Summary: Sermon focuses on four items that will help us in our spiritual training to reach God’s Kingdom
The Christmas season is upon us and in just a few weeks time we will all be opening presents and hopefully spending quality time with our families. We have much to be thankful about. We are fortunate that we can freely worship in our country. We are also grateful for the many rights and personal freedoms that our government protects. Our personal freedom and rights, however, came with a price. Forty-four hundred Americans in the American Revolutionary War made the ultimate sacrifice to secure for us the freedoms we have today.
Our faith is also built upon the suffering and trials of the small minority of prophets, martyrs, and saints that believed in the coming Messiah. In today’s epistle reading from Hebrews 11:33 – 12:2, we pay tribute to the forefathers that paved the way for coming of our Lord. More important is that these men and women of faith serve as our guide and encourage us to race towards Christ and receive that promise that waits. Looking at today’s scripture, we see a long litany of trials that ancient kings, prophets, and people of faith suffered to prepare the way for coming Lord. We learn about God’s Old Testament saints that were hunted, mocked, thrown to the lions, thrown into raging fire, and even sawn in two (Isaiah). While God delivered some of these saints, others bore the marks of torture and were killed. Despite their trials, the Old Testament saints never received what was promised in their lifetime – they died before being delivered by Christ. These Old Testament forefathers in many ways are similar to our fallen soldiers who perish before the outcome of a battle or war is decided. They remained steadfast and faithful through adversity and died before God’s promise to them could be fulfilled.
Today, we have received the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus Christ gives us full access to the Kingdom of God. Even though the doors of the Kingdom are open, we see a world that can care less whether it gains access. Instead, our world races off to find worldly pleasure in the latest fad, lust, or delight that can satisfy its most instant desire. In retrospect, perhaps this is why many people sarcastically equate the world’s folly as the “Rat Race of Life.” The Rat Race of Life is a product of our unwillingness to be patient and truly experience life and God’s creation. Fast food, instant coffee, remote controls, audio books, express checkouts, and speed dating are indicating that our culture cannot wait on anything. Not only do we want instant service, but also we’ve become impatient with others and cannot comprehend why complex personal problems cannot be solved within the time span of the average sitcom. The Rat Race of Life is a 100-yard dash to the finish line where winners have the most toys, travel the greatest distances, know the most people, and exert the most influence. The Rat Race of Life feels terrible. It is like being eternally cast in the game show “Supermarket Sweep” and where we are called upon to scoop the most groceries into our carts before time runs out. Being caught up on the Rat Race of Life tires the body, dulls our minds, and deadens the soul.
The Rat Race of Life certainly stimulates our basic senses, but it leaves the soul impoverished. Just as fast food satisfies the body’s hunger, fast food does not nourish the body. Our bodies ultimately need nourishment to maintain a high level of efficiency – they do not need junk food. The Rat Race of Life is the junk food of the soul. More stuff is not better. Instead, better is better. Let me explain. When athletes train for an important contest, they want to maximize every aspect of their training. They adhere to strict diets, exercise important muscle groups, get proper instruction, and alter their workouts to allow their bodies to recuperate. The Rate Race of Life is not the type of contest our Lord wants us to enter because it is an undisciplined mob free-for-all. This is not our calling, this is not our game, and this is not our race. We can never win the Rat Race of Life.
Instead, St. Paul envisions the Christian lifestyle as a long-distance race to salvation. Here we find Jesus Christ at the finish line with his arms open wide welcoming us in to the blessedness of the Kingdom of God. According to St. Paul, Christians are engaged in marathon and we are to train appropriately. The Rat Race of Life has contestants grabbing haphazardly at trinkets on the “Supermarket Sweep” shelves. In contrast, the Christian marathon to salvation involves discipline, moral conviction, perseverance, consistency, and the ability to listen to advice. Our road to salvation is not easy and St. Paul gives us advice about four things that will help us in our spiritual training.