(1) Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, (2) looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding the shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12: 1-2, NRSV)
We Americans have
it written in our Declaration of Independence that we have an inalienable
right to "the pursuit of happiness." Happiness, or Joy, is
a natural desire of every human being, whether we have the legal right
to go after it or not.
When, at the age of twenty-six, C.S. Lewis was officially welcomed as a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, he knelt on a crimson cushion while the Vice President read words of institution in Latin before stepping forward to shake his hand repeating the ancient welcome, "I wish you joy!" After that, the new Oxford "Don" (Assistant Professor) went around the room shaking hands with his colleagues who each echoed the words, "I wish you joy!" What did they mean by joy? Certainly the college faculty were not planning a trip to the beach. They were wise enough to know that joy must mean more than giddiness, or even victories. Their life's Joy would be in fulfilling their high role as teachers.
San Fransisco Giants pitcher Livan Hernandez pitched a complete two hitter two nights ago, and lost 2-1 to our Atlanta Braves. Was there any joy in that? There is no joy in losing, even though he had pitched a career low two hitter, and only his eighteenth complete game. On the other hand there was joy in "Atlantaville" as John Smoltz achieved his first save as a relief pitcher. The smile on his face told it all.
In the instructional letter to Hebrew Christians the concept of Joy is presented as being like the accomplishment a runner feels after having successfully completed a race. First century Jews would have been familiar with this parallel to an Olympic type long distance foot race, perhaps a marathon, which is in many ways similar to our lifelong struggle. The twelfth chapter says that in order to run life's race we first should, "lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us." No one runs Atlanta's Peachtree Road Race with a heavy backpack. Second, since it is a lifetime run, we must "persevere," never giving in to the temptation to quit. We all know people who have given up and are sitting on the sidelines watching others run on by. The third and most helpful advice is that we need to "keep our eyes on Jesus who has victoriously finished his race."
What motivated Jesus in His victorious race? "For the Joy set before Him he endured the Cross, despite its shame and pain, and has now sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Think about all the terrible things that happened to Him so that you will not become discouraged and quit the race."
When C.S. Lewis experienced conversion at age 32 in 1931, he was surprised that his unquenchable longing for Joy had been found in an foretaste of Heaven that the Spirit implanted in his heart. He had not yet completed his race but he knew that ongoing Joy would be his if he persevered. This longing had been the signpost that pointed his way to Joy. (Surprised by Joy, ch.15, par.10).
If you have read any of Lewis' works, or even seen the movie "Shadowlands," you know that he was not made perfect as a result of his commitment to Christ. However, through perseverance he was able to overcome many of his sins and negative attitudes that had plagued his conscience. He was able to do this by keeping his heart focused on Jesus who had completed his human race.
Our text says that Jesus, whom we are encouraged to imitate, endured the agony of the Cross, "For the Joy." But, what can that mean? Certainly there was no joy in dying such an awful death by public execution. Perhaps the clue is in the fact that through the agony Jesus was able to keep his mind fixed on the ultimate victory when his time on earth was over and when he could sit down with the Joy of accomplishing his purpose.
The New Testament always weighs the joy of Heaven against the natural adversity of living. Although we have been jeered for mentioning "pie in the sky," there is either a heavenly reward or there is not. We are each born with an inability to think of ourselves as being nonexistent; thus, we feel that we are going to survive death somehow. The Christian teaching about heaven is just a short leap for even the coldest heart. Life's sometimes hard lessons teach us that the admittedly vague and shadowy hope of immortality presented in the Bible might just be true after all else is analyzed. Ultimately, we are confronted with the intellectual and spiritual decision as to what to do with Christ's claim upon our lives.
If you have seen the movie you know that C.S. Lewis came to refer to this life that we now live as the "Shadowlands" and to heaven as the real world. Especially in his children's stories he pictured the fantasy land of Narnia (heaven) as being real and the memory of the past life on earth as being in shadows. This imagery shows how persons who set their eyes on Jesus can come to think of life with Him as ultimate reality. It might even make more sense than Lilly Tomlin's definition of secular reality as "A Collective Hunch." Our hunch seems true as God imprints our souls.
For the Joy of completing our task we offer our hands and hearts to Jesus.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor