A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on August 15, 2010.
Amy is my thirty-two-year-old daughter. She is married to John and they have twins, Jack and Kate, now two and one-half years old. She is also the office manager at John’s medical practice, which keeps her even busier.
There have been times when Amy has called me and said, “Dad, I’m tired of being an adult today. Can I be a little girl again?” At that point, I do what every father here would do. I set aside what I am doing and let her talk.
“OK, Amy, let’s pretend for a few minutes that you are seven years old again. What does your room look like? What do you smell and hear and taste? What’s the biggest problem you had when you were that age?”
After a while, we leave our fantasy worlds and come back to reality.
Have you ever felt like that? Do you grow tired of carrying a heavy load and facing one challenge after another? Sure, we all do, and we’re not the first to grow weary in well-doing.
Evidently, the second generation of Christians experienced this and verbalized it. This is one reason we have the book of Hebrews. It was written by someone, and we’re not sure who, whose goal was to inspire and encourage the early believers to run with perseverance and patience the race that was set before them.
This led many to believe, including Tertullian, that Paul’s traveling companion and leader of the church in Antioch, Barnabas, wrote this letter because he was such a strong encourager. In Acts 4:36, Luke informed his readers that the name, Barnabas, means “Son of Encouragement.” Barnabas certainly embodied his name and could very likely be the author of this epistle.
Everyone needs encouraging, don’t they? This is because everybody faces challenges, struggles, detours, distractions, disruptions and disappointments. There is nothing abnormal about getting discouraged or longing to escape a world of cares. Stress can wear you down.
Amy loves being the mother of twins, a wife to her best friend, John, the office manager at John’s practice and a good friend to many who turn to her for help. She would not want to be anyone else doing anything else in any other place, but this doesn’t mean she is unaffected by the stress and strains of life. No one is.
How do you encourage someone who lives under pressure and at times grows weary? How did the writer of our passage, for he was writing to people during one of the most difficult periods in church history? The delay in the return of Christ had a demoralizing effect upon the believers who were struggling to remain faithful in the midst of stiff challenges. Words like persecution, hostility and torture are not uncommon in the book of Hebrews. So, how did the author of this book encourage and inspire his readers? I think he did several things that can guide us.
He began by telling them that they were not the first to experience fatigue and grow wearys. He reminded them that throughout history, people of faith endured public mocking, imprisonment, beatings, stoning, isolation, abandonment, homelessness, torture and some even died. Often, they were taunted as they were abused.
“Where is your God? Why does your God not come and rescue you? If you really had faith, you would not suffer.” These were just a few of the insults hurled at them, yet they remained faithful, looking beyond their immediate circumstances to God’s future. They trusted God more than they feared man, which is what the writer of Hebrews wanted his readers to do.
Sometimes when my children talk to me about their struggles, I’ll respond by saying, “Let me tell you about a time I went through something similar.” I’ve discovered they listen rather closely when I do that. Obviously, I made it through the ordeal, which gives them hope.
It helps to know that you are not the first to go through whatever you are facing, doesn’t it? All of us are eager to hear from someone who has traveled a common road.
Who needs to hear your story? Who would benefit from knowing that you have endured your share of struggles and have overcome them? Find the right time and place to have that conversation, for Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, reminds us that “we are a part of this story and our struggle and our deeds matter.”
The writer of Hebrews also encouraged his readers to see through eyes of faith those who had gone before who were cheering them on. The author reminded the early believers that they were surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, comprised of the faithful mentioned in the previous chapter, who wanted them to keep running the race.
Ethicist, author, preacher and teacher, Carlyle Marney, referred to these witnesses as “balcony people.” I like his description and believe all of us can relate to it. Each of us has people in our lives who have paved the way for us and led by example. They may no longer be with us, but their stories inspire and motivate us. Like spectators at a sporting event, they are cheering us on toward the finish line with words of encouragement and hope.
Who is in your balcony this morning? Whose faces do you see and what stories do you hear? What words of encouragement and hope are they whispering in your ear as you run your race?
Find some time this week to reflect upon the people in your balcony. Relive their stories and let them speak to you.
The author of this passage then instructed his readers to get rid of anything that was interfering with them running the race that was set before them. “Lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,” he told them. Good advice, but notice he doesn’t elaborate on those encumbrances. I suppose he wanted each reader to supply this.
What is holding you back and making it harder for you to run the race that has been set before you? What sort of things represent burdensome weights that you need to put aside?
Would it be guilt, fear, doubts, addictions, heartaches, anger, grudges, selfishness or greed? Are you overcommitted and trying to do too much? Are you trying to control everyone around you? Have you misplaced your priorities? Have you adopted the wrong set of values? Are you your own worst enemy?
A prominent hockey player used to get into a lot of fights during a game because of his unbridled anger and temper. That changed the day his daughter asked him, “Daddy, how can you score any goals when you are in the penalty box all the time?”
What’s keeping you out of the game? What are you going to do about it? Getting rid of harmful things in our lives is never easy. It begins with identifying them and making a commitment to rid ourselves of them. Is this what you need to do this morning?
Who can help you begin this process and make those changes? Who can help you run the race with perseverance and patience? Who can help you to keep on keeping on?
“Looking to Jesus,” the writer says, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne” Hebrews 12:2.
Did you notice that the writer referred to the historical name for our Lord in this verse? “Looking to Jesus.” It was Jesus who walked among them and was tested, suffered and died. He walked where they walked and faced the same temptations, challenges, distractions and struggles they encountered. Yet, he was faithful, all the way to the cross and was now in a position to help them along their journey. He is also eager to help us. I hope you will let him.
About 20,000 runners competed in the 1986 New York Marathon. Chances are more people could tell you who came in last rather than who won the race. His name is Bob Wieland. While the winner completed the race in about two hours, Wieland finished the race in four days, two hours, forty-eight minutes and seventeen seconds. What took him so long?
Bob was injured in the Viet Nam war, leaving him severely handicapped with very limited mobility. He was determined, however, to run in the New York Marathon and complete the race, which he did.
It took perseverance and patience. It took will-power and determination. He had to be focused, letting nothing distract him. He had to keep his eyes on the goal. He had to run longer than anyone else without quitting, which he did.
So can you. With God’s help, so can you.