Abbi and I have been married, now, for four years and together for almost five. For those of you who do not know, we met in seminary while Abbi was waiting for her first class. Everyday since has been a blessing and a joy.
As with any relationship, we are not the same two people as we were that September day in 2008. I know I am not the same person that I was then. In fact, I can think of three specific ways that I am not the same as when we first met. First, I had more hair. I know this is hard to believe, but I did have a lot of hair … once. Second, is that I used to drive a truck. We got rid of it to save money and to prepare for our family.
Finally, I weighed about 70 pounds more than I do now. I’ve always been a big guy, but I was really big then. I was so big, and unhealthy, that I used to eat almost 5,000 calories a day. At my heaviest, which was just after our wedding day, I weighed about 350 pounds.
I was not healthy. Some decisions and things happened that required me to focus on losing weight. Thankfully I did. I committed myself to walking and exercising daily. I cut out unnecessary foods and started to pay more attention to what I ate. In time, I lost weight and lots of it. At my lowest, I lost roughly 90 pounds.
Trust me, it was not easy. It was a daily struggle that required me to focus each day on my goals. There were moments when I wanted to quit. There were days when I did not want to walk to class and instead take my car. There were times when I would rather eat a Big Mac than chicken. When faced with these moments, I persevered and remained focus on the goal that was in front of me, which was weight loss and a healthier life.
This image of daily persevering is familiar to us. We have all set goals. Maybe we have not had the goal of losing weight. Perhaps we have set a goal to become more financial secure, finish our education, or read more. Whatever our goal has been they are important to us, and, because of this, we will intently focus on that goal. We dedicate ourselves to this goal and keep our attention focused upon it. Even when we are tempted to give up or want to quit, we persevere because we know how important this goal is to us.
In our time together this morning, I want us to focus on this idea of persevering in order to accomplish our goals. This is a central idea that we see come out of our passage from Hebrews 12:1-2. The passage is a follow-up from our lesson, last week, from Hebrews 11. Last week, the Preacher of Hebrews told us that faith is a matter of trusting in God. Now, the Preacher uses the imagery of an athletic competition to build upon this truth. By using this imagery, he reminds us that every day we are on a journey of faith. It is a journey where we seek to grow in the image of Christ and live out the Lord’s desires for our life. As participants on this journey, he says, we are called to persevere and stay true to our faith in the Lord, even in the midst of difficulties and obstacles that will come our way.
What does this mean when we say we are to persevere in our faith? It is the act of continuing in our faith throughout life’s different struggles. Persevering in faith is about a commitment to something greater than ourselves, and that is our love of God. We persevere in acknowledgement that God loved us even before we knew what that love looks like. Persevering in faith is the daily act of saying “yes” to God when the world tells us to say something else.
All of this, the Preacher tells us, are acts of faith we can do because of the inspiration and witness of the “cloud of witness.” These are the people who have gone before us. The Preacher reminds us we are not the first to set out on this journey to follow Jesus. Often we like to believe that, but this is simply not the case. We stand on the shoulders of men and women who, throughout the centuries, have sought to grow closer to God and have wrestled with what it meant to be people of faith in their time.
Their witness inspires us. When we read the stories of Scripture, of the men and women who remained dedicated to the Lord through difficult trials and circumstances it encourages us to do so in our own time. They help us to endure the difficult moments we all encounter in our desire to follow Christ.
Since we have this cloud of witness supporting us, the Preacher says we can endure and continue on this journey. He continues to discuss how exactly we can persevere in our faith. To endure, we must be willing to strip off everything that keeps us from persevering with full devotion to the Lord. The Preacher is thinking about those things that prevent us from being completely dedicated to the Lord. These are the things that distract us from following Christ with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. What are these things? These are our attitudes, desires, wants, agendas, and ideas.
What really keeps us from fully following Christ is our own self. So often, we are the biggest distraction in our relationship with Christ. We can get in the way of Christ working in and through us. This distracts us from the goal of becoming more like Christ.
What does this look like? I said I lost about 90 pounds at my lowest weight. However, when I reached my lowest weight I became comfortable. I ate more of the foods I shouldn’t eat. I stopped walking as much. I wasn’t focused on my goal. As a result, I have gained about 20 pounds in two years.
This happens to us all, especially in our walk with Christ. Our comfortability distracts us in our lives and in the church. When we become comfortable with how things are or with where we are in our relationship with the Lord, then, in time, we will start to lose focus upon the goal of growing in Christ’s love. The goal becomes a distant memory. When this happens we are more likely to say “we can’t do what Christ desires,” instead of saying “only by the grace of God go I.” Once we no longer are focused on growing in Christ’s desires, he distractions of our lives become the norm and we no longer do the things necessary to sustain our faith relationship with God, such as pray, read Scripture, being in community with others, and finding ways to serve. As a church, when we lose focus on the goal of growing in Christ we become more interested in maintaining the status quo than in doing the challenging and difficult things God asks of us.
Comfortability is not a fruit of the Spirit. It is not a part of the journey of following God’s desires and growing in the image of God. We are not called comfortable, but to endure in our faith when things are difficult, or when life seems too challenging, or seems unbearable. To endure in the difficult moments requires us to maintain our focus on the Lord and to stay committed to the things that Christ desires.
I’m not going to say this is easy. It is not. However, we can endure. Why? It is because we have the greatest hope in that the “perfecter of our faith,” Jesus Christ, goes before us on our journey, both in our personal lives and as a church. Jesus is the reason for our faith, because of what he did on the cross in dying for you, for me, and for all of creation. Jesus shows us the way of discipleship through his self-giving life of love that was poured out for all of us. He shows us the way to the Father, through following in his footsteps, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
It is not easy, but we have the confident hope that Jesus goes with us. He is on this journey with us. We are not alone. Jesus is running the race ahead of us and shines a light on the path. Jesus shows us where to go. No where in our life do we go that Jesus hasn’t prepared the way for us. This gives us the confidence and ability to endure, to persevere, in our mission in growing in Christ and sharing his love with others through our words, actions, and deeds.
This is good news for us in the midst of life’s struggles and as we seek to be the church today. We can persevere because Christ is with us on this journey. When life seems overwhelming or difficult, we can persevere in our faith because Christ is at work in the these moments. When we doubt whether God is real, we can persevere because Christ is there providing the answers to our questions. When the church’s mission seems overwhelming, when it seems too difficult to reach our neighborhoods, when it seems that church is not committed to “making disciples of all people,” we can persevere in our mission to share the greatest hope, the greatest love, and the greatest joy, because Christ goes before and with us.
Our goal is to be more like Christ in our lives and in our communities. We can stay committed and focused upon this goal because of this simple hope that we are never alone in the journey. The witness of others inspires us. More important, the presence of Christ that equips, sustains, and directs our lives and mission is always with us.
Think about your life and our church. If we are never alone, if Christ is truly with us in our lives and mission, then what reason do we have to sit on the sidelines and say this life is not for me and us? What reason do we have to not endure in our faith? I can think of none.
We can persevere through the difficult moments. We can endure in our faith no matter what life may throw at us. We can say proudly and confidently that only by the grace of God do I go and do we go.