Sermon February 18, 2018 First Sunday in Lent Scripture: Romans 3: 21-26; 5:1-5; 8: 31-39
The Gift of Grace by Rev. June Fothergill
Mark Twain once said, “ Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” ( p. 330 1001 Quotes, Illustrations and Humorous Stories ed. Edward K. Rowell)
I also heard the other day that a Miwaukee minister declared that there were 947 sings and was besieged for copies of the list! (p. 42 An Encyclopedia of Humor, ed. Lowell D. Streiker)
Paul says in vs. 21 But now apart from law the righteousness of God has been disclosed and is attested by the law and the prophets the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
Sometimes people view religion as a list of do’s and don’ts, if we just follow the rules, then everyone will be all right. Yet, this creates problems, as Paul very well knew. One is that few of us can successfully keep all the rules all the time, even if we have a list! Trying to live by a list of do’s and don’ts opens us up to the reality of hypocrisy on the one hand and self righteousness on the other. Either way we are far from the right relationship with God the rules promised.
Paul would not say that there is no place for what he calls the law- the ways of life developed by his people over the centuries to help the community stay in touch with God and their roots of history and faith. He knew the value of these to teach us about what God wants from us. He proclaimed in synagogue after synagogue and here in Romans that the story of Jesus and the salvation he brings is rooted in those very scriptures. Yet, the righteousness of God is now available to us all in a new way- trust in Jesus and his story of salvation- his life death and resurrection. Believe in Jesus Paul urges and you will know the righteousness of God, you will be in right relationship with God.
Vs. 22 For there is no distinction since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;
This is a summary of the previous chapters where Paul spells out the ways that the world is trapped by sin and alienated from God. Another school shooting this week reminds us how far our own society is from God. Every society has conflicts and struggles with violence in various ways but our society is well known for more mass shootings than other places where they have more restrictions on guns. Over the last several decades we have also eroded funding for our mental health facilities across the country. What is truly sacred? This one example reminds us that we as a society are still far from God. We too have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Even if I manage to keep every commandment and live a godly life, I am still part of a society where mass shooting happen. Even if I try to root out all the prejudices in my own heart and work each day to live in recovery, I still live in a society which discriminates based upon skin color. Even if I lived a saintly life, it will be darn hard not to slip into some spiritual pride about it!
So Paul says to us all- we are all in the pit, we are all ship wrecked and in need of God. In this truth we stand with all of humankind. But we are not without hope.
For Paul goes on to say that the ones who fall short or the glory of God ( us all) .Vs. 23 They are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood effective through faith.
The answer to our dilema of sin and a sinful world is the gift of God’s grace through the story of Jesus Christ. This happens not through adhering to certain do’s and don’ts or religious practices but through faith in Jesus. We are simply invited to believe in Jesus, to accept this gift of forgiveness and right relationship God offers us. The term Paul uses is that we are justified through faith in Jesus. Justified means to be rightly alyned. Another way one commentator puts it- we are offered friendship with God. God through Jesus Christ poured out this offer but does not coerce any one to accept it.
I think about the experience Paul himself had. He was riding along prepared to persecute the followers of Jesus but he is blinded by a light, sees and hears a vision of Jesus and goes helplessly in to the town. He had a choice. He could have not welcomed Ananias and stayed blind and in despair at how he had hurt Jesus. Instead he chose to accept the grace of Christ and the healing through Ananias. I think about Frances’s story. She could have chosen to reject the caring doctor and stay angry and hateful about her situation. Instead she welcomed him and was able to hear the good news that even though she couldn’t walk at that point, even though her father had died, she was still a person of value and worth- bring on the puzzles and books! In both of our stories of grace this morning there is a point where God offers the reassurance, the gift, of forgiveness and righted relationship. And the person chooses to say yes to God.
Throughout all of Romans I hear Paul proclaiming to the world- say yes to God. God has offered to everyone the opportunity for a right relationship with God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just trust this, believe it, grab the rope from the pit of sin it provides, the life raft on the sea. Paul great insight and hope is that this salvation of grace is for all people. NO matter what your background or previous experience, we are each capable of saying yes to faith in Jesus the Christ. I notice that there are two things that get in the way:
1. When we think that we don’t need it. When we fail to recognize the sin in ourselves and our world or we have a faith practice that is currently meeting our spiritual needs. The conviction of sin has been one of the main ways the church has evangelized. If we just make people feel bad about their sinfulness then they will turn to Jesus and convert. Paul’s approach certainly supports this approach. The problem is that sometimes the preachers forgot that they too were in the pit and in need of grace. The sin of spiritual pride and self righteousness is very close at hand in this approach. So how important it is to recognize our need for God, for salvation and healing.
One way of thinking about is to imagine inviting Jesus into our house/lives. We easily welcome him into some areas of our lives but there may be other area that we keep closed off to ourselves and to God’s grace, forgiveness and healing. In our practice of lent we will have communion each Sunday, thus we will have opportunities to give more and more of ourselves, to welcome God’s grace, forgiveness and healing into more of our house.
A second barrier to faith in Jesus I have noticed is in some ways the flip side of the first. We have troubles accepting the grace Christ offers us when we think that we don’t deserve it. When we think that somehow we are unworthy of this gift of grace. I remember a man in the first church I served who was faithful to church every Sunday but never took communion. I finally asked him about it and he confessed that he just didn’t feel worthy, he couldn’t be sure that there wasn’t some sin in his life that made him unfit. I hope I helped him hear the good news that we don’t have to be perfect persons to come to communion. IN fact, we come as Paul says recognizing we are all in need of the forgiveness and healing Christ offers. Yet, this amazing grace is often hard for people to accept. They have been told by others so many times they are unworthy and worthless that they can’t quite accept what Christ offers. Hopefully, our witness and caring as a community of faith can help one another say Yes to Jesus.
I close with a story about the gift of grace I heard from the pastor at a church in Nashville that served the indigent and homeless in the down town. The pastor there emphasized to many of the homeless and struggling parishioners that they are Children of God, beautiful to behold. They made it a practice to say this each Sunday to each other in the liturgy. One woman who was a prostitute came to the church and had a conversion experience. With the help of the church she worked to turn her life around and serve Jesus. But one night the pastor got a call from the emergency room. Her parishioner was there. She had been beaten and raped. She looked a mess. As they talked and shared the trauma and sorrow of what had happened, at one point the women got up, looked herself in the mirror and declared firmly- “ I am a child of God and Yes- I am beautiful to behold!”
Sermon February 25, 2018 Lent 2 “ Love Divine” by Rev. June Fothergill
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12: 4-12 ; 13:1-8a
Pastor Denning was talking to the 8 year olds’ Sunday School class about things money can’t buy…. It can’t buy love.” Driving this point home, he said, “ What would you do if I offered you a thousand dollars not to love your parents?” A few moments of silence ensued while the boys and girls mulled this over. Then a small voice demanded, “ How much would you give me not to love my big sister?” ( p. 65 AnEncyclopedia of Humor ed. Lowell D. Streiker)
The church in Corinth centuries ago also struggled with loving each other. Corinth was a busy, diverse commercial center. Many of the converts to Christianity had recently been pagan worshipers of the many temples in the city. Some of them had been part of the Jewish synagogue with deep root s in Jewish culture and morality. Some were God worshipers who had learned about God from the synagogue but were Greek in background and culture. Some were slaves, some were high born. They were a diverse, lively bunch. And they had lots of conflicts. In this letter, we see Paul writing to them about some of them.
These letters are primary documents because they come from the timeframe about which they are writing. And in this case we don’t have the letters the churches wrote to Paul and likely this letter we have today is made up of several smaller letters. Even so, what a wonderful glimpse we get in to the life and struggles of one of the first churches. This letter of Paul’s goes from eloquent phrases to practical advice. He clearly cares about these folks and wants them to live out their faith in harmony and love. So he offers them some ways to think about their life together. The passage in chapter 12 offers them and us images and ideas that help us both value our diversity and stay unified in Christ Jesus: Many gifts ,One spirit; the Body of Christ. These ideas still reverberate with us today in our diverse world. But then Paul caps it off with this famous passage about love.
By love, Paul uses the Greek work agape. In Greek there are several words we translate as love. There is eros, the romantic love between individuals. There is philia, the love between friends. But agape is the word used to describe the love God has for creation- for us. One way I learned to think of this love is that it is offered unconditionally for the benefit of the one loved.
