Scripture: Hebrews 12:1-2

marathon-legsWhat a wonderful night of worship we are having. Wonderful music, a beautifully decorated church. In a few minutes we’ll light our memorial tree. What a great kick-off to the season of Advent.

I’m so happy we’re continuing this tradition from Wilson, this night where we kick off Advent with a celebration, but at the same time honouring our loved ones with this service.

As I thought about what we are doing here tonight, in the music, in the memorial tree, in starting a new season in the church, I began to think about those verses from Hebrews 12 we just read.

We are here, in this church, because of the work of people who built this place. We are here because in our communities people felt the call to build churches so people could gather with each other to learn about God and grow in their understanding of their faith. They built churches so people could come and join them in their faith journey, and because they had outgrown the living rooms where they started to meet.

Those names, many of them are forgotten, some of them we have honoured here tonight by printing their names in our memorial register, but all those names are forever remembered by God.

Paul wrote in his letter to the Hebrews, “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses”, and yes we are. We have chosen to remember loved ones and honour their memory by making a donation tonight. We have chosen to do this because these people have significant meaning in our lives.

These people are part of our great cloud of witnesses, along with those who built our churches and were faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ on the Northside.

And we celebrate this, we celebrate all those names we have printed. We remember their contributions, how they have touched our lives and the lives of our churches. And we give thanks for having known them.

We are also here to shift our focus as we enter into a new season of the church. We gather to give thanks for the gift God has given us, and the world, through the birth of His Son.

Paul went on to write to the church, “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, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…”

Life is not a sprint, a race to run at full speed for a short time. Life is a marathon, a long race run at a slow pace. And if you watch marathons, you will see there is more than just the runners involved. To run a marathon requires a support team, many people working behind the scenes to make sure the runners are being taken care of.

There are people watching the runners to make sure they are following the right road. There are people who are at water stations so the runners stay hydrated. There are medical personnel. There are trainers. There are officials with watches and rule books. There are all of that and many more who work along the route to ensure everyone has an opportunity to finish what they have started.

We are all those things to each other in the race we call life. We are the supports for each other in our own races. The difference is, we are also all in the race together at the same time. We are all running our own races, while at the same time being a support for others in their own race.

Anthony and I have been doing some training in hopes that we will someday race a 5k together in the next few months. We’re working on it. Our training has been limited of late since we’ve been preparing for this weekend’s move to the new house. But we run together, and we’re about half way to our goal at this point. We can run over 2k now, or at least we could when we had to put our training on hold. We encourage each other when we run. We check in to make sure the pace is good and that we’re feeling ok. We warn each other about obstacles in the path. We watch out for each other.

I know Roy likes to plug this at his cross-country meets he helps organize for the elementary schools. A race is more than just the individual effort, it’s about the collective runners beating the course together. It’s about being a team, and in cross-country you do run with others on your team.

Ever notice in the Olympics how the runners embrace each other when they cross the finish line? They have just spent time fighting for position and medals, but in the end, they are celebrating their own accomplishments as they all have achieved their goals to finish the race. Yes they are competing, but they also recognize the work each of them has put into the race, pushing each other to improve.

The race of life is not about who gets to the finish line first, we will all get there in our own time. It’s about getting there together, recognizing the work we each put into our own race, and supporting and loving each other as we go.

The church is a wonderful place to check in with each other as to how our races are going. It’s an opportunity to share what we are celebrating and also what we are struggling with, and to support one another with love and in prayer.

Paul talked about the weights we carry, and the sin in our lives. These are things which can impact our race negatively. These extra burdens we carry impact our ability to run the race well, that is to live as God calls us to live.

Carrying extra burdens slows us down, it can even pull us off the track. One thing I’ve noticed in the 30 years I’ve played basketball is the shoes. When I think back to some of my first pairs of basketball shoes, I remember how heavy they were compared to what I wear now. The same goes for running shoes. Saving those few ounces makes a difference in our ability to finish a race or a game. That extra weight adds up over time.

Sin in our life adds extra weight to our race. It impacts our ability to follow God’s path he’s laid out before us. So we need to get rid of it, we need to lighten our load.

Paul says we do this by looking to Jesus as the perfecter of our faith.

Jesus is the perfect example of what it means to live a life committed to God. Can we ever be as perfect as him? No we can’t, because Jesus is God’s Son, he is divine, he is without sin.

But we can look to him as an example. We can let him be our trainer, our support, our water station where we can be filled up.

Remember in Matthew 11 when Jesus says,

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus is willing to help us carry those burdens, and we invites us to allow him to join us in our own life.

If we look to Jesus and his example, then we are less inclined to sin. Remember those bracelets which had the letter “WWJD” on them? That’s good advice, really. What would Jesus do? A good question to ask ourselves when we aren’t sure what the right thing to do is. It might even be a good question to ask ourselves before we even get out of the bed in the morning.

Jesus was born into this world, sent by God, to show us what a true life committed to God looks like. And to teach us about how God wants to be in a personal relationship with us, and how much He loves us.

This was so important that Jesus was willing to give his life. He was willing to be hung on a cross, a most vicious death, and also one full of shame. Shame because criminals are hung so everyone can see their guilt and the death they deserve for the crimes they have committed.

Except Jesus was never involved in any crime. He was sinless. He was perfect. He did not deserve the shame of the cross. But he took it… for us. He took our guilt, our shame, our sin upon himself. But he also showed it has no power, no authority over the sacrifice he was willing to make for us. Sin has no power when God’s love prevails.

This whole journey of faith, for us as Christians, begins in just under a month when we will celebrate the birth of Jesus, Immanuel, God with us.

To think God chose to enter the world as a child is amazing. To experience life from beginning to end in the world he created. To experience all our emotions. To experience growing up. To loving and hating, from feeling joy and pain. God chose to experience all those things, just as we experience them.

When we hear the stories of Jesus, I think we can find reassurance in knowing Jesus experienced it all. He knows our joys and our pain. He knows the struggles we face. And he showed that through it all, we can know God’s love in our lives.

Just as those we honour here tonight experienced the love of God in their lives.

Just as we remember the pioneers of the faith who built our beautiful churches so we can continue to be a visible presence of God for those who might be struggling to find meaning in their own lives. People who might be seeking to find their way back on track in their own races after being lost for some time.

As we seek to continue to run our own race, trying to keep our focus on the road laid out before us, may the birth of Jesus Christ, God among us, be a sign post along the way, reassuring us that we are on the right path, and that we are not running this race alone.

God is with us.

In Jesus, God has run the race, and he is running the race with us now. Because Jesus overcame sin, guilt, shame, and death when he walked out of that tomb on Easter morning.

The birth of Christ is a sign, a sign of God’s love entering the world as a baby and growing to be the King of kings, the Lord of lords, and our companion in life.

As we travel through the season of Advent, in hopeful expectation for what is to come on Christmas, remembering the significance of this God-child, may we know God’s love in our lives.

As God has shown His love to those we honour here tonight.

Would you join me in prayer,

Heavenly Father,
We thank you for the blessings we share in this life. We thank you that we do not run our race alone, that you are right here with us, supporting us, caring for us and loving us.

Help us, O God, know in this season of Advent, this season of preparation and waiting, the way You have laid out for us.

And may we be blessed to know You more.

We pray this in the name of the one to come, Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen and amen.