Aug 13, 2022
Derek Redman was a contender to win a medal in the 400m sprint at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. He had easily made the semi-finals winning both his heats, but in that semi-final https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_JUKNfYNpc150 metres from the end, his hamstring tore. The Olympic creed is a quotation from the founder of the modern Olympics. It says “The important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part, just as in life, what counts is not the victory but the struggle.” In an act which embodies the Olympic creed, Redman after collapsing on the track, struggled to his feet and began to limp along the track toward the finish line. But Redman did not finish the race alone. Surrounding him in the stadium a great crowd cheered him on toward the finish line. As he limped along a man came down from the crowd, pushed officials and security people aside and came to Redman’s assistance. The man was Redman’s father. He said to his son “Son you don’t have to do this.” Redman replied “Dad, yes I do”. "Well, then," said his father, "we're going to finish this together."
His father supported Redman like a crutch and the two of them hobbled across the line as the crowd cheered them on and wept with them. He wasn’t a medal winner but he had kept his eyes on the finish and had run to the end.
[Source of this story and inspiration for this sermon was initially https://sermons4kids.com/run-the-race.htm but it has been supplemented by material found through Google searches.]
This story of Redman and his dad is a wonderful illustration of Who Jesus is, the Christian life, and also a great illustration of today’s Hebrew’s reading. Jesus is described as the Pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Other translations describe him as the one who makes our faith complete.
Derek Redmond the runner you just saw was running toward a goal. He of course wanted to win, but he also wanted to finish. As today’s reading put it he wanted to run the race with perseverance. Redmond breaks down continues by himself to hop, but it does not seem he can finish. Then his Fater joins him and he goes with him and indeed in a sense carries us accross the line.
This is a picture of what God has done for us in Jesus. God became one with us, came down from the stands in order that we might be carried across the line of life. When we could not go on God joined with us and carried us through life, sin and death and through into new life.
I believe we need God from beyond us. Some Theologians like Paul Tillich argue that the idea that God comes from beyond us is difficult for modern people to believe. Instead they argue that God is not beyond God is within, God is the foundation, or the core of being, of our existence. The Christian life is therefore about getting in touch with God within us and within others and creation. Seeing God at work in our relationships with others.
The person in history who shows this best is Jesus. Through his relationship with others Jesus showed us what it truly means not only to love God and our neighbour with the whole of our being but what it means to love our neighbour and even our enemies. He was so committed to this love of God and others that it led him to an early death nailed to a Roman Cross. Through his example and teaching we can know what it is to live the perfect life.
In some ways there is nothing controversial about this. Indeed I think it is part of what today’s reading from Hebrews is saying when it says. “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 ... who ... endured the cross”.
When Redmond ran his race that was the kind of thing he was doing. He was running toward a goal he had been striving for the whole of his life. He had dedicated every part of his life to it. He was calling on the Olympic spirit, and remembering all those great Olympic athletes who had gone before him. Perhaps he had a great figure like Daley Thompson in mind as he ran. When he broke down his aim was still to finish.
As Christians of virtually every kind we believe that God is with and that the whole creation was made by God and even though the world works by natural processes it is sustained by him. Creation’s life and source comes from God. This presence of God within us and in creation is what we traditionally call the Holy Spirit. It is what Tillich called “the ground of our being.” In some ways this is a really persuasive argument - the idea that God could come from outside and interfere in the natural course of events does not fit well with a view of the world which says that everything must have a clearly identifiable cause and effect.
Now at this point I could launch into a philosophical argument about how it is I believe that God not only comes to us from within but from outside and that God and creation are quite different things but I’m not going to do that. Instead I’m going to talk about three problems and the experience of God.
Derek Redmond was a great athlete, able to run the race and perhaps even win. He had qualified for the race. He was in a centre lane. Before he broke down he was in a great position. The first problem is that you and I are not Derek Redmond we could not even make an Olympic heat let alone a final. More importantly you and I are not Jesus we fall far short of his example.
The second problem is that we and the world in which we live is limited. We can not always reach the goal. Sometimes natural disasters may stop us. Other people get our way sometimes with intent or sometimes by accident they trip us up. We all die and our deaths may well happen before we have reached our goal. Like Moses or Joseph or Miriam we do not reach the promised land. As part of the great crowd of witnesses they did not ereceive “what had been promised”. Or like Derek Redmond we just break down before the end and all our hard work seems to have come to nothing.
Thirdly we are sinners. We do not obey God’s commands, we can not always fix our eyes on Jesus. We get distracted and lave the race or cross the line and get disqualified. Who has ever loved God with all our heart with all our mind, with all our strength and with all our soul? Who has always loved their neighbour as themselves? Who has met the even higher standard of the Sermon n the mount or John’s gospel to always thurn the other cheek, love our enemies, pray for thise who persecute us, and love our fellow Christians as Christ loved and love us?
No sometimes we are struck by the sin that clings so closely, the grief we feel over some loss, our health causing us to break down, the betrayal of a friend or family member, some natural disaster, and we collapse on the track. If like Redmond we are strong and determined even though we may come last we may be able to rouse ourselves and limp to the finish, but often we can not finish and indeed if the aim is the Kingdom of God, the new creation, where God’s will, will be done and earth becomes as heaven, and heaven and earth combine, then I believe that none of us will ever finish.
How then can we go on? Surely we are lost. Unless there is help from beyond, from outside but also with us along side us we will never get to the promised end.
Just at that point when we have collapsed on the track or when we are limping toward a line we will never get to, help arrives. For Redmond it was his Father come down from the stand and onto the track to carry him over the line. For us in the race of life, in the Christian journey, I believe it is Jesus, for he is I believe not only the example toward which we run, he is as Hebrews 12 says the pioneer and most crucially the perfecter of our faith.
For most Christians and before that for the Jewish people this has been our experience. All of us, though some more than others have been in that dark place in the race of life that Redmond was in, in an Olympic semi-final and yet at the time or looking back, we have seen that God has carried us through. Perhaps it is the forgiveness of sin, perhaps the strength to overcome some addiction, perhaps it has been a terrible grief, the loss of career, a house, a child, a husband or wife, perhaps it has been a sickness or depression. Perhaps it has been facing your own oncoming death. Somehow the strength, or forgiveness or the healing or the promise or the peace and acceptance comes, slowly or quickly and not from ourselves, but from God, and we are carried over the line going on with and even finishing the race.
This has been the experience of that great cloud of witnesses, that somehow God who seems far away, in Jesus and by the Spirit comes near. God joins us on the track and carries us to the finish line. Without him we are lost but with him we go on, and claim the prize.
“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, 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 its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2, NRSV) Amen