So first of all Paul says that Love ( Agape) is the central thing needed for all the other gifts to be meaningful- without it they are nothing. In Chapter 8, Paul is a little blunter when he says,” Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.” Paul has seen how easy it is to get self righteous, even prideful about our spiritual gifts or our talents and skills. Love reminds us to do no harm and to see our gifts and contributions not in terms of our own benefit or egos but for how they can help others or the community. Love, compassion for others can help us use our gifts well. One negative example was the cultural blindness that some early missionaries had about Native Americans. They thought that evangelization meant making people like themselves rather than looking with the eyes of love at how God valued the Native American persons and their culture.
Paul tells us to put love first and then the other things will fall into their proper places in the diversity of the Body of Christ. But what characterizes this love? There are many places in scripture that talk about love but in the next part of this passage Paul attempts to list some of its real life attributes.
2. Paul lists: patience, kindness, lack of envy arrogance boastfulness or rudeness. Love does not insist on its own way. ( humility) is not irritable or resentful. ( doesn’t focus on wrongs) does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth.
Like any list, this one can feel both overwhelming and inadequate. We know that love’s attributes cannot be contained in any list, but also that we ourselves can’s even come close to living day by day all of those characteristics. One of the ones I have trouble with is “Love is not irritable.” I don’t know about you but there are many times when I am irritable about something that has happened in my life or I just get enough sleep, etc. What about you? Is there an attribute of love that you struggle with in your life? What are we do about this? We want to love God and one another. We believe with Paul that love is the best way. But his list challenges us. It takes loving from a lofty idea to day to day practical things like patience and kindness.
I suggest that this list is a guide not to shame us, but to inspire us. Paul is very aware that few of us ever live up to the list, but he tells the Corinthians- strive for this. Seek to live this way. God have already given you the Spirit, God’s salvation and love in Jesus Christ. You have God as a resource to grow in this day to day loving. One thing I often tell people getting married is what when you reach the end of your love rope, when you just can’t find it inside to love your partner- reach for God’s love for you and for your partner. That love is deep and wide enough for everyone!
For example. One of the ways I tend to drop out of love, is when I get frustrated with someone on the phone- usually some poor anonymous person. I can get irritable, arrogant and resentful oh and yes rude. After wards I often feel ashamed of myself. So I can seek God’s forgiveness and ask God’s help to treat people with such phone jobs with more love and courtesy. One thing that helped me was when I thought of the person as being like my son or my husband. If I find myself being irritable a lot, then I may need to find some more help to deal with the hurt and anger in my life. One time I chose to go to a counselor for awhile because of hurt inside from experiences of betrayals of trust.
This list is not meant to become a stone thrown at anyone. Rather it is a guide for us to orient our lives and seek ways let love flow in our lives.
Finally Paul asserts that love is strong: bears all things, believes, hopes, endures, Love never ends. Paul affirms that love is the most powerful force in the world. It overcomes hopelessness, despair, lack of faith and cannot be stopped. Everything else will have an end point but because love is of God, love is eternal. So, when we chose to seek love, to make love the center of our lives, we are connecting with something strong and deep and eternal. We are participating is something bigger than ourselves but also affirming of our lives. We are able to share something that matters in our world.
Paul is writing these words to a group of Christians who are in conflict. They have disagreement about many things. They have been trying to compete from who has the power and influence, who is the best. But Paul tells them that the greatest, most important thing they can strive for is the most humble- love. When love flows in a community then there is healing, there is growth; there is meaning and purpose and peace. This is what Paul believes and is trying to share with a church he loves.
I ran across an example of this strong, eternal love in action this week in a book by an Oncologist. In a chapter called, “ Making Caring Visible” Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen tells of a ritual she recommends for her cancer patients before they start treatments. They are invited to invite any close friends or family to join them in a circle. The patient is invited to bring a stone they can hold in their hand to the meeting. Each caring person is invited to share a story of their own about getting through a rough time as they hold the patient’s stone. Then they think of one personal quality they think helped them through that difficult time. When they have named the quality of their strength they speak directly to the person preparing for treatment saying, “ I put determination or whatever the quality is- in this stone for you.” After all have spoken the stone is given back to the person going for treatment or surgery. She discovered that this simple ritual and symbol was a great source of strength and comfort to her patients and those who cared for them. ( Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Naomi Remen p.151)
I appreciate this picture of love in action, of how we can share our stories of love and resilience and help one another- as Paul would say build up one another.
