Summary: Delivered March 1986. To run this race of life and faith, you need worthy role models, you need to rid yourself of destructive habits, and you need the pacesetter, Christ.
Beneath this bulky middle-aged body and especially beneath the generous folds of this preaching robe, there beats the heart of a runner, a racer. Surprise, surprise, you never knew that, did you? But it's true. Inside this fleshy disgrace to the human race there lies buried somewhere the soul of a fleet-footed runner, ready to break all records, prepared to dash to victory, eager to wear the winner's garland, and to stand in the full glare of Olympic lights. A runner, a racer.
I say the heart is there, the dream is there, it’s just the body that’s missing, and certainly also the athletic ability. What I may fantasize and what I can do are two entirely, totally different things. Most of you know the old story of Walter Mitty, who dreamed of being and doing a hundred different exciting things, but who in reality lived a dull, drab, dusty life of nothingness. Now I would hardly describe what I do do as dull, dusty, and drab, but it isn't running. Like Walter Mitty, I may dream of four-minute miles and of Boston marathons, but the truth is that I can scarcely run faster than a glacier. The truth is that only with difficulty can I outrun your pet turtle. The truth is, whatever my dreams and visions, that I am a non-athlete, a total non-athlete. Can't run, can't hit, can't catch, can't do anything but turn the channel selector to a sports station and sit there and dream, dream, dream.
Now one of the reasons – and I assure you there are many – but one of the reasons that I don't outrun anything faster than molasses in January is that I will not pay the price of getting down to a decent racing weight. I will not pay the price demanded of refusing those desserts or staying out of the fast-food houses or telling Estelle Frank to keep her delicious fudge at home. I won't do those things, and therefore I do not get down to racing weight. And that's important. If you want to race, you don't carry around excess baggage, you get down to racing weight.
In just about six weeks we Kentuckians will be glued to our TV sets, getting all nostalgic and misty-eyed, because it will be Derby Day. And when the run for the roses comes up, one thing that has to be watched very, very carefully is the weight of the jockeys. Horseracing is the only sport I know of where it is a distinct advantage to be just as small and as light as you can be; you don't want to burden down the horse with useless weight. You want to get down to racing weight.
Now the author of Hebrews sees Christian discipleship like a race. His picture is that you and I come at the end of a long line, a long history of spiritual athletes. And thus we are called to run a spiritual race, we are called to follow the examples of faith set before us, and we are to run. For him, the life of Christian faith is not a matter of sitting in the rocking chairs, watching the world go by, hanging on to our tickets to heaven, and saying, "In the sweet by and by I'll get mine" Not at all, not at all. For the author of Hebrews, the only way you can live the life of faith is to race, to run, to persevere. The only way the life of faith can be lived out is to hustle and struggle, to get down to racing weight and then to move, to march, to go forward. "Let us run with perseverance that race that is set before us."
About this business of getting down to racing weight, in the first place, Hebrews suggests to us that getting down to racing weight means getting some decent heroes and heroines to serve as role models. If we are going to run the spiritual race with perseverance, if we are going to have the motivation to get down to racing weight, then we need to select some role models that are worthy of imitation.
"Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight". The great cloud of witnesses he refers to, of course, are all those saints of faith named in the previous chapter of Hebrews: men and women of Israel's history – Abraham, Sarah, Noah, Moses, Rahab, on and on and on – all those who had lived with continuing faith and who had in the midst of whatever adversity had come on them gone on to live in faith. Role models, people worthy of imitation, people who will get you down to racing weight.
I am always a bit amused and also a bit dismayed by those lists that come out every now and again of the most admired people in the country or in the world. They go around and ask folks, "What ten women do you admire the most?" And while a Mother Teresa may make the list, while an occasional scientist or academic leader may show up, more often than not we admire, or say we do, people from entertainment, rock stars, movie idols, soap opera players – role models all of them. And it seems as though what we are saying is that we'd like to look like they look, we'd like to be as svelte and sassy and, yes, sexy as they are. They look so sleek. They look like they're down to racing weight, don't they?