Sermon by: Robert Austell; September 27, 2015
Text: Hebrews 12:1-11
:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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:: Some Music Used ::
Hymn of Praise: Come All Christians, Be Committed (BEACH SPRING)
Song of Response: One Pure and Holy Passion (Altrogge)
Offering of Music: Lead Me, Guide Me (Eric VanderHeide, solo) (Akers/Smallwood)
Song of Sending: Take My Life/Here Am I (ref. Tomlin/Giglio)
Postlude: Rick Bean, piano
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
“How ya doing?”
That’s something we often say to each other in greeting. And often the quick response is “fine.” Or sometimes, if it’s someone we think will hear more than that (or if our filter is down), we’ll say more: “I’m having a hard time” or “not too good.”
“What are you doing?” – That’s another question we ask. Often children will ask that of parents or others. And that’s a question we often ask at church. Or we try to answer it: “Here’s what you should be doing.”
But the deeper question, the one we ask far less, whether of others or even of ourselves, is “Why?”
“Why are you doing what you are doing? And why are you having a hard time?” What drives you? What motivates you? Where are you headed?
I had the opportunity this past week to take part in something where I was encouraged to ask all those questions, from “How are you doing?” to “What are you doing?” to “Why are you doing it?” I want to share some of what I learned and invite you to ask those questions as we look together at this passage from Hebrews 12. I’ve chosen the Message translation today because I think it presses the translation a bit into words and phrases that may get through our filters and reach us in a way we need to hear.
“Start running – and never quit!” (v. 1)
In the middle of verse 1 we read, “Start running – and never quit!” That sounds kind of horrible, doesn’t it? Is that really in the Bible? But what this passage is picking up on is the example from the previous chapter of men and women who ran after God and ran to God, people who were blessed and a blessing because they participated in God’s work in this world. And they are lifted up both as “pioneers who blazed the way” but also as “veterans cheering us on.”
Said another way, and to quote Bruce Springsteen, we were “born to run.” But we run after and to all kinds of things. Even if we might be described as inactive and lazy, we are figuratively running – perhaps in that case AWAY from something.
What are you doing? Are you running away from something or someone? Are you running after or to something or someone? And why do you do it?
The Bible lifts up God, not only as the one who made us and gives us purpose, but as the One who loves us most perfectly. The writer of Hebrews lifts up a number of men and women who ran after and to God and reminds us of God’s perfect love for us. The gist of the message in chapter 12 then is “the best thing you could do is to run to God!”
And this writer urges, “Start running – and never quit!” But running a race is not easy… life is not easy… and faithfulness is not easy. But we are told to persevere… hang in there… don't give up. Keep working at removing the hindrances and the sin… keep on running the race.
“No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins” (v. 1b)
Our usual translation warns us to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us.” And that is not unintelligible, but somehow it lets me off the hook. If I can carry the “encumbrance” and not get tripped up by sin, then I must be okay. But did you hear the Message translation? That nails me: “No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins.” I know enough about physical health to know that I can carry extra fat, but it’s not healthy for me. And the image of sin as a parasite, living off me – that is a) disgusting; and b) convicting.
In fact this hits very close to home in a literal way. One of the things I became convicted of this past week is that I had been coasting along satisfied with being “healthy enough.” After all, I lost a bunch of weight two years ago and “got healthy.” And I’ve maintained the exercise – which is good! But some extra weight crept back on. It’s leveled off, but it’s not healthy. It came about through patterns and habits of eating that are literally sucking the life out of me, even as I exercise and pursue health. And what a parable on my spiritual life as well! In fact, that’s just what Hebrews 12 is about. Most of us, if we believe in Christ, are running the race in some way or another. But it is easy to pick up extra spiritual weight, parasitic behaviors and habits, which bog us down. Can you relate?
So we pour our energy and attention into work or relationships or behaviors that do not lead toward God, but weigh us down or lead us away from God’s race. Maybe the question that needs your attention today is simply, “What are you doing?” After raising those questions, Hebrews offers us a way forward.
“Keep your eyes on Jesus… study how he did it” (v. 2)
In verse 2, we are urged: “Keep your eyes on Jesus… [and] study how he did it.” How do we know where to run and how to run? It’s because Christ has gone before us. Verse 2 goes on to say that Jesus “both began and finished this race we’re in.” And listen to the rest: “He never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever.”
What does that say to the question, “How ya doing?” Jesus has not only shown us how to ‘run’ – that is, to live; he has suffered pain, loss, suffering, and disappointment like we have. But he was sustained through it! Wouldn’t you like to know the secret to that? Well it’s given to us here. He endured those things because he was running to and after God. Your ability to face and endure suffering relates to the value of the thing you are running after (or from). That’s what gives meaning (or lack of meaning) to our suffering. And running to and after God – God’s whose loving plan is for our ultimate best in relationship to Him – gives the most meaning to this ‘race.’
Instead of asking “What am I doing?” or “Where am I going?” this passage urges us to ask “What is God doing?” and “Where is Jesus leading me?”
“Go over that story again” (v. 3)
Then, when you find yourself “flagging in your faith” (v. 3), you are urged to “go over that story again.” (v. 3)
“How are you doing?” – not well; not well at all. Where is Christ? What is Jesus doing?
“What are you doing?” – I don’t know or I think it may not be the right thing. Where is Christ? What is Jesus doing?
“Why are you doing it?” – Where is Christ? What is Jesus doing?
“Go over that story again, item by item, that long list of hostility he plowed through.” Christ has endured suffering, sin, and death on our behalf. Christ has gone before us. He has marked the course and cleared the way. He knows what we must persevere through and does not leave us to face it alone.
“Training us to live God’s holy best” (vv. 4-11)
I have resolved to revisit my eating patterns, to track and be accountable for what I eat, but even more than that to try to understand when and why I eat beyond what I need. The rest of this passage in Hebrews speaks to what is involved to run the race well. And in a word, it’s TRAINING. I remember training when I was a child – I hated it; it felt like punishment. And that’s just the illustration used in vv. 4-11. But we are reminded that training is good and it’s just what good parents do with their beloved children. And that’s who God is, our Heavenly Father and parent. Just listen…
It’s the child [God] loves that He disciplines; the child He embraces, He also corrects. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what SEEMED best to them. But god is doing what IS best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. (vv. 6-10)Just to be clear, when we answer “How ya doing?” with “not good, not good at all” – THAT is not God’s discipline. God’s discipline is shedding the extra spiritual fat and the parasitic sin and running after Jesus. That’s what can feel like punishment, but is actually life. That’s the invitation.
That’s the catch, of course. Before I got a little healthy, I scoffed at running. Frankly, I couldn’t even imagine it. If you remember my testimony of that significant change, I prayed for God’s help to do something I hadn’t been able to do for myself. So if running after Jesus seems elusive or impossible, that would be a good start today. Let’s pray and ask God for help.
Father, I believe you are who you say, but I can’t seem to get off the spiritual couch. I realize I am unhealthy or even headed in the wrong direction. Help me; save me! Redirect my heart and help me get moving after you. I trust that you are life, and I want that life and hope. In Jesus’ name, Amen.