I invite you to think of a message that has strengthened your ability to love and care for yourself and others and write that message on the heart provided. For example, one I have received through church and family is: God is love and loves you deeply. Another is: You don’t have to do it all alone.
Then look around the room and listen for someone to give that love note to this morning. Who would appreciate or benefit from it or who is God nudging you to give that note to? We will have a passing of the peace time at the end of our service in which you can give your note to someone. If you would rather take your love note home or don’t feel moved today to send a love note, that’s OK.
Let’s take a moment to listen to God’s love in our hearts and what love message we might want to share with someone today.
March 4, 2018 Lent 3 Set Free by Rev. June Fothergill
Scripture: Galatians 4: 1-7; 5: 13-14, 22-23
A little boy and his grandmother were walking along the seashore when a huge wave appeared out of nowhere and swept the child out to sea. The grandmother, horrified falls to her knees and says, “God please return my beloved grandson. Please, I beg you. Send him back safely.” And, lo another huge wave washed in and deposited the little boy on the sand at her feet. She picked him up, looked him over and looking up at the sky said, “He had a hat.”
(Pretty Good Joke Book, p.12)
In this letter to the Galatians it is clear that Paul is upset. He writes right at the beginning vs. 6 “ I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you into the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel. “ vs. 9 “if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received let that one be accursed. He is worried that the people will return to a law/ rules based faith rather than one open to the grace of Christ and the gift of God’s Spirit. 4: 8 “Formerly when you did not know God you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. Now however that you have come to know God or rather to be known by God how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved again? … I am afraid my work for you may have been wasted”
Paul is concerned that the people in Galatia are falling back into slavery to paganism and to the Jewish law. He seems to be particularly concerned about folks who are teaching that everyone needs to be circumcised and therefore follow all the Jewish laws. He was concerned also that doing this could lead those who had been pagan back to trying to merit salvation as if God needed to be appeased like the elemental spirits or pagan gods had. Thinking of their faith as something that involved following the “right actions” in order to have God love them is a false gospel to Paul. Instead he tells them- this may be what it was like before Jesus but with the coming of Jesus the Christ- we are all redeemed- set free from slavery to such practices. It is God who makes us his children and heirs because of Jesus. This freedom is both a calling and a gift. He tells them – it is God’s spirit at work in you which will allow you to live with love etc.
So, Paul’s insight is that freedom is a gift of God through the redemptive action of Jesus on the cross; a gift which gives us our identity as Children of God and Heirs to God’s kingdom. This gift of grace is what makes us free, saved persons. Paul is appealing to the Galatians to trust this act of God. Don’t fall back into slavery he warns several times. Trust in what God has done for you in Christ Jesus. This faith is what defines who you are- not a lot of rules and regs or cultural practices. You are free to be a Child of God! An Heir to God’s way.
This still matters to us today because we still have many pushes and pulls from our culture that want to define us, to tell us who we are and often to enslave us. Some of these are what I would characterize as negative enslavement- addictions to substances or activities that cause us to focus on these rather than the people around us and thus causing harm to us and our relationships. Or ideas that we have learned from oppressive or traumatic experiences that tell us we are worthless or have to live in fear. Then there are also the rather more socially acceptable enslavements- when we think that we are worthwhile because of our wealth or talents or social position and worry when something threatens them. We can be enslaved to keeping up a certain self image- what we want to be or pretend to be. We may not see any harm to these more socially acceptable kinds of slavery but sometimes we notice that they have little meaning and our lives are hollow and often lonely. Paul understood the trap of thinking that doing certain socially accepted things like being circumcised or attending a certain church or owning a home or joining a certain group will save us, will give us right relationship with God.
I remember a parishioner in Canyonville. Before he got involved with the church he had a spiritual awakening at a management seminar. Something they did there opened him up to the truth that he was a Child of God. That his worth came from God alone. After he returned home he looked for a community of persons, who could help him understand what this insight meant in his life. He found us and joined our Disciple Bible class. His experience of Christ’s acceptance of him freed him to grow in faith and life.
It is trusting in Jesus and his act of redemption that puts us in right relationship with God and this is God’s gift to us! This is what will free you from whatever enslaves you! Accept it! Paul urges the Galatians and all of us ever since!
