When I hear the words of the second lesson, I can’t help but to think of the Olympics. One favorite moment was when the 1980 American hockey team took gold, but there was a huge build up there. More recently there was a moment that sort of slipped in. It was the women’s 100 meter freestyle of 2016 and I just so happened to be watching. The ending was improbable and completely unexpected. The announcers weren’t even acknowledging one US competitor. The Australian Campbell sisters and the Canadian, Penny Oleksiak, were supposed to be on the podium. I’m thinking NBC was taken by surprise and wasn’t planning on featuring this race because they weren’t expecting an American to do well. But then Simone Manuel swam the race of her life. She embodied the effort and the character that the Olympics have always represented for me. I watch the Olympics and I always think of the motto of the Olympics. Citius, Altius, Fortius. Faster, Higher, Stronger. I like to see someone, someone seemingly unassuming, that has simply come to give it their all in hopes of being the best on that day. They are not the ones that know they are the best but you can see that they want to be faster, higher and stronger, a little better each time. The motto is not fastest, highest strongest which would seem to be too assuming. I know everyone at the Olympics wants to win the gold but the ones that seem to come out of nowhere, like Minnie Pearl used to say, “that are just so proud to be there.” When they take the field and leave every ounce of themselves on it and they cross the line or touch the wall first, the look on their faces is unmistakable. They are victorious and they become racked with emotion. That was the case with Simone Manuel. She pushed herself to the limit and it was spectacular. She surged as others flagged at the end and I almost jumped off the bed. I was filled with awe and excitement. She was thrilled when she saw that she had placed by the little lights on her diving stand, but when she looked up and saw a 1 by her name I saw a range of emotion that made me so proud to be her fellow countryman. She didn’t care that she had tied and had to share the podium, she cared that she fulfilled the spirit of the Olympics, exceeded expectations, and overcame every obstacle, and that doing her very best, it made her the best on that day and in history. America cheered for her and they showed all the other swimmers in the locker room going crazy and cheering for her. It was a great moment for our country and an inspirational moment for all the young swimmers out there and it was an indescribably happy moment for Simone. That feeling, that feeling is what our second lesson is all about. The heroes of the faith, those that accomplished great things, those that endured terrible hardships, those that died for what they believed, those that made terrible decisions and mistakes but continued on, those that ran the race of a lifetime but went unnoticed and all of them witnessing you in your journey, pulling for you like the swimmers in the locker room and millions around the world. But this race is different. This is one of those races that might seem simple on its face, even really easy. The training plan is laid out in Hebrews: 1) lay aside the weight of sin. Gonna run a race, getting rid of weight will make it easier. Makes good sense, check. 2) Run the race before us by simply following Jesus (and he did it perfectly) so it will be a snap. Jesus laid out the parameters of the race. To run it perfectly all you have to do is: love everybody, every day all the time. That sounds like the easiest race ever,.that is until we step back and look at the course that is life and the real world. Annnnd until we read those few words near the end of the reading, the fine print as it were, “who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame.” Loving everyone proves to be much more difficult than we would like to think as we must take up our cross. It’s really more like the struggles on that Steve Austin Broken Skull Challenge. Very difficult and painful struggles against obstacles and other people that want to hate you or beat you. Think of your enemies in life, you know the ones that seem to really deserve not being liked. The ones the world tells us we have every right to hate, the ones for whom the justification is so clear or how about the ones that you are OK with but your family can’t stand or that your neighbors or friends hate. So often in this world people turn on and hate the people that care for the people that they hate or look down on or do not understand. That’s what happened to Jesus and that’s what the path, the race course looks like. The course that Jesus ran to victory was not an easy jaunt or a casual swim. He ran directly down through the valley of the shadow of death. His path was straight and unswerving. He ran to the tax collectors and loved them. He hurtled disease and fear and ran to the lepers and the diseased and the infirmed and loved them. He ran to the enemies of his people, the Samaritans, and he lifted them up as heroes in stories and he loved them. He ran to the sinful who were about to be stoned and he loved them. He ran to the widows, the orphans, the forgotten, the outcasts and he loved them. Finally, he ran to the cross to secure victory for all the other runners. Talk about not worrying about sharing or tying and he died there. He refused to avoid or claim a bye on the hardest obstacle. Instead he embraced it and even loved and forgave those (us) that put him there. Let’s face it, we don’t love like Jesus. It’s so much easier to run around the obstacles. But that is not the race before us. But there is assurance for us. Those heroes of the faith cheering us on….not one of them ran a perfect race. Some of them ran pretty pitiful ones. Yet, that is the beautiful thing about the one that secured victory for us. We are forgiven for our poor form, our mistakes and our obstacle dodging. So, if the race is already won, why run? Why put ourselves through it? Why endure the pain and heartache? The answer is thankfulness. The answer is love and compassion in the here and now for those who are suffering and who are unloved. That is how Jesus reaches out to the hurting of the world, with our hands. The thing that helped me to begin thinking about the Gospel for today was an article by Pastor David Sellery. In the Gospel Jesus talks about bringing division. Given all of the division brewing in our communities, nation and the world, it was not a Gospel that I looked forward to talking about, but his article helped me to look at it in a perspective I had never taken. Jesus did not ride in wagging his finger, encouraging us to kick butt and take names. He did not come in with “I told you sos” and harsh confrontation. What he did was to proclaim love and to love people. Pastor Sellery wrote, “And as Christ predicts, living in his love is not the end of turmoil. It is the beginning. Those who reject Jesus in their own lives often want to purge him from our, sometimes casually, sometimes actively… often violently. Sadly, too often, we Christians have a spotty record of meeting these challenges, exchanging blow for blow. Perhaps it’s an answer to some primal “us or them” reflex. Or perhaps, like Adam, we are tempted to usurp the powers of God. All of which flies in the face of Jesus’ very specific charge to build the kingdom by loving God and neighbor. In today’s context, he wants us to love and respect all of our neighbors… the believers and the nonbelievers. We are not latter day Pharisees spoiling for a fight over doctrine. Christ does not keep score by theological arguments won or by the relative size of our congregations. We are only responsible for serving him and proclaiming him. That means we love and forgive, and then love and forgive some more.” End quote. In closing it reminds me of the Light Brigade poem by Tennyson, “storm’d at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell” but instead of fighting with swords, cannons and weapons of destruction we should follow the advice of Albert Einstein. “It may not be possible in one generation to eradicate the combative instinct. It is not even desirable to eradicate it entirely. Men should continue to fight, but they should fight for things worthwhile, not for imaginary geographical lines, racial prejudices, and private greed draped in the colors of patriotism. Their arms should be weapons of the spirit, not shrapnel and tanks. Think of what a world we could build if the power unleashed in war were applied to constructive tasks! We must be prepared to make the same heroic sacrifices for the cause of peace that we make ungrudgingly for the cause of war. There is no task that is more important or closer to my heart. Nothing that I can do or say will change the structure of the universe. But maybe, by raising my voice, I can help the greatest of all causes— goodwill among men and peace on earth….
The Lord be with you. Let us pray. O God, judge eternal, you love justice and hate oppression, and you call us to share your zeal for truth. Give us courage to take our stand with all victims of bloodshed and greed, and, following your servants and prophets, to look to the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen….
Jesus delivers harsh words about the purifying and potentially divisive effects of obedience to God’s call. The way of the cross often leads followers to encounter hostility and rejection, even from those they love. The holy gospel is according to Saint Luke the 12th chapter. [Jesus said:] “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”