sunday after Pentecost; August 17, 2014;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

(Thanks to Rev. Glen Nielson).

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

And they’re off, the race is on. But it’s hardly a fare fight, the hare is already out of sight and the tortoise has only taken a precious few steps. The race is already over, right? How did such a lopsided race ever come to be, anyway?

The hare boastful, proud and fast, taunted the tortoise for being slow. He teased him for being tardy. It’s easy when you have such an obvious advantage. Maybe the tortoise was tired of the teasing, maybe he just wanted to get it over with. It might be hard to understand, but the turtle gave in and the race was on. It was big news among the animals, although none of them doubted the outcome. A great cloud of witness gathered around to see the event. Of course they wanted the tortoise to win, hopeless as it was. They surely gave him advice, helped him train for the day, and encouraged him. The turtle was even encouraged by the support. Though the animals already knew the outcome of the race.

We know how it goes. The rabbit is out of sight but the turtle continues on step by step…. Everyone cheered the turtle on. Step by step he walked.

The hare, now miles ahead, pauses to look back. “That was easy, just like I thought” he said. And stopped for a cool drink. He becomes distracted from the race. The drink is cool and the conversation is good. He has, after all, already won the race, right? Soon his short brake becomes a long one, and he hears the steady step, step, step, step of the tortoise. He takes a final drink as the turtle passes him by. “Nothing to worry about!” he shouts as he bolts past the turtle.

After a time, his adversary is miles behind again and he slows his pace. “I’m hungry. Nothing wrong with getting a quick bite to eat, after all I’ve already won, right?” So he stops at a neighborhood stand and begins to eat. Again he is distracted from the race. The food is good, and he finds himself eating way too much. The quick bite became a full course meal. A short break became a long one. Not to mention that food and running aren’t a good combination. His stomach is bulging and his eyes are drooping for a nap.

Step, step, step, comes the noise from the road. The turtle has caught up again and passes the sleepy rabbit. “I almost forgot!” he says as the tortoise passes him by, step, step, step. “Nothing to worry about…” his voice trails of as he zooms down the road, fast, even when he’s over eaten.

But the bunny is sleepy. So when he’s miles ahead again he finds a soft spot to stop and take a quick nap. “Just a few minutes, sleep will refresh me, after all the race is already won, right?” So he lies down and soon is sound asleep. He is once again distracted from the race. The quick nap becomes a long one as the rabbit dreams.

Step, step, step walks the turtle steady but sure, and quiet… past the snoozing rabbit, toward the finish line. Step, step, step, to the end of the race.

After a time the rabbit wakes up. “What a nice nap.” He says, as he stretches his legs. Remembering the race he looks down the road to see the tortoise behind him. But there’s no sign of him there. Then up the road toward the finish line. Step, step, step the turtle is a mere few steps from winning the race! The rabbit fires off down the road… toward the turtle as fast as he can run. Step, step, step, step go the turtles feet crossing the finish line with the rabbit only a whisker behind… but still behind. The tortoise wins!

let us run with endurance the race that is set before us

St. Paul is talking about running a race is faith, and we aren’t the hare. Step, step, step is the idea. It’s a long race. There are not short cuts. No quick dash to the finish line. Step, step, step with Jesus! Step, step, step to the finish line and the winner’s circle.

That’s right I said the winner’s circle. Did you know how the race between the tortoise and the hare was going to come out? Of course you did. The tortoise wins by steady plodding on. So do those who run the race with faith in Jesus. The prize is eternal life, together with God and all those who finish the race.

Ah, but we’re not finished yet. We’re still in the race. Step, step, step we go. And you know how it feels. You know how the tortoise felt.

What was it like to walk by the rabbit while he was having a cool drink? Was the turtle distracted? Was he tempted to stop and give up?

There are lots of things that distract us from Jesus. A few years ago Newsweek magazine said that we have more free time than ever before, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. We get distracted from pretty easily. Some 80 percent of our free time is taken up by screen time. That’s TV, movie, and computer time. What are we watching? Are these things distracting us from Jesus. Are the things we are filling our minds with pushing out time for serving others? Do we have little time left for anything else, like prayer, devotions, and reading God’s Word?

What was it like for the turtle the second time the rabbit stopped? Did he want to stop then? Was he hungry? Jealous?

There are so many things to buy. It’s interesting how the urge to get grows as Christmas grows closer. There are so many things we’d like to have, and rarely enough money to get them. So we work a little more, to get a little more. We see something else we want, so we work a little more to get a little more. Pretty soon, we have more junk than we know what to do with, and the maintained of everything takes so much time. We are weighed down with all this stuff, and the debt we went into to get them. It’s hard to run when we’re weighed down.

Finally the hare stops for a nap. I’m sure the tortoise was tired. Did he want to call it off then?

It’s easy to quit and run away from our problems. Our schedules are piled high with events. We are so loaded down that Jesus and the Church are only added burdens on our already over burdened schedule. We are so tired most days we just want to collapse. Running isn’t any where near the top of our list. Our faith even seems slow or even stopped in its tracks. We just can’t go on.

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith

Watch Jesus start the race. He’s in the desert tempted by Satan. Will he give in? Money, Power, Fame… will he be distracted? No, he keeps his eyes on his goal, what he has come to do for us. He keeps his eyes on finishing the race.

Watch him as people try to get what they want from him instead of what he has come to give. They want a king to feed them. They want someone to heal them of their sickness. They want miracles. Is Jesus distracted? Does he give up? No, he keeps on going. He keeps his eyes on the cross.

Yes he’s watching the cross. He endures the cross, all of its suffering and pain; all of its humiliation and sorrow. No sleep, no relaxing, no stopping. He finishes the race. And wins the prize with a dying breathe as he says, “It is finished!” The race is over.

Then on Easter morning he rises from the grave alive again. He ascends to God’s right hand the victor, in the winner’s circle. Alive and risen right now he waits for you and me there!

But, we’re not there yet. We’re still in the race. We’ve still got some race to go. Every step we take now leads to him. Every step of the race of faith takes us closer to the winner’s circle. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus to get there and not be distracted, step, step, step on we go.

  • Step – we are baptized, the race begins and God gives us faith to run the race.
  • Step – we’re studying God’s Word in Sunday school and Bible class. We learn about God’s love for us in Jesus.
  • Step – We’re confirmed and we promise not to be distracted from Jesus no matter what.
  • Step – Youth Group, we learn that there are other Christians out there running along with us, to encourage us and support us.
  • Step – We worship week after week. We hear of God’s forgiveness for us in Jesus.
  • Step – We walk to the Lord’s Supper. We receive bread and wine, Jesus very body and blood for strength in the race.
  • Step – We read and Study the Bible. The Word of God enters our minds and we are focused on Him.
  • Step – Prayer. It’s time to talk to our Lord.
  • Step – Church. We support one another, and keep each other going.
  • Step – The Last Day. Our race is over. When we die or Jesus comes again. We’re in the winner’s circle.

That’s it the race. Step, step, step, steady and sure. Worship, bible study, the Lord’s Supper, keeping our eyes on Jesus. Just like the tortoise step, step, step toward the winner’s circle. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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