It seems like that the church and generations go through different cycles. Sometimes the church or religious community emphasizes the rules- you know sermons on how to live the good life or what morals you need to practice and what rules will make your life better. When I read the old church disciplines I run into some of this thinking: rules about what to wear, what to do or not do in your recreation time (no to cards and dancing later movies). The idea was that all these restrictions would lead to people living pure, faithful lives and be a good example to others. But as we look at it today, we notice how restrictive and sometimes even silly the rules seem. Where was the love?
But on the other hand today, it can seem to many that today there are no rules that anything goes. Paul was aware of how we can also fall into the second libertine option. So he is clear with the Galatians that trying to set up and follow a bunch of rules won’t save them but that the gift of freedom in Christ is also a calling.
5: 13-14 “ For you were called to freedom brothers and sisters only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self indulgence, But through love become slaves/servants to one another. Law summed up in Love your neighbor as yourselves. Vs. 16a live by the Spirit
Earlier in chapter 4 he has said that when we accept the gift of Christ for our lives, 4:6 “because we are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying Abba Father.”
God makes us his children through Jesus redemptive actions and then sends the Spirit into our lives to connect us with God. It is in this Spirit Paul encourages us to live. He goes on to say that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. In contrast to live in the flesh or away from God’s spirit leads to acts of lust, anger, greed, disharmony, drunkenness, etc.
One way of thinking about it is that Paul recognizes that we are freed for a purpose. We are freed by Christ to grow in love, and openness to the Spirit of God in our lives. Thus, we can turn away from the things that would entrap and harm us and others and be freed to turn toward those that would build up and bring meaning and love to our lives. Christ frees us to love- self, God, others, world!
Dr.Remen tells the story of a man who was struggling with cancer who “in his morning meditation had a simple thought, I am me” which was followed by a profound sense of peace and an unfamiliar acceptance of himself as he is. “ He was surprised. He had been an executive who compared himself with other men: “Are they ahead of me in Forbes? Do they sit on more powerful boards? Are they smarter? Sexier? Do they have more hair? “This gift of realizing he was a unique person, as he put it “I am handmade” led him to let go of the need to compare, it helped him to appreciate the uniqueness of each person he met. He may not have thought of his insight as spiritual but it was. He’d realized his child of God nature and it freed him to be more loving and respectful of others and himself. (P.286 Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Naomi Remen)
How do we experience this gift and call to freedom in Christ? We start by being open to it. It may come through an insight in a time of struggle or a message at a management seminar or a sermon or during prayer or when we talk with a close friend. God is always offering us this gift and calling of freedom through Jesus Christ.
One old hymn gives this guidance,” take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.” Whatever is in the way of your relationship with Christ- whatever is keeping you enslaved- give it to the Lord. Bring it to this communion table and leave it there. Trust that God will free you- has freed you through the cross of Jesus. And that God/ Spirit/ Christ wants to walk with you! As Paul puts it- you can call out Abba Father and God will be there for you- Spirit in your spirit!
Sermon March 11, 2018 Lent 4 “ Trusting in Jesus” Rev. June Fothergill
Scripture: Hebrews 11: 1-3, 23-33; 12: 1-2
Rubem Alves was a man of faith who experienced persecution in his home country of Brazil when it was under military dictatorship. As a young student of theology at Campinas, Brazil in the 1950s, he joined a group of fellow seminarians “spending their summer vacation,” in his words, “as industrial workers in a factory in Vila Anastácio, São Paulo. The experience was inspired by the worker priests in France who stopped expecting that factory workers would come to church, and decided to meet them where they lived and worked. Later he became one of the scholars who founded the liberation theology movement in Latin America. When he died in 2014 at age 80, Rev. Sonia Gomes Mota who had known him as a girl as her pastor wrote,
“ He was not interested in giving us moral lessons or transmitting the absolute and indisputable truth. As a good theologian, philosopher and educator, he was more interested in making us think, reflect and question the immutable truths of theology and urged us to envision new possibilities and new ways of living our faith. Rubem led us to deserts and invited us to be gardeners and planters of hope.” ( Theodore Gill, “ The Ecumenical Movement Remembers Rubem Alves” www.oikoumene.org)
I think of the writer of Hebrews as someone like Rubem Alves, writing to bring encouragement and hope, to strengthen the faith of his people. To me it reads like a sermon written and then passed around to different churches who were experiencing troubles with persecution, attrition, even dissension. Hebrews seeks to convey the experience of and the truth about Jesus the Christ and the connection between Jesus and the long rich tradition of the Hebrew faith and scriptures. Like most sermons, there are places where I personally get bogged down and then there are the gems that shine brightly. For me, the two verses at the beginning of chapter `12 are one of the gems I want to look at them more closely. What does it mean that Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith?
