Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us get rid of every burden and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and let us run with patient endurance the race that is laid out for us. 2 Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who is the author of our faith and the one who brings it to its goal. In view of the joy set before him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of God’s throne.
May these words be spoken by us as we run the race toward heaven: “I consider my life as of no great value to me, so that I may finish my race and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus—to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” Amen. Acts 20:24
My daughters have run cross country in the fall for WLS and Shoreland. Although they are busy playing soccer in the spring, they have also run for the track teams at WLS and Shoreland. As they are in training or running their races, they have heard their track and cross country coaches giving them advice.
“Look forward, not down.”
“Run with a loose face and loose hands.”
“On your toes.”
Mr. Patterson tells the runners in training, “Lancers eat hills for breakfast!”
I gave the same piece of advice to Lucy at the beginning of our soccer practices and to Caleb before her ran in the Shoreland track meet. My advice was, “Run like your mom. Not like your dad.”
God’s holy writer gave this piece of running advice to the Hebrew Christians he was coaching: “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us get rid of every burden and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and let us run with patient endurance the race that is laid out for us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who is the author of our faith and the one who brings it to its goal. In view of the joy set before him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of God’s throne.”
Whether you are graduating from eighth grade and moving on to high school or graduated high school and moving onto college or the work force or you are in the work force or a stay-at-home parent or blessed to be retired, you are running the race to heaven.
The Hebrews coach first piece of advice is, “Get rid of every burden.” Runners race in light clothing. They don’t want heavy sweatshirts or pants or shoes. Every ounce will slow them down and hold them back.
“Let us get rid of every burden and the sin that so easily ensnares us.” Your laziness with your homework, your snotty attitude toward your teachers, your short temper with your children, your failure to put God first in your life in all things – these are all sins that weigh you down and so easily ensnare you. If you keep holding onto these worthless weights, you may not be able to finish the race.
Lay aside these sins. Repent and remove these burdens. Anything that stops you from running the Christian race needs to be thrown away.
The Hebrews coach tells you, “God has surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses as we run our race.” I know from experience that it is much easier to run with others. If I’m by myself, I won’t push myself. I will run slower. I might walk when I no one can see me. Worst of all, if I don’t have a running partner, I probably won’t run at all.
Run with a crowd of Christians – both past and present. You are running with Abraham who trusted God’s promises; Moses who led God’s people; Ruth who left her heathen people behind to follow her God-fearing family; Daniel who prayed even when his prayers were outlawed; David who faced a giant; Mary who accepted an unbelievable blessing. You are running with countless Christians who have been thrown in jail for their faith, persecuted for their Christianity, or even killed because they would not deny Jesus as their Savior.
Find other strong Christians like these to run with. Do you know where to find other Christians like that? At WLS. At Shoreland. At your WELS campus ministry in college. At church.
Parents, it isn’t enough to only send your children to a Christian school 5 days a week for 9 months. You need to surround your children with Sunday School teachers, older mentors who take an interest in your child’s race of faith, friends their age at church who they can pray with and ask questions of, fellow church members to enjoy singing and working alongside of, and a pastor who they can confide in and trust.
One of the great blessings of being a team athlete in high school is team meals before a game or meet. The team, coaches and host parents bond as they talk and eat. As Christians, we bond as we talk, listen and eat together in worship. No matter our age, we need to be surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses in worship. Together we tell God our sins that ensnare us and ask him to remove everything that burdens us. We listen as the pastor announces that we are forgiven, freed and unburdened through Jesus. We share together the meal of the Bread of life and the Water of life which is the Word of God applied directly to our lives – like we are doing right now.
We have a long and difficult journey ahead of us until we finally reach heaven. Our Hebrew coach encourages us, “Let us run with patient endurance the race that is laid out for us.”
Watching the Lutheran grade school track meet two weeks ago, I saw a number of runners in the long-distance races start out fast but peter out in the middle. It isn’t how you start the race that’s important. Rather, it is important how you finish the race.
Do you know people who have dropped out of the race?
People with whom you were confirmed, but you don’t see in church anymore. Dads who stayed home while mom took you to church as kids. College students who tasted freedom for the first time and gave up the freedom from sin and the devil Jesus had won for them. WLS or Shoreland students who think that passively sitting to hear God’s Word in school is the same as going to actively worship God in church.
How many of you have dropped out of the race? You are sending your child to WLS for some Christian morality, but God’s Word has no influence on your life. You encourage your children to baptize your grandbabies, but you don’t cherish your own baptismal grace. You are protective, making sure your children come home safely, but you don’t have that same protective care in making sure your children get safely home to heaven.
We get tired. We get worn out. We are busy. The race is long. It is hard. It is demanding.
WLS students, eighth graders, high school and college students, adults of all ages – don’t be dropouts. God, through his Son Jesus, gives you the strength to keep running.
Jesus is with you. He is running stride for stride with you. He is there to lift you up when you fall. He carries your burdens. He removes your sins. He speaks words of encouragement to your ears. He washes you clean in his baptismal waters. He feeds you with his body and blood. He ushers you toward the finish line of heaven.
Your Hebrew coach gives one final piece of running advice, which also happens to be the theme for WLS this year, is, “Fix your eyes on Jesus.” This is why you fix your eyes on Jesus. “He endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of God’s throne.”
As you run the Christian race, don’t look down; don’t look back; don’t be tempted by what is around you; fix your eyes on Jesus. Instead of looking around at the damage your sins caused, fix your eyes on Jesus who endured the shame of the cross to pay for those sins and make you right with God. Instead of looking around at the temporary joys and sorrows this world offers, fix your eyes on Jesus who rose from the dead to give you the promise of eternal life. Don’t look back at your past failings or be afraid of what the future has in store for you. Instead, fix your eyes on what Jesus has accomplished in the past through his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. Fix your eyes on Jesus knowing that what he accomplished in the past has secured your eternal future. Instead of worrying about the future and things out of your control, fix your eyes on Jesus who rules all things and has everything under his control. Jesus ascended into heaven forty days after his resurrection. He sits at God’s right hand in a position of power and authority. He rules over the events of this world for the sake of his followers.
It is so easy to become fixated on the things of this life. Winning or not winning a championship. Getting or not getting good grades. Getting or not getting a promotion. Getting or being cured of cancer. Graduating today and then realizing that you still have eight more years before you graduate from college. It is so easy to become fixated on the things and events of this world.
These things, whether good or bad, can cause us to lose our focus, stumble and drop out of the race.
Listen to the advice of the Hebrews coach. 1) Get rid of every burden. 2) Run with the Christian crowd. 3) Run with patient endurance. 4) And most importantly, do all of this while you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Amen.
May these words be spoken by us as we finish the race: “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” Amen. 2 Timothy 4:7