Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sermon for 18 August 2013, Proper 15C

Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Hebrews 12:1-13 [11:17-31; 12:1-3]
Perseverance Through Hardship
Proper 15C, Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 18 August 2013
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In many and various ways God spoke to His people of old by the prophets. But now in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son. Amen. (Hebrews 1:1-2a)
Our Epistle lesson for today concludes with verses from the twelfth chapter of Hebrews, where Our Lord calls us to persevere in faith until the end. I’d like to cover the first five verses of this chapter with you today.
Our Lord calls us to persevere in faith until the end, fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the Son, who alone can strengthen our hearts and minds and bodies. This kind of perseverance through hardship is exemplified by a person who in the seventh century after Christ was called “The Venerable Bede.” One of the greatest Christian scholars of his time, he was devoted to the task of translating the Latin Bible into English. In the last year of his life he had been working hard on the translation of St. John’s gospel. A disease had fastened itself on him, and he could hardly go on. At last, on the morning of Ascension Day, his pupil encouraged him by saying, “Dear master, there is but one chapter yet to do.” Though scarcely able to work, Bede commanded him, “Take your pen and write quickly.” He continued at intervals throughout the day in great weakness and pain. When night came, the pupil bent over his deathbed and whispered, “Master, there is just one sentence more.” Bede wasted no words: “Write quickly.” Once more the pupil spoke: “See, dear master, it is finished now.” Once more the master answered, “Yes, you speak truly; it is finished.” And thus he died.

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, having thrown off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, let us go on running with perseverance the race marked out for us.  2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Beginner and Completer of the faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
            We are encouraged by this great cloud of witnesses—God’s saints through all the ages: Abel, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Jeremiah, John the Baptizer, Paul, Augustine, Athanasius, Bede, Luther, Walther, and so on. The cloud of witnesses is the whole host of heaven, including all those saints who have died in the Lord, our loved ones who, having God-given faith in Christ for the full forgiveness of their sins now are at rest, at peace, with Christ.
            The souls of the saints are at rest, no longer concerned about the trials that occur on earth. They are not witnesses that see our faith and testify about us. They are not looking down upon us through holes in the floor of heaven. They are at rest, at peace. They would not be at rest or at peace if they were to see bad things happen to their surviving loved ones and be able to do nothing about it. They don’t become angels with new work and new responsibilities. They are with Christ and at rest.
Ecclesiastes 9 reminds us: (5a, 6b) For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing…never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.
            Those who die in Christ are at rest with Christ and are safe forever. Their witness to us is of a different kind. They testify and witness to Christ with their faith, life, works, suffering, and death. We thank God for the encouragement of their example and pray that we would remain faithful, running the race marked out for us.
            The race course is clearly marked for us, albeit a narrow way. Sometimes we depart from the course and run into briars, thistles, sandburs, and entangling vines of sin. Greed, popularity, jealousy, lust, disobedience, and lies entangle us. Jesus searches each of us out personally, individually. He comes and removes the vines, the thorns. He cleans and disinfects the scratches, scrapes, and gashes. By His wounds, we our healed. We are freed from the entanglement of sin.
            We run in the freedom of the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins. The sinful nature inside us is drowned in the waters of our baptism by daily contrition and repentance. We can then run without our legs in irons or chains.
            It is a race like no other. We run, but the race is over, the battle won. Jesus began and completed the faith for us and presents the garland crown, the gold medal, the trophy of salvation to us as a gift. It is as if we were running the victory lap for Jesus, with our eyes firmly fixed on Him waiting for us with open arms on the finish line.
            Jesus’ race, run with perseverance, is an encouragement to us as well. But more than that, His enduring the cross, Resurrection from the dead and Ascension to the right hand of God give us hope so that we do not grow weary and lose heart.

            The struggle against sin continues. Without Christ, we would not be able to persevere. We would grow weary and lose heart. With Christ, He gives us faith and endurance to resist faithfully to the end.
4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
We do get discouraged, especially when the race course gets rough. The road may be steep, exceptionally narrow, perilously high. Dogs may run after us mistaking us for the mailman. Storms come up and blow against us, and hail down icy daggers. We forget that we are sons. We forget that we are beloved of God.
The author of this letter to the Hebrews writes to encourage them and us. Sometimes a father has to show his love through discipline to bring about a greater good. Sons don’t always understand or comprehend the potential good. Neither do we always understand the thoughts and ways of our Heavenly Father, even if they are for our ultimate good.
About the Cover: The race we are running in this life is not a sprint, but rather one of endurance. We do not run it alone, for we haven’t the strength to take even a step. But our gracious Lord first calls us to this race and then equips us to run it. Let us keep our eyes fixed on the Savior, who endured the cross. Let us endure as well until we join Him in the presence of God.

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. [Grace be with you all.] Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21, [25])