Hebrews has just recited a list of many of the heroes of faith in the scriptures and the history of the congregations. All these lived by faith and many suffered for their faith. The writer reminds us that these folks are still part of our lives as a great cloud of witnesses. Their memory can encourage and strengthen us to continue our own course in faith. As the writer says, “ To run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” Many times in Hebrews the author extols the people to not give up, to not slide back into unbelief. Hang onto your faith! “ Run the race set before you with your eyes on Jesus.!”
Jesus is the pioneer of our faith. This word translated at “ pioneer” in our pew Bibles also means leader or founder; the one at the head of the line. I like the idea of pioneer because it reminds me that Jesus has gone before us. He is someone we can follow who understands our human lives. Hebrews calls Jesus our High Priest, 4:15-16 “ For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Jesus goes before us in suffering and understands our sufferings.
Yet, how can Jesus be our leader? How can we keep our eyes on Him? I ran across a statement from the famous evangelist Dwight L Moody. “ I prayed for faith and thought that some day faith would come down and strike me like lightning. But faith did not seem to come. One day I read in the tenth chapter of Romans, “ now faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” I had closed my Bible and prayed for faith. I now opened my Bible and began to study and faith has been growing ever since.” ( p. 58 1001 Quotes…) We cannot keep out eyes on Jesus unless we are willing to learn about him, to study and know Him. The scriptures are the basic resource for this. They tell us stories about his life, stories he told and the reflections like Hebrews and Paul’s letters of those who experienced him and his salvation before us. Jesus is the leader of our faith-we discover faith when we keep our eyes on him.
Also Jesus is the perfecter of our faith. Jesus brings our faith to full maturity and completeness. Hebrews asserts that Jesus does this first and foremost by being the ultimate, complete sacrifice. 7:27 “ Unlike the other high priests ( those of the temple and the law) he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day first for his own sins and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself.” There is no need for more. Jesus is the completion of God’s salvation of the world.
Therefore Hebrews asserts – Jesus is also the perfecter of our faith- Jesus will help us to a mature faith, a wholeness of life. This way to a mature faith and wholeness of life is a path that Jesus has gone on before us and Hebrews reminds us that it involves suffering. Suffering for the writer of Hebrews has a purpose, to help us grow in maturity of faith. Hebrews says in vs. 2:10 “ It was fitting that God for whom and through whom all things exist in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”
Remember, the folks for whom this letter was written suffered many persecutions and injustices because of their faith or were concerned that they might. These concerns could become a source of bitterness or turning from the faith or by following Jesus they could grow in maturity of faith and love through them. Hebrews says- this is a tough race, but keep your eye of Jesus! He was made perfect/ whole complete in suffering and so can you. Stick with Jesus and he will be the perfecter of your faith!
I remember a friend of mine in San Francisco who had an experience like this. She had a terrible back problem and had to have surgery which required her to be flat on her back for several months. She told me it was torture until she realized that this suffering had in it an opportunity to learn to pray. She used the time when she could not next to nothing as time to commune with Christ and growth in her faith. When I knew her she was one of the most joyous and mature Christians I had ever known.
Finally, this passage ends with a description of Jesus journey. Where does the race of faith in Jesus lead us and him? “ Who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross ,disregarding its shame and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” Ultimately, Hebrews proclaims, it is a journey to joy! To the joy of knowing and loving God and being loved and known by God. It is a journey of faith that does not turn away from suffering but recognizes that with the love and help of Christ, we can be lead to a life with joy, meaning and love. We can grow to maturity of faith, to know the wholeness Christ offers us through his acts of sacrifice and salvation. The final destination of the race o ( or in my case the walk) of faith Hebrews assures us is joy. I like the way Rubem Alves puts it “ Hope is hearing the melody of the future. Faith is to dance to it.” (p. 58 1001Quotes and Illustations, ed. Edward. K. Rowell.)