Pentecost 13
September 2, 2001
Hebrews 12:1-13
"Winning the Race of Faith"

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INTRODUCTION: This weekend the season of College Football begins. "Who will go bowling?" is a question that many are asking, even in a "hoops state" like Indiana where fans will flock to watch Joe Tiller's version of "basketball on grass" in West Lafayette and "America's most fascinating player" Antwan Randel El of Indiana. Athletics has become one of the great icons of our American culture much like that of ancient Rome where literally thousands would flock to the coliseum to watch the world's greatest athletes compete for glory and fame. The analogy of an athletic contest is only natural for the writer to use. In our generation of sports' craze, it is an appropriate analogy to interest us in running the race of faith.

For the Christian, life is a matter of keeping and living by faith. In the book of Hebrews the writer reminds us that in the light of faith we are exhorted to run the race of faith.  This matter of faith fits in well with our theme for today - the fire of faith needs to burn endlessly in us!  Consider, then this morning, the race of faith.  To win the race of faith…

1.   To win the race of faith we first must be in the right place. The writer of the Hebrews reminds us that we are - "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses" The sports analogy comes quickly into full vies. We're in the right place, as we run the race of faith when we are in the arena with a stadium full of witnesses.

We contend for the faith, we press on, with others watching over us. Who are these witnesses?

A.   First, they are our fellow team members, our brothers and sisters in the faith who are on the field with us or on the sidelines. They encourage us; they keep us vigilant and ready. They are there to help us by offering up prayers to the Father that we remain faithful to the end. Take a look around you. These brothers and sisters are your teammates. They stand ready and help us encouraging and praying for us.

B.    Any athlete will tell you that there is something special playing to a packed audience at home. Likewise, we are also surrounded with these saints who have gone before us into glory. In a sense they look down upon us as we contend for the faith and they cheer us on. In our communion liturgy we say: "therefore with angels and arch angels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify thy glorious name evermore praising Thee and saying "Holy Holy Holy Lord God of Sabbaoth. Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory, Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord Hosanna Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest!"

C.    Do we believe these words? We should! What they simply say is that the saints who have gone before us cheer us on. Now, do we ask for their help? Do we ask for their assistance in prayer? Not really. Our focus is on Christ, our champion, our coach and our leader. Invoking the saints, would be something akin to seeking the advice of a fan when our coach is standing right in front of us. We need only seek His advice and direction… Yet, these fans serve us well. Those who have gone before us play an important role. These fans are there to cheer us on. These fans are gathered to fan our faith!

TRANSITION: The keys to victory are simple. We need faithful fans cheering us on; but we also need to be properly attired…

2.   To win the race of faith we need to be properly dressed. The writer to the Hebrews continues - "Let us also lay aside every weight"

ILLUSTRATION:  It's been over thirty years now, but in my mind it's as if it happened yesterday!  We were there, at the Lutheran 8th grade track meet at John Young Stadium in New Haven.  It was a cold brisk April Saturday morning and the 100-yard dash was called. There he was, Kenny, running for all he was worth…and losing ground quickly - because he chose to run with his winter coat on. "Let us also lay aside every weight"

An athlete wears a minimum of clothing for maximum performance. Especially when it comes to the 100-yard dash! What is the point to all thins? In contending for the faith the Christian takes off the clothing of sin. As St. Paul reminds us "I fight, I press forward, for the prize…" The prize waiting for us is the crown of everlasting life.

TRANSITION: The keys to victory are simple:

Ø     We need faithful fans cheering us on

Ø     We put off anything that would hinder us from reaching our goal

Ø     We run with perseverance

3.   To win the race of faith we run with perseverance - The writer to the Hebrews simply says: "Let us run with perseverance" Some folk are sprinters some are better suited for long distance courses. Regardless, the athlete keeps gutting it out until the gun fires, the finish line is crossed, and the checkered flag is dropped.

The point is simple; we keep the faith no matter how wear you get or how fierce the competition.  You've heard the old, old adage; "quitters never win and winners never quit". Preserving; we never, never, ever give up. How do we know that we will make it? How do we know that we will keep the faith? Jesus - the author and prefecture of our faith assures us that we will be more then conquerors. We do it all through Christ who loves us. "For neither life, nor death, nor angels nor demons, things, present, nor things which are to come, no powers, height or depth, can be able to separate us from the love of God which is found in Christ Jesus our Lord" [Romans 8]

TRANSITION:  The keys to victory are simple:

Ø     We need faithful fans cheering us on

Ø     We put off anything that would hinder us from reaching our goal

Ø     We run with perseverance

Ø     We keep our eyes on the prize

4.   To win the race of faith we look to the goal - we look to Jesus. It was this same Jesus who said "any man who set his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God" To keep the furrows straight we keep one eye on the a fixed object ahead of us. We place our focus on Jesus - "Looking to Jesus"

A.   Jesus is the "pioneer" He is the originator of our faith. It is He who entered time and space to become our substitute. He was our designated hitter who came out victorious and conquered when we were all but lost. He took our misery and sin to Himself. He is truly the pioneer of our faith.

B.    But what's more Jesus is the "perfecter"; He is the fulfillment of our faith. Your sins and mine were nailed to a cross on a day called Good Friday. And on Easter Sunday we were brought to new heights because Jesus Christ rose from the dead to give us salvation and life. That's why we can say that in Jesus Christ all sin is forgiven period!

CONCLUSION:  What is you winning strategy? To win the race of faith there are four chief components:

Ø      We need faithful fans cheering us on

Ø     We put off anything that would hinder us from reaching our goal

Ø     We run with perseverance

Ø     We keep our eyes on the prize

That is our game plan -Let's keep the focus people of God - for the gun has sounded - the race of faith is on!

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Pentecost 13 (Series C) Sermon from 1998