Message on perseverance for Sunday, January 17, 2021 The Revs. Megan and David Collins
Message on perseverance for Sunday, January 17, 2021
The Revs. Megan and David Collins
Watching athletes train is inspiring. We admire their dedication, their commitment, the willingness to push their bodies to get stronger and faster and better. In high school, all of the athletes we knew were really dedicated. But one group seemed like their commitment to their sport was unwavering. It was the swim team. The swim team’s practices were every day at 5:30 in the morning. Everyday they would set their alarms for the middle of the night to get to school for practice. They would dive into the pool while the sky was still dark and the water was cold and then swim until they had to get dressed and go to their first class. By 7 AM they had already trained for an hour and a half.
There was something else that made the swim team especially dedicated and frankly unusual. They had a specific ritual they did every time before a big swim meet. Right before the swim meet, all of the athletes would shave their arms and their legs. Some even shaved their heads. Why did they do this? Because they wanted to get rid of anything that might slow them down. Any friction, even the smallest amount of arm hair, that might hold them back when the time came was removed. In thinking about the swim team, we can learn two things about perseverance. We are talking about perseverance this whole month by studying the letters of the new testament. Many of these letters use athletic imagery to help us understand what perseverance looks like as we follow Jesus.
Even if we aren’t athletes these images are powerful examples of what it takes to keep following Jesus even when it’s hard, even when life is upside down, even when we think we can’t possibly go anymore. Today, let’s take a look at the book of Hebrews. While many of the letters in the New Testament are attributed to Paul, there is some question about who wrote Hebrews. The audience of Hebrews is also somewhat more broad than some of the other letters. But what we do know is that, like other early Christians, the first readers of this letter were persecuted and suffering and tempted to give up on their faith.
Leading up to our passage for today, the author brings up one example after another of people who had deep faith in God despite the obstacles they faced. Then the writer says this in chapter 12:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses"
For Hebrews, this cloud of witnesses are all the people who had been faithful that were highlighted in the previous chapter. People like Noah, Abraham, Sarah and Rahab. The early Christians are reminded that they are surrounded by those who have been faithful to God, even when things were difficult. These witnesses persevered in their faith, even when it got tough. This cloud of witnesses inspired the early Christians to keep going even when it was hard. They were reminded that even when they felt alone there are others who are with them.
Let’s think back to our swimmers for a moment. While their dedication to the sport of swimming is unquestionable, the comradery of being on the team kept them going. When they were tempted to give up or to sleep in, they knew their teammates would be there to encourage them to keep going.This cloud of witnesses for us is important in the same way. Not only do we look at the people of the Bible to encourage us in our perseverance, but we also look to the cloud of witnesses around us right now.
Who are the people in your life that encourage you to keep going?
Who are the people you look to to point you to your faith, to help you keep running toward Jesus?
When you feel like giving up, who is there to support you?
When you need prayer, who prays for you?
Those people are your cloud.
Our passage from Hebrews starts by saying “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” That word since is important. Everything that is to follow is made possible by the cloud of witnesses who will keep us moving forward. In other words, you can’t do this alone. God has given you a team. Let’s keep reading:
"let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,"
First we remembered that we don’t persevere alone. Then we learn that to persevere you have to set aside everything that is holding you back. All the things you are carrying, all the sin that clings to you, you give them over to God. You pull them off and lay them down.
Think again about our swimmers. What did they do right before a meet? Shave. They wanted to take away anything that might slow them down, even if it was only by a few seconds. They knew anything that might make them feel pulled back could keep them from the finish line. Hebrews says to lay aside every weight and every sin.
What weight are you carrying? What sin is clinging to you?
We’ve all got something. There is something in your life that will slow you down or make you want to give up. Maybe you are carrying the weight of anxiety or fear. Maybe you feel guilty about something so you carry it around with you. Maybe you are letting the sin of pride or ego or anger trip you up. Maybe you have sin that no one knows about and the weight of it is unbearable.
Whatever weight you are carrying, it’s time for you to set it down.
Whatever sin you feel clinging to you, it’s time to let Jesus take it from you.
When Jesus came, he invited you to be surrounded by a cloud of witnesses so you wouldn’t have to do this alone. When he died he took the weight and the sin of your life so that you wouldn’t have to carry it anymore. Before you can run the race of faith with perseverance, Jesus invites you to set these things aside, to lay them down, just like the faithful people in your cloud have done too. When you lay these things aside, look what Hebrews promises:
"and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus 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 of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart."
When you run free from the sin and the weight you were carrying, then you can run with perseverance the race before you. You can keep your eyes on Jesus and you will not grow weary or lose heart.
Then you can make it to the finish line.