Run! Run with all that you have to give. We may not be able to put one foot in front of the other as rapidly, or for as long as distances, as the dominating Usain Bolt or Jesse Owens back in the day (a former student at The Ohio State University, by the way). But that’s not what the writer of Hebrews has in mind anyway. Because even if we can’t physically run, our soul most certainly can, at a pace we can’t even fathom. The Holy Spirit can most certainly make our soul, the entirety of our existence, the essence of our being; the Holy Spirit will implore us to take on this life, this race that is set before us, with all that we have to give.
And we are empowered to do so through this great cloud of witnesses, those who have gone before us, and those who remain beside us now. They are our teachers, our faith coaches, if you will. They are our supporters in the crowd, including family and friends, constantly cheering us on through all the disappointments and triumphs. St. John’s has most certainly been blessed with generations’ worth of witnesses in just over eighty-five years: decades of pastors, Sunday school teachers, Confirmation classmates, sisters and brothers in Christ. They laid the foundation of love and compassion for a church to continue its ministry not only for its members but for the surrounding community and beyond. Their witness continues through the ages, as we still hear their stories, including their precious sacrifice of time in dedication to this family of St. John’s.
However, this “cloud of witnesses,” as it’s called in Hebrews, isn’t referring to so many gathered in the heavens, but it’s the encouragement and support that engulfs us like a cloud. We cannot escape how much they love us, how much they want what is best for us. Those witnesses, our sisters and brothers in Christ, are one of the closest connections we have to Jesus Christ Himself, Who loved us so much to the point of death. And we call them witnesses, those who have gone before us and those with us now, because not only have they seen first-hand the love of God at work in their life, but they couldn’t possibly resist sharing it with us as well. Because of them, because of their witness that inspires us, we run. We run with all that we have to give in this life and beyond.
But it’s not so much about speed, about getting to a finish line before anyone else. In the Scripture, it’s about perseverance. It’s about making our drive, our service as a disciple of Jesus Christ thrive all the way to the end. No sin, fear, worry, age, disease, lack of confidence in personal abilities should weigh us down from running with all that we have to give. That’s the thing with this race of a faith journey that lasts a lifetime: we’re not running from anything. We’re not running from the devil, from evil, from ourselves even with our past mistakes. Jesus already took care of that. We’re not meant to look back to the point that it affects how much we keep going forward in joy and thanksgiving. Through the resurrection Jesus has set us free to run, run all the way to the end and beyond.
That doesn’t mean we won’t need some help along the way, not simply from the cloud of witnesses surrounding us in the crowds, including our faith coaches, family, and friends. We’ll need some nourishment with water, dipping into our baptism all the way from the starting line, that made us active participants in this family in Christ as children of God. We’ll also need the gifts from God of bread and wine as the Son’s body and blood, broken and shed for us. We’ll take all the help we can get, especially from Jesus Christ Himself. This race of a faith journey wouldn’t be happening at all without Him.
The writer of Hebrews describes our Lord as a “pioneer, the perfecter of our faith.” He is our true pioneer of this life, because He’s been through it all before. He’s been through the anguish, the turmoil and ridicule, and ended it all with a miracle that shapes this race we call life thousands of years later. We don’t have to run a certain speed. We don’t have to take the exact same path. Regardless of how it’s done, Jesus runs alongside us as the Holy Spirit. He remains beside us through every step, every moment, every breath, all the way to the end and beyond.
And yes, He is most certainly the “perfecter of our faith.” That means we don’t have to be. We don’t have to run this race of a faith journey perfectly. We will fall along the way. We will step in other people’s paths. We will mess up from time to time, to be sure. Nevertheless, Jesus will be right there to pick us up each and every time: through bread and wine, through water on our forehead, through a great cloud of witnesses. We are not meant to run this life-long journey alone. That was never part of God’s plan when we were claimed out of the waters of baptism and set free from the starting line. We’re running in a cloud engulfing us with love and compassion, and we can never escape it. God will not have it any other way. Our soul will run with all we have to give because of that amazing grace, and Jesus will be right there all the way to the end and for what lies beyond that finish line. And for that Greatest News of all time, we give thanks to God indeed! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon