Today’s sermon will be a little different than normal. This morning, I want to specifically speak to our five youth who were confirmed today. In doing so, I hope I might say something that will impact each of our lives, and that includes my own.
This is a momentous day in each of your lives and in the ministry and life of this congregation. What each of you have done is to make several public proclamations. By your presence, you have proclaimed your thanks for those who have walked with you through the years and have taught you about faith, about Jesus, and about what it means to follow the Lord. You have proclaimed your desire to live for Christ with your every word and breath. Finally, you have proclaimed your intent to be a witness of Jesus Christ through your example and actions in this world.
It is a huge responsibility and blessing you have committed yourselves to today. It is not something to be taken lightly. For as all of us can attest, living for Christ and seeking to be his witness every day are some of the hardest things we will ever attempt to do. That is why stories like the rich young ruler, who wanted as little of Jesus as he could without the Lord wrecking his life, speak to us. We want to proclaim our faith in Christ without the life Jesus desires for us ever messing with the life we want.
The life that you have claimed a desire and commitment to live into – and the life we all try to live into every day – demands all of us. Faith in Jesus doesn’t mess with our life. It invites us on a journey where our life becomes more like the life God has always intended for us to have. And today each of you, and all of us, are on this journey of faith to experience more of what this life desires from us.
See, faith is something like being a runner in a race. That is what the preacher of Hebrews expresses with this imagery from Hebrews 12:1-3. Faith is like being in a race that “God has set before us.” A race that is really a journey of discipleship with the goal of daily growing more like Christ by being daily renewed by the Lord’s loving presence in our lives. All of us – young or old, rich or poor, someone who grew up in the church or someone who struggles with what faith is all about – are on this journey. If there is anything I can tell you today, I hope it will be this: As you travel this journey of faith, no matter how difficult the journey may be, you will never be alone.
That is the promise the Preacher of Hebrews gives to each of us. We are not alone on this journey of growing more like Christ by the daily renewal of our lives through his love. The Preacher gives us this promise, first, by telling us that “we are surrounded by such a huge cloud of witnesses.”
What is the Preacher trying to tell us? This is one of those images where you really see the race analogy that the Preacher uses come to life. He wants us to think about some of the scenes we see at a race.
I have never participated in a marathon and have only participate in one 5K, which was not my finest hour. When I think about this image of a cloud of witnesses, however, I think about a 5K that I was volunteer for last year at Annual Conference. My role was to be the pace car driver of sorts. I enjoyed it. I got to sit in my car and listen to music while everyone else ran the race. I like to think I was the smart one that day.
One of the things I was able to do during the race was to be an encourager for the other runners. I would make a few comments to the people who were directly in front of me and have a good laugh with them. As the runners would pass me after the halfway turn, as well, I would smile, wave, or make a witty comment. It was my way of encouraging them as they ran the race that was before them.
That is what I think this cloud of witnesses is like. We have this great community of supporters who are all around us as we seek to grow closer to God. In Chapter 11, the Preacher says that this cloud of witnesses includes everyone who has traveled this journey of faith before us. People like Abraham and Isaac, Moses and David, and others who followed God wherever the Lord led them. They each sought to follow God’s will and desired being in a relationship with the Lord.
As well, you are surrounded by a community of witnesses today. You stand upon the shoulders of the faith of those who have gone before you and those who stand with you today. People like family members, friends, people in the church, and others who have loved you, cared for you, and showed you, through words and actions, what it means to follow Christ. We are never alone, because we are always surrounded by people who have traveled on this road and they and there to encourage us and to help us to keep the faith.
The fact that we are never alone on this journey encourages us to do the things that will help us to run with endurance, such as letting go of the things that hold us back. We cannot go forward on this journey of faith if we are being slowed down by things that keep us from experiencing all that Christ has for us.
Let’s think again of the racing analogy. Now imagine trying to run a race while wearing a backpack full of heavy school books. It would slow us down. It would be nearly impossible to complete the race. You could try, but you would likely not get very far and would be tempted to give up.
This is almost like what many of us try to do with our journey of faith. We try to go forward on this journey by holding on to things that slow down our growth in Christ’s love. Things such as past mistakes that we hold on to, temptations that we allow to overwhelm us, or the things we do wrong today. All of these things, and others, keep us from going forward in this journey of faith. If we truly want to grow in Christ, we have to let go of the things that hold us back so that we can go forward on this journey of experiencing all that Christ has for us.
As we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses and as we remove the things that hold us back, we are able to see something else. That is that we go on this journey with Jesus traveling with us. The Preacher of Hebrews calls us to keep our eyes on Jesus as we go on this journey of faith.
Seeing Jesus in this way is like having Jesus be something like a running partner for us. Participating in a long race is a lot more enjoyable when we have someone who is running with us. That running partner gives us someone to talk to, someone to help us keep a good pace and rhythm so that we do not get too tired too early, and gives us encouragement when we are just ready to give up.
We are on this journey of faith with Jesus as our running partner. Jesus does not leave us alone to face the obstacles, challenges, and difficulties that this life will bring. He knows the difficulty and the challenges that are before us. Knowing this, Jesus does not leave us to ourselves but goes with us. He goes before us and shows the way of how to be a faithful disciple. He walks with us, side by side, teaching and encouraging us along the way. He goes after us by sharing grace when we make mistakes in life. No matter where life takes us, no matter where we are in our faith today, Jesus is with us and never leaves our side.
All of this helps us to run with endurance and to press forward on the journey that is before each of us. It would be easy to see this day as the end goal of the journey. It would be easy to see our acceptance of Jesus as our Lord and Savior as the final act of faith. That is only the beginning and continuation of the journey of growing more like Christ by the daily renewal of our lives through the presence of Christ. The journey is about having our entire lives renewed by Christ and to go out and make a difference in the world by living for Jesus through our words, actions, and deeds. It is about being more like Jesus so that our lives may inspire others to experience what Jesus is doing in their own lives.
Every day we are faced with the choice of whether we want to continue on this journey of growing more like Christ. I hope each of you, and all of us, will want to go on that journey every day. Make that decision every day and, I promise, you will never have to worry about whether you are alone in your faith. That promise gives us the ability to press forward and to never give up, no matter what life will bring.
Today is just one day – a very important day, indeed – but one day on a life-long journey of discipleship and growing more like Christ. I hope and pray that each of you will grow more like Christ each day. That you will be supported and encouraged by the knowledge that you are loved by a great cloud of witnesses, that you do not have to be held back by anything, and that Jesus goes with you.
When it is all said and done, I hope all of us will be able to look back and see that this journey is and was worth it. That the difficulties and challenges that come are way are no match for the joy and presence of Christ at work in our lives to make us into the people God has always intended us to be.
That is my hope for each of you, for all of us, and for myself this day. May Christ be always by our side as we go forward on the race that is set before us.