14 August 2022
Year C (Proper 15)
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Extra-Provincial Churches
Church of the Blessed Redeemer, Palm Bay
Grace Church, Port Orange
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
To stay the spiritual journey, follow Jesus, the perfect witness, who modeled perseverance for us.
A man was travelling down a long dirt road where at a crossroads he met a sage sitting quietly “Which way is success?” the man asked the sage. The bearded sage silently pointed him down the road to the right and the man, hoping to find quick and easy success rushed off down the dusty pot-holed path. Suddenly, the sage heard a loud “splat” down the road, after a few minutes the man limped back to the crossroads covered in mud, his clothes tattered. The man then repeated his question even louder “Which way is success?” and again the sage silently pointed down the same sandy path to the right. “Well… (Pause)…. okay then”… the man said somewhat frustrated and he headed on down the road again, slower this time but not too much later the Sage heard an ever louder “splat”. Crawling back on his hands and knees, bloody, tattered, and irate to the crossroads, the man screamed at the sage, “I asked you the way to find success, I followed them to a T and all I got was splat. This time TELL ME the way. After a long pause, the sage answered thoughtfully, “Success is right that way, just past the splat, you have to go through the splat to succeed.”
You have to go through the splat of life, the pot holes of rejection, hardships, and challenges to succeed. I know you all know that all too well. The spiritual journey, as we heard in our Epistle lesson this morning is like a long distance race, a marathon to be run through the splats of life.
Through the conflict which Jesus testifies we will experience when we choose to follow Jesus Christ the perfect Witness and to do the right thing. Jesus Christ. The perfect witness who modelled the importance of perseverance to live in closer relationship with God and each other, to complete our spiritual journey in spite of the splats of life.
The author of our Epistle lesson, who might be the apostle Paul, is writing to Jewish Christians in about 60 AD trying to encourage them and us almost 2000 years later to remain faithful to their decision to follow Jesus in the midst of their discouragement and demoralization. From being persecuted both socially and physically by both Romans and Jews.
Hear again what is written: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
No matter what splats we encounter in life the author reminds us that God has begun a good process in each one of us, for since we (or our parents) chose to follow Christ and we were baptized in water, dying and rising with Christ and anointed with oil, marked as Christ’s own forever on our foreheads. God has been at work in our hearts and in our spirits encouraging us to persevere along our spiritual journeys. To persevere means to continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty, even with little or no prospect of success. What we persevere at reveals our deepest desires and the key to carrying on, to persevere is to follow our Passion and as Christians our passion is a relationship with Jesus Christ, who in His passion lived out his ministry obediently and prayerfully, discerning how to rely upon God and to finish his earthly race through the trials of physical, emotional, and spiritual pain knowing the Father was always with him…
The Term Perseverance is noted only twice in the New Testament. We are to persevere in praying as we heard a few weeks ago Asking…. Seeking …. Knocking. Trusting that God will indeed reward our perseverance with grace and mercy. And then, in today’s Epistle lesson Perseverance is linked to running a race for and with Christ. Now many of us may never have identified ourselves as runners or even liked to run let alone competed in a real foot race. More likely many of us feel some days that “our get up and go has got up and went” but our Epistle lesson author reminds us we all are on a spiritual race, how will we finish our race of faith? Will we persevere or run off course or give up? Or will we have the wisdom to pause, reflect and renew our spiritual energy in Christ? And as followers of Christ who stand up for what is right
Jesus reminds us we will experience conflict both conflict with non-believers and conflict with other Christians believers especially over social issues.
It is all too human to get discouraged from time to time by the enormity of our circumstances, the lack of apparent movement forward, a sense of disconnection with God only to all back into the splat of our own wants and needs. But no matter where we are on the journey Christ, as we have sung today, goes before, beside, behind us to comfort and restore us!
Our author to the Letters of the Hebrews is a wise spiritual coach who shares four spiritual guidelines to help us persevere first of all, RECALL you and I are surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses. Imagine that you and I are all athletes, Olympians even encircled in a huge arena by all the saints who have gone before us. Saints that we celebrate on special days in the liturgical year and saints in our own lives who completed their own spiritual races, obediently, faithfully,
in spite of the obstacles they faced. Because remember as writer Robert Louis Stephenson penned, “Saints are sinners who kept on going” and those saints who kept on going are not spectators who merely observe as you walk, run, trudge, or skip through life but rather witnesses
folks who have experienced life as you may have and appreciate the blood, sweat, and tears in the spiritual journey.
The Cloud of Witnesses, the Communion of the Saints celebrate among us as we stand at the altar rail to receive Holy Communion root for us when we are on track, weep for us when we stumble, call for us to return when we wander, encourage us to live closer to God all the way to the finish line.
Secondly we are to remove what weighs us down so we can persevere like track stars, swimmers, and athletes who shed their warm-up gear before their race we too must lay aside that which weighs down our hearts and spirits. What might God be calling you to lay aside? Perhaps it is worry or fear which keeps you from seeing the beauty in life, feeling grateful, and experiencing God in the present. Or maybe it is unresolved anger which keeps you from forgiving others, or even yourself, and leaves you lacking compassion and drinking emotional battery acid which eats away at your spirit. Or better yet maybe God is calling you to let go of a fixed mindset that has seduced you into believing I am too old or too fixed in my ways, to allow God to ignite a new passion in me, to help me stretch and grow in new ways.
Whatever our sin is, and we all know we sin, we turn away from God toward ourselves, God is ready for us to turn back to God and to carry those sins for us. God is ready to forgive us of both what we have done, our Acts of arrogance and pride and what we have left undone. Our apathy and refusal to accept our responsibility to serve God, this church, and our neighbors. God invites us to let go and be healed of the conflicts between God and us, other people and ourselves and our internal conflicts between me, myself, and I.
Thirdly rely upon the strength within and among you to persevere as the going gets tough, the hills get higher, the miles drag on, rely upon what God has created and developed within and among us as we train together, worshipping, singing, studying, praying. As we patiently endure the race God calls us to change our focus from complaining about what we do not have to appreciating and celebrating what we do have. Inviting us to pray without ceasing for ourselves and each other, encourage others in the midst of life’s splats. Give ourselves generously even as the path ahead is unknown and that last spiritual guideline to perseverance.
And perhaps the most important is to remember who goes before us, Jesus, the perfect WITNESS, Jesus the pioneer who persevered in his passion to follow God, who prayed persistently to discern God’s will and to admit his own will choosing again and again to trust and follow God. Who drew near to God as he endured the pain on the cross both his own pain and those who loved him, who kept his eye on the prize, the joy promised at the end of his earthly race, the seat at the right hand of the Father in heaven.
Just as Christ looked to God, we are to look to Christ the leader, the perfect Witness who promises that He will be with us until the end, who offers us a chance for renewal and a chance to rely upon each other and God’s gifts. Remembering we are never alone surrounded by an enormous cloud of witnesses who have gone before us.
So this week as you walk through life and try to avoid the splats remember the blessing of these spiritual guidelines which rang true for the Jewish Christians in the first century and for us today:
RECALL and listen: the communion of saints is cheering you on, ask God to REMOVE your burdens and let Jesus carry your load, RELY upon Christ to guide you toward patient endurance
and REMEMBER you have a perfect Witness, Jesus who will be with you until the end. Let us keep running or walking together in faith, to eventually hear those precious words
Well done good and faithful servants.