• Introduction: Running in the Field Day Relay when I was in sixth grade, I was one of the four legs of the relay.  I never got the chance to run.  The guy ahead of me ran into someone standing in the way of the baton pass area, and the runner on our team threw down the baton in frustration instead of working his way through it.  We obviously lost the race, but I would have rather been beaten by a team better than us then to have beaten ourselves.
    • Last week, we looked into how God was a Shielder for Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and some others including King David. In the epistle reading for today, we heard about more OT people who looked to God for deliverance from the troubles of this Age through a promised messiah.  They didn’t get to see this promised messiah as we have seen Him.
    • The writer to the Hebrews in today’s Epistle reading encourages us to run in the arena set before us, with the all of those souls already in heaven cheering us on through their past deeds done in faith, and as we look to the Lord Jesus for the same deliverance.
  • Let Us Pray: Lord God, Heavenly Father, we thank You for saints who have gone before us and the deeds they have done which stand as a lasting witness of their faith.  Please send your Spirit to dwell with us to use the acts of faith of the saints as encouragement for us to also commit acts of faith.  Have us put away all that would weigh us down preventing us from completing the path in life you have marked out for us.  Grant us the focus on Your one and only Son, the Lord Jesus, who is the beginning and perfecter of our faith to make it through the race we must run in order to be with You.  We pray this through Your Son Jesus, who reigns with the You, Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.
  • Interpretation:  All of the saints who have gone before us are in heaven.  They have run the race marked out for them in their time.  The saints of the OT had the promise of a Messiah, but they never got to see that Messiah.  Did they run in vain?  No! They are in heaven this very moment through that Messiah.  They got their free pass into heaven.
    • The temptation is to think of them seeing us running our life-long race, cheering us on toward the finish line, but they have nothing to do with this Age anymore.  They are done. They get to focus singularly on Jesus, the beginner and perfecter of our faith.
      • This is where the Catholic Church has misinterpreted our text for today.  They encourage prayer to saints who cannot hear us.  Even if those saints could hear us, they couldn’t do anything about what you are asking of them, because they have nothing to do with this Age. They are done, and have entered into their eternal rest.
      • Having said that about the saints who have gone before us, their witness of encouragement to us is the deeds they did in faith.  OT saints were believing in a Messiah who was to come and redeem them from their sin. We see how the saints of old cheer us on through their acts of faith in reading Heb 11:4 - By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.
        • Abel is in heaven as we contemplate his sacrifice of faith that got him killed by his own brother because of jealousy.  Abel showed us what a true returning of gifts looks like by bringing to God what Abel gathered to be his best fruits and laying them before the Lord.  His sacrifice was not like his brother Cain’s sacrifice (if we could call it that) where it appears Cain tossed something together and said, “here Lord; this is what you get from me.”  Abel is cheering us on to this day, though his body is long dead.  He is cheering us on to run the path marked out for us in this Age.
    • I was raised by my paternal grandmother.  You heard about my maternal grandmother a couple weeks ago when we discussed the differences between Martha who slaved in the kitchen and Mary, who sat spell-bound at Jesus’ feet listing to every word He spoke.  Grandma Zick was my parternal grandmother and often encouraged me to become a pastor.  She raised me in the scriptures.  For example, she made sure I had my memory work committed to memory in time for Saturday catechism class.  Her witness lives on to this day as I prepare for the ministry.  She would be no doubt cheering me on to continue in the very rough life right now to become a pastor if she could see into this Age.  She is in that cloud of witnesses in my life, despite no longer in this Age.
      • Who will someday consider you part of the “cloud of witnesses” in their spiritual life?  Think for a moment of those in your life who you are encouraging in the faith.  You encourage by with what you say and what you do.  Moses and the prophets are definitely in the cloud of witnesses.  Their good deeds, not done to save themselves, but done in response to God’s love and calling, are yelling encouragement to us from the sidelines in our race in life to keep the faith.
  • So, how is it then that they are witnesses to us? We’ve established the saints are in heaven and living there with the Lord as we speak.  But remember, they cannot interact with us in any way.  The parable Jesus told of the Rich Man and Lazarus confirms this.  To understand the witness of the saints in the bible, we are going to have to get into the Word of the Lord and go back to what they said and did.  We will then be able to see how they handled situations in life according to the same faith given to them by the same Holy Spirit who gives you faith and continues to work in your soul ever since you were baptized. They are witnesses to us whenever we read God’s word.  We cannot “hear” their testimony through the ear of faith if we are not regularly in the word.  Their testimony will certainly help you run with perseverance the good times and bad in your life, if you will listen to them.
  • As always, I encourage you to start a daily bible reading if you haven’t already.  This is how you can listen to the witness of the saints of old.  You shouldn’t be surprised there is good, bad, and ugly about all of the saints. They were made of the same tainted flesh & blood you & I are made of.  We all descended from the same parents, Adam & Eve.
    • When you read the bible, you will find for instance that Moses had two boys with his wife Zipporah, but we don’t hear much about any of them.  When the Lord was working through Moses and his brother Aaron to communicate the clear message to the Pharaoh of Egypt, “let my people go!”, at some point, Moses sent his wife and kids off to Zipporah’s dad who lived a couple hundred miles away. For some couples, that is probably a comfortable distance to keep the peace. ☹ It wasn’t until Moses brought the Israelites into Midian that Zipporah’s dad, Jethro, brought Moses’ family to him.  Additionally, you will find Moses murdered an Egyptian task master.  He would be a great candidate for president these days!
    • Our text in verse 12:1 has the exhortation - …let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely…  I think it is safe to say Moses was not the ideal family man.  He was totally absorbed in his work.  The last judge of Israel before King Saul was Samuel and he too must have had troubles with raising his kids.  They were messing around with the sacrifices to God, accepting payoffs, and the usual sinful behavior that has no place in the church.
