I’ve watched the Olympics almost every evening this week. I have an excuse: Pastor Missy and I are preaching a sermon series based on the Olympics. Each week we are reflecting on what the Olympics remind us about life and the Christian faith.
So far, I’ve seen incredible athletic ability and fortitude as competitors have pushed their bodies to their limits.
I’ve also seen athletes push themselves so hard that they give out. As I write this, Simone Biles, perhaps one of the greatest gymnasts ever, has withdrawn from the team competition. An unfortunate truth about life (and faith) is that we can grow so tired and weary that we have nothing more to give.
The writer of what we call the Letter to the Hebrews knows that. (Fun Fact #1: Hebrews is not a letter; it’s a sermon. Fun fact #2: It’s not written to Hebrews; it’s written to Jewish Christians. Fun fact #3: It wasn’t written by Paul; it’s author is known only to God.) The writer addresses a congregation that had “grown weary and lost heart (Hebrews 12: 3).” They were tired and ready to abandon both their church and the Christian faith.
Rather than tell the hearers to buckle down and try harder; rather than tell them to have a little more faith; rather than tell them to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps,” a physical impossibility; the writer of Hebrews tells them (and us) to look in two directions. First, toward Jesus – “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Second, toward our “cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1)” – those people both living and dead who have lived loving, faithful lives.
As you prepare for worship this week, I encourage you to reflect on Christ and your own “cloud of witnesses.” First, how has Christ touched your life? What does it mean to trust that you are God’s beloved child? When you remember that you are loved by God, how does that strengthen your soul?
Second, reflect on your own “cloud of witnesses” – those people who have loved you, cared for you, and made you who you are. Who are they? How have they blessed your life? Whether they live in your own house, on the other side of the country, or have passed from this life and now are alive with God in heaven, they continue to speak to our lives. How do their lives and examples encourage and strengthen you to “run the race set before you”?