Race to Joy

The message this morning was focused on the lesson from Hebrews, but has a good piece about the lesson from Luke. The scriptures were: Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Isaiah 1:1-7 and Luke 12:49-56. The title was “Our Race for Joy.”

When I was a senior in high school, we read a book in English class titled 1984. I won’t go into what that was about today, but I only mention this to tell you that as an 18 year old, who knew just about everything way back in 1975, I thought that 1984 was way off in the horizon. When that year finally did arrive on my horizon, James and I were married and living in Eagle Butte and it was the summer of the Olympics in Los Angeles. We had a colored television, a window air conditioner, softball was over for the summer and all we had to do that August was watch the Olympics. Life was great.

I remember seeing pieces of Olympics when I was younger, but living on the farm I never had the opportunity to watch it much or try to make sense of it the way James and I did that summer. And until this year I don’t think we really took the time to take it all in quite like we did that year. Growing up I don’t remember seeing my parents watch many athletic events on television. My father was a baseball fan, and I think he watched the games when he wasn’t in the field or welding some equipment, or off on a bender. I do remember my mother being skeptical that games were rigged. She was especially convinced of that fact when the World Series went to the seventh game. She always felt it was a given that they played all seven to get the most money out of the fans.

IMG_8415This past week, I could almost hear her when a couple of races didn’t have quite the intensive rivalry that the sports casters were speaking of in the commentaries leading up to certain of the swimming races. She would have been saying that someone was paid not to swim as hard, so that the “important” one would win. As I watched those races and wondered what really happened, I looked at the demeanor of those who didn’t take first, those who were a little less than the best. It was interesting to see the happiness on the faces of those who were second, or even the acceptance in the attitudes of those who were fourth. It was refreshing not to see them swear or stomp off or refuse a hand shake. It was really nice to see second treated as the second winner rather than the first loser. Mostly I thought it was good to see the team support that our swimming athletes displayed, now as the next sport (track and field) hits the spotlight; I am not so sure how it will go.

So far we have only seen a few races and most of them have been prelims except for the 10,000 meters, which is crazy. I can’t stand watching all of that pushing and shoving that happens. Maybe that is why I liked races with your own lanes, though I did run the 800 for a few years, I never took the chance of running with a pack. In high school I got a head and out of the way, and in college I was so far back, well we won’t even talk about it. Why does anyone run? Why does anyone bother to train and work and compete, especially at the levels of the Olympics?

The last two verses in our text from Hebrews today almost make me think the author was at one of the ancient Olympics prior to writing this book. In fact the “race that is set before us” line sort of gives me the idea that this writer is trying to tell us that each of us will have our own things to endure. Maybe it will be a long and grueling race, maybe the trials our life will be a short and hard sprint sort of race, we don’t know, but whatever it is the line says we are to run it with patience. “Run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” Just as the athletes prepare and completes their races, so we in life must prepare and complete the work that we are given, the task that is set before us.

If we stop for a time out to look at the gospel lesson we might wonder what it possibly has to do with this piece of scripture from Hebrews. In fact, we might wonder how it has anything to do with any of the teachings of Jesus. Where did this idea that Jesus come to bring a sword, to bring dissension to the world. Isn’t Jesus the Messiah of Peace? Didn’t he answer a question on taxes about rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s? Everything we have read and studied about Jesus, except maybe the story about the tipping of the tables in the temple seems to be about peace and harmony.  It almost feels like this scripture, this message seems out of context, so out of place, yet we also find it in Matthew 10.

The truth is that this is the passage, the lesson, that gives us the clearest idea of what Jesus came to accomplish. This is the flat-out truth for us about what it will take to be a real Christian. This is really what it is all about. This is the “race” that is being put in front of us, and the race we are being asked to persevere. Following Jesus is not an easy task.

We keep talking about these commandments that Jesus left us and especially the love your neighbor as yourself one, and I can bet that even with the cushions on those pews, this story is getting old. Perhaps you are thinking it is time for a change in messages, time for a break from this constant harping about the same thing. But when Jesus says what he is asking of us will divide father from child and mother from daughter and on and on, he means it. When we look at how much Jesus loved those around him, it is then we realize that he asks us to love others in that same way. If we do that then maybe we can start to get an idea of what we are being asked to do.

Jesus didn’t just care for or only love his disciples or those who followed him, or even his human family. He loved everyone, and he showed them in the way he talked to them and treated them. Think about how he treated the Samaritan woman at the well, or the prostitute that could have been stoned, or the Roman official with the sick slave, and the list goes on. Jesus could have turned down any or all of these people based on the idea that they weren’t good enough, they weren’t worthy of his healing, his forgiveness, his love, but he accepted them. He loved them and because of his great love for them and for us, he teaches us how he wants us to love others and how he wants us to treat others. And sometimes when we have that sort of true Christian love for others when we show that sort of love and acceptance of others, we end up alienating those around us—those in our closest circles. That is what today’s gospel lesson is trying to teach us.

As we stop to consider the meaning, the deep meaning of today’s gospel when it tells us that Jesus accepts everyone; it is also saying we are to accept others. As Jesus loves everyone, we are to love everyone. The thing is that Jesus opened up his arms to die on the cross for everyone, not just his own family, his own countrymen, not just carpenters or fishermen, not just those of his economic status, and we could go on all day. He came to earth and taught and died and rose again for us all. This is the hard part of the gospel.

And when we go back to that lesson in Hebrews we find out why. Why did Jesus accept his race and run it with perseverance? Why does he expect us to accept our race? It certainly isn’t for a medal be it gold or silver or bronze as our current Olympians are competing. It isn’t for a laurel wreath as they earned in the ancient Olympics. It isn’t even for the sheer pleasure of competing as you hear some of the athletes answer when asked how disappointed they are not to have earned a medal.

In verse 2 of chapter 12 of Hebrews it says: “for the sake of the joy that was set before him.” Let’s put this in perspective. Jesus had it all before he came to earth. He did not take on this task for himself, he did this for us. The joy that was set before him was the joy of knowing that he would be enabling us to join him in paradise.

Our job, our task as real Christians, our goal is to gain that same joy that Jesus knows. When we really follow Christ, when we are able to be in Christ and love others as he has taught us, we too can experience the joy Christ has for us and that is not just the joy of living with Christ when we are gone from here, but it is the joy of living with Christ while we are still here. This is the race that we are being given, the race of being as much like Christ as is humanly possible while we are still part of this earth. It isn’t about living as God wants so we can join him in eternity, it is about, it is about living in Christ now, to enjoy the joy of Christ on this earth. This doesn’t mean that everything will go our way, but that because we are following Christ, we can experience the joy in all things.

We may each have a bit different version of how we are called to do it, but we all know that our race is to follow in the love of Christ in how we act and speak and love our neighbors each and every day. May we go from here this day with the resolve to be a real Christian working to attain the joy that Christ has for us. Amen!

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