    • Despite this sinfulness, Moses was one of the two who met with Jesus on the occasion of the Transfiguration.  Samuel anointed the first two kings of united Israel. However, each had burdens of their sinfulness to overcome in fulfilling their callings in life.
      • Like them, you have sins that get in the way of fulfilling God’s calling in your life.  Martin Luther referred to one’s calling as their “vocation”.  Vocation is not to be confused with a career.  Luther meant our vocation is our station in life. For instance, I am a husband, a father, a grandfather, a son, an employee, a student, legal guardian and legal custodian for my mother and step-father, and your pastor.  Whew; lots of vocations there!  I have a lot marked out in my race in this Age.  I can tell you it is hard to run with perseverance! I am certain that everyone here has more than one vocation of their own.  It takes a lot of perseverance and discipline to run a life-long race in a way that is pleasing to the Lord.  We need encouragement all the time.
      • It is even more difficult to run with endurance when hauling a lot of baggage.  We all bring baggage into relationships.  For example, if someone dealt treacherously with you, you may be less trusting of people in the future.  However, the baggage the writer to the Hebrews was referring to was past sins you’ve committed.  Those sins will get in the way of running your race in life, much like it is a lot harder to get through an airport with several heavy suitcases.  We heard in the OT reading for today what the Lord said to the prophet Jeremiah - 24 Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.  From this statement, it is clear you & I will not be able to hide even one teeny weenie sin from Him.
      • Without getting profane, please understand that at the time the letter to the Hebrews was written, men ran naked in foot races in order to have the lightest load possible.  I’m not encouraging everyone here today to become Chief Running Bare in their race.  What I am advocating here is take to heart the words, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely”, by giving our pet sins over to the Lord Jesus.
      • You will have the opportunity to commune at Jesus’ table in a little while.  If you are really struggling with something, be it hot-headedness that gets in the way of people seeing God’s love in your actions, a potty mouth that would make a sailor blush, or robbing from your employer by not working a full shift each day for which you are getting paid; whatever – bring this to the Lord and ask, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”
      • If you are having a trust issue because you are not taking the First Commandment seriously (You shall have no other gods), come before the Lord and say, “Lord I believe; help me in my unbelief.”  We need to unload the burden of sin that could keep us from the finish line of life. That finish line is the gate into heaven.  Sin will keep you from forever entering that gate.  God is merciful and He will hear your humble pleas with Him for forgiveness and faith, and He will bless according to His grace.  What is He going to say to sinners like you and me except, “be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven!”?  That is a cheer we all want to hear coming from the sidelines as we run our race, don’t we?
  • Runners and athletes in general usually have a role model for inspiration.  They imagine themselves like a champion they hold in high esteem. They use that paradigm as motivation.  The writer to the Hebrews is exhorting us to hold Jesus as the role model to follow.  We read from v2 of Heb 12 - looking 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.
    • Jesus endured far more than anything any of us here today will endure.  Can you imagine never sinning?  You or I probably couldn’t go 1hr without sinning, and here Jesus lived 33yrs in the flesh and never sinned.  Talk about a tough race!  He was the winner over sin, death, and the power of the devil, and is now the example for us all.  He ran the race and won!  He is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  Some religions wait for Jesus to return to earth a second time for a 1000yr reign before the final battle of good against evil is waged, but that just isn’t true.  Jesus reigns now and is going to make sure you get across the finish line of heaven’s gate just as He did.  The Holy Spirit is a deposit in your soul as a guarantee of how the race turns out for all those who put their trust in Jesus.  As a baptized child of God, this is most certainly true!
    • There are people missing from here today who do not have this confidence.  In fact, they may perceive they are in a race in life, but to what end? Is it a race such that he who dies with the most toys, wins?  Faith always has an object in which to believe.  In that philosophy which I saw on a bumper sticker a few decades ago, the god of hedonism reigns in that person’s soul instead of the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reigning.  Let me tell you, there aren’t enough toys in the world to satisfy people who find their worth in “stuff” instead of being a child of God through baptism.
  • What race are we running here at Christus Rex?  We touched on what race each of us as individuals is running, but what about us as a congregation?  I plead with you, please do not call me as your pastor so that I can close the doors here for good.  We need to run the race so we too can encourage each other in the faith, and one day cheer on the saints of tomorrow.  We have elections after this service and we need people to serve in special capacities so that the business of God’s kingdom can continue here at Christus Rex.
    • Jesus is the head of His church as a groom is to His bride.  He loves us and gave His life for us so that we may live eternally in full wedded bliss with Him.  There is no greater love.  He now asks us to follow His example of making disciples.  Let’s make that commitment to make disciples in this church.
  • Conclusion: Harold Moyer was a volunteer at the International Friendship House in Phoenix.  This was an outreach to the international students attending Arizona State.  He was a worker bee in the church.  The year he died, he had plans not only for IFH, but plans for his bible class ministry he was conducting at Holy Cross Lutheran also in the Phoenix area.  However, the Lord had other plans.  Harold had health issues and passed away within the first year Karla & I were married.
    • He had the opportunity to choose a memorial verse for his funeral.  We read from 2Ti 4:7 - I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (τὸν καλὸν ἀγῶνα ἠγώνισμαι τὸν δρόμον τετέλεκα τὴν πίστιν τετήρηκα).  His choice of verses in the bible has left an indelible impression on me and relates well to today’s message.  He is now in that cloud of witnesses encouraging us, cheering us on with these words of the Apostle Paul.  As you run your race, what legacy of faith will you be leaving as you enter the cloud of witnesses for the benefit of the saints of tomorrow?  If you are not certain of the answer to that question, please look to Jesus who is the beginner and perfecter of our faith.  Amen.