Heb. 12: 1-17
May I Speak in the name of the Son, to the glory of the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen
What a wonderful two weeks I have just had!
I am a big sports fan so I have been looking forward to the London 2012 Olympics ever since we won the games, and I have not been disappointed.
Deep down, in true British fashion, as the games drew near I prepared myself to be a trifle embarrassed, but from the moment I sat down to watch the opening ceremony I have had nothing but pride and admiration for the event and for all those who have taken part in it. What an example they are to the rest of us. The dedication they show, the hours of training they put in to achieve the goal of becoming an Olympian, let alone a medal winner. The single minded sacrifice they make, turning their backs on friends and families and the mundane pleasures of life that the rest think so important in their quest for perfection. It must be a lonely existence at times; those times when they grind out the miles on a cold, wet, windy winters morning when the rest of us are still tucked up warm in bed. They live among us but they are not part of us because they aspire to something higher than the rest of us, and they know that sacrifices have to be made if they are to achieve their goals.
Now I know that there are some among you who are not sports fans and to whom the last two weeks have been a glimpse of purgatory, but even they can’t fail to be have been impressed by the ‘Spirit of the Olympics’ not just among the competitors but also among the throngs of spectators. The enthusiasm of the home crowd has had a huge effect on the performance of ‘Team GB’. Time and time again in interview after interview our Olympians have said what a huge effect the support of the spectators has been; the shear power of the crowd willing them to succeed lifted them to extraordinary performances that often impressed even them!
St Paul might not have been a sports fan either but he was well aware of the Olympics and their effects upon people. At the time when the ‘Letter to the Hebrews’ was written one of the most important sports was athletics. The Greek cities competed to put on the most spectacular games. In stadiums, not unlike our one in London, thousands of spectators cheered on their athletes. In Corinth, the finishing line for the foot races was in the middle of the town square, so that the whole population became involved with the races. What a buzz that must have given the athletes, knowing that a crowd of thousands was cheering them on, willing them to win.
So then, is it a shock if I tell you, we Christians are all in a way Olympians, every one of us? We are all competing in the greatest race of our lives, the greatest race ever, at God’s Olympic Games. That is the image used in the Epistle to the Hebrews: a cloud of witnesses. Just like any athlete we have watched during the past two weeks you may think you are struggling alone to try and live a Christian life. No says the author, there is a crowed watching all of us, as we struggle to complete the course, cheering us on. We may not be able to see them but they can see us. This invisible audience is made up of the souls of earlier generations of Christians, who have completed the course and are now with God in paradise, their race run. They want us to succeed; they cheer us every time we resist temptation, they roar their approval every time we make an act of human kindness.
Nobody is quite sure who wrote Hebrews; older translations suggest it was written by St Paul. It was to scattered groups of Jews throughout the Roman Empire, who had become Christians, that the letter was written. They must have thought they were too few to be of any importance. Not at all writes the author; you are making history; don’t give up, because the eyes of Christians past, present and future are on you. The letter uses details of the life of the athlete in it’s analogy with the Christian life. First, the runners have to be fit; they must loose weight, giving them a powerful, fast physique. Luckily for the Christian it is not the physical pounds we have to lose, but the weight of the sin we carry around with us. Unrepentant sin, selfish habits that we are unwilling to give up, secret bitterness in our hearts, the people we just can’t forgive, they all hold us back in running the Christian race. Then says the author, ‘let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us’. Yes the race is long and hard, it will often be a lonely experience, even within our own families, but there is no stopping and no turning back. It’s no good looking back at the part of the race you have already run, it’s the race ahead of you that matters. You have to keep trying your utmost until you cross the finishing line. Listen if you can to the roars of support and always keep in mind who will be waiting for you as you cross that finish line to clap you on the back, take you by the hand and present you with your prize. It is Jesus of course, who has run the race before us. If that isn’t motive enough to give you the strength to finish the race I don’t know what is.
So then be of good cheer, keep focussed on the finishing tape, ignore the opposition, and love God and your neighbour with all your might until your race is run.