Let Us . . . (Hebrews 20:19-25)
If you’ve ever watched a marathon or a long bike race, you’ve probably noticed one runner or rider pulling ahead of the rest of the racers early on, maintaining for a long time an impressive lead over everyone else. “That’s the winner,” you might think. “There’s no way anybody can beat him (or her).” But then, as you continue to watch the race, near the end that lone athlete begins to lose the lead and eventually falls farther and farther back. The winner will be someone who likely was near the front, sometimes in the middle, but pulled ahead in the final seconds of the race, to victory. How did this happen?
In this letter or sermon, the writer exhorts his brothers and sisters in Christ to persevere. With a sincere heart, the full assurance of faith, freedom from guilt through the sacrifice of Jesus, and oneness with Jesus and each other through baptism, the church could endure, grow, and thrive. He encouraged his flock to draw near to God, to hold on to hope, to keep meeting together, and to encourage one another. His words are as relevant for us today as they were to the early church.
Our world is a dark and broken place. Discord and divisiveness seem to be the order of the day. Sometimes we have to dig deep for some positivity in the news or our social media feed. Perhaps the writer of Hebrews would say to us, “Stop looking out there for the light. You carry the Spirit of God, the light of the world, within you. Others are looking to YOU for it, so shine!” The world was not such a wonderful place in his time, either. As long as there are human beings on earth, there will be sin and evil. But he reminds us, as he reminded the early church, that thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus we can enter the presence of God, no longer cut off by our sin from his holiness. Thanks to his blood we are washed clean and given new life. Instead of looking to the world for justification, we need look only to Jesus, whom we now are free to serve with our whole heart.
It’s hard to be a solitary Christian. We weren’t created to live the faith alone. Just as a runner or bike racer draws on the energy of the pack, we also need the community of faith for strength and support. When you stay out in front in a race, you’re on your own to determine your pace, to ration your physical resources, and to keep yourself motivated. It’s a lonely and, as we see in televised races, ill-fated strategy. Trying to follow Jesus outside the fellowship of believers is lonely. When we worship, learn, and serve together we grow together. We’re stronger together, better able to withstand the world’s forces against us. And when we encourage each other, lift up each other, even correct each other, we grow closer to our brothers and sisters in Christ and to God himself. Like the racers, we can spur each other on through the synergy we experience as members of the church, the body of Christ.
The world may be a dark place, but we carry the light. Through us, Jesus offers hope and healing to everyone. In the end, all of creation will be redeemed. Knowing that we have a part to play in that redemption should be humbling, yet empowering. Although we are individually saved and sanctified, we are bound to one another in love. Any one of us can make a difference in our circle of influence, but the corporate body of the church, a thriving community where each person shares with and serves others, is God’s example to the world of kingdom living, a powerful witness to his love and grace. Through the church we can persevere and win the race, and although we are buffeted by the many storms of this life we can remain strong in Christ. Together. With our fellow Christians, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”