When I saw what the readings for today were, I felt gee, thanks Bruce. (Not really his fault (the Lectionary) and I did offer to do this week!) Suffering and hardship, divisions among our kinfolk, our friends and churches; all seemingly doom and gloom. One could get quiet depressed as we read on and find in Hebrews that people who followed God were sawn in two! But if you take another look at the two passages, if you read between the lines, they are about hope and perseverance, about being focused, about joy, about reaching the goal that is set before each of us. They give us a clue as to how we should live of lives, how we should run the race, and they give warnings.
The Book of Hebrews gives us examples of OT figures who trusted in God to preserve them in times of suffering and hardship. Now that the saving work of Christ has been completed, they with us can enjoy the promise of eternal life.
Our Luke reading is not one you find on many fridge doors or on greeting cards. It's not a verse we encourage our children to memorise, and I believe there is a song which includes the line: "Jesus was sent to upset and annoy." It doesn't describe the meek and mild Jesus we are more familiar with. The Luke reading is an upsetting and annoying text, it speaks of a crisis coming. It has several loosely joined sayings about the end of the current times. Luke refers to fire as used to separate the genuine from the dross, it purifies, and it separates the godly from the ungodly. Its purpose is to test us, to find out if we are true to him. Will we follow him into the unknown, uncomfortable places of this world? Will we do as He asks of us without thinking of the cost? Are we willing to be spent, poured out like wine and get ridiculed for doing so? Will we be loyal? Will we put our complete trust in God in the middle of a crisis?
Luke tells us that Jesus has come to bring peace, but not at any cost. Jesus has come to cause division between godly and ungodly people. We are His and are set apart from the world. Yes, we live in the world, but we are should not party be to the lies, deceit, the unforgiveness, envy and jealousy, discrimination, immorality, wrong attitudes and this will lead to arguments and rivalry within our family and friends, even in the church. We will find ourselves against others because of what we stand for.
The Luke reading points out that the crowds are able to interpret signs of impending weather, but they, in spite of seeing signs in the “present time”, fail to see their implications for the end of time. Red sky at night, shepherds delight – the crowds knew what that meant, but they could not see the ‘baptism’ Jesus had to go through. Why couldn’t they see what was going on around them, from the Roman occupation to the oppressive regime of Herod, from the wealthy and arrogant high priests in Jerusalem to the false agenda of the Pharisees and in the middle of it all, a young prophet announcing God’s kingdom and healing the sick? Why can’t they put two and two together and realise that this is the moment all Israel’s history has been waiting for? Why can’t they see that the crisis is coming? Why can’t we see the crisis coming? If they could, they would be able to take action while there was still time. There is still time for us to act today.
The Church has from very early on seen this chapter as warning that each generation must read the signs of the times, the great movements of people, governments, nations and policies, and we must react accordingly. If the kingdom of God is to come on earth as it is in heaven, them part of the role of the church is to understand the events of the earth and seek to address them with the message of heaven. And, if like Jesus, we find that we seen to be bringing division and we are caught up in a crisis, so be it.
But we have that great cloud of witnesses from Hebrews that has gone before us, that surrounds us and invites us to a shared pilgrimage and to move on towards our divine destiny. This great cloud of witnesses is filled with wanderers and wonderers, visionaries who journeyed into the unknown towards a place of promise. These pioneers and perfectors of faith were always moving out, continuing on and forging ahead. Often hungry, thirsty, exhausted, discouraged, abused, persecuted, killed; they were driven by an inner restlessness and compelled by an invitation from God. They believed in a better way and were not content to withdraw into work, or alcohol, drugs, sex; instead of conforming to their situation, they were transformed by an encounter with God. Their faith became a dynamic relationship with God. The Lord intervened in the human situation, sustained and guided them all along their journey of life. They threw off everything that held them back. Noah threw off his doubt. Abraham threw off his homeland; Enoch threw off the weight of the world and went to walk with God. We need to throw off everything that holds us back. We need to throw off whatever is wrong as well – whatever tempts and tangles and trips us up. Rehab threw off her idols, Jacob his deceit, Moses the pleasures of sin as he chose the plight of his people. We need to run with perseverance and run the whole course and never give up. Like Joseph waiting for his dreams to come true, Samuel’s search for a king and Gideon watching his army weaken to the point he could claim God’s victory. We also need above all to focus. Fix our eyes on the one out in front of us all. He is setting the pace. He is leading and He is the author and perfector of our faith.
Jesus. We need to keep our eyes on Him. We must endure and not grow weary; we must run the race despite what is thrown at us. There is a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, cheering us on. Can you hear them? Can you hear the ones who’ve run the race before?
When I was at Stopsley High School, in Luton, we were challenged by Ashcroft High School to a cross-country run. The day dawned grey and drizzly but I was young, fit and raring to go. As I jogged comfortably along, I held hopes, secret ones, of dashing triumphantly over the finishing line in first place. (A delusion of grandeur). Then we reached the steepest part of Badgers Hill, half a mile long. I swear to this day that it was Ashcroft High’s secret weapon, carefully chosen as part of the route. It may even be that they prayed for rain! Whatever the case, the slope was so slippery that, after a couple of steps, my feet gave way and I slid stomach down right back down the hill to where I had started. Before long I was joined by a succession of Stopsley Highers in the same situation. Strangely, the Ashcroft Highers had no such problem; they sailed up that bank so though they had wings. Hum! Did I ever complete the course? Eventually, yes, but only after some of my colleagues had inspired me through their heroic efforts to persevere for the sake of those following.
The Christian life can be equally demanding sometimes. We start off thinking its plain sailing but suddenly unexpected obstacles appear in our path. At times we can feel like giving up, but we have the example of those who have gone before us to inspire us onwards, and a responsibility to future generations to lead the way in turn. Whether the race is easy or hard, we need to persevere, looking to Jesus and the joy set before us. For me, that day, the incentive finally was very simple – a hot shower and a cup of tea! The joy we look to through Jesus is something far more wonderful – too wonderful for words.
1. What must one believe to be pleasing to God? If one so believes, what will he be doing?
2. What did Abraham do as the result of his faith and what did Rahab do as the result of her faith?
3. On the basis of the great cloud of witnesses, what does the writer encourage us to do?
4. What does considering Jesus prevent us from not doing?
5. How does it feel to be called a hypocrite by God?