Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bethany Bullet - August 27, 2013

By 8:30AM or so next Sunday I will be finished.  I will be exhausted, but I will have completed the task…13.1 miles, at least I hope to finish.  You see I have been in training for a while now.  Next Sunday in Anaheim, I will run through the Magic Kingdom, and Angel stadium for the prize of a medal, and the accomplishment of persevering and struggling to do what was once an impossibility. The real goal is to make sure the slow bus does not pick me up with the other stragglers.

To run such a race well, it takes a lot of endurance. To have that endurance, it requires a disciplined approach to training. To train well, there needs to be a proper balance of exercise, nutrition, and rest. All of that goes into an athlete's training to move forward for 13.1 miles.

But, at its most basic level, a run is about keeping moving, about pushing forward, about making every effort to reach the goal and to be disciplined to the very end. 

I am sure there will be some pain and agony but two years ago, I would never have thought I would be in a position to even attempt something like this.  Now, don’t misunderstand me, I do not consider myself a runner.  I have never experience a “runners high” and I never find it easy to go for a run; every stride is a struggle and every moment monotonous, but back then I could not run to the end of the block, let alone go for a mile or more. 

I use an app on my phone to track my progress and log my miles and it helps encourage me along the way.  It posts to Facebook when I begin a run and when people like my status or comment it gives me a cheer in my ear buds.  At the end of my run I get a mini pep talk from famous athletes motivating me to continue and praising me for my accomplishments.  I need the encouragement.  In fact, on my runs as I pass a house with a dog that begins to bark I pretend that they are cheering me on.

I think that running is like life.  It is a daily struggle, something that takes effort, discipline and encouragement all the time.  Some of the big questions in life are what happens when the race is over? Is paradise waiting for me?  How can I get there?  It is what is behind the question asked of Jesus in our Gospel reading for today. 

From Luke, the 13th chapter, starting at verse 22, “Then Jesus traveled and taught in one city and village after another on his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Sir, are only a few people going to be saved?” (Luke 13:22-23a)

It is a loaded question and not unlike the questions that come up as we run the race of life.  Jesus gives an answer that on the surface does not seem to make sense.  “He answered, “Try hard to enter through the narrow door. I can guarantee that many will try to enter, but they won’t succeed.”  (Luke 13:23b-24)

Try hard…try hard?  How do I know if I have tried hard enough?
The word Luke uses here is related to the word agony and carries with it the meaning of entering a contest or to contend or fight with an adversary, to endeavor with strenuous zeal, to strive, to struggle.

“Try hard” seems kinda wimpy to me. 
The NIV translates this as “make every effort.”
Paul uses a related word in 1 Timothy 6:12, “Fight the good fight of faith.”

I don’t think Jesus was saying that moral effort is necessary to enter the kingdom of God.
I also don’t think he meant that the entrance to heaven is gained by human responsibility.

Scripture clearly teaches that it is by the gracious action of God in the person of Jesus that we are granted entrance to heaven.  God is rich in grace and in mercy; no human effort can make us right with God. 

In a letter to his antagonist Erasmus, Martin Luther wrote, “Grace is freely given to the most undeserving and unworthy and is not obtained by any strenuous efforts, endeavors, or works, either small or great, not even by the efforts of the best and most honorable who have sought and followed righteousness with a burning zeal.”

What are we to agonize about then?

When God’s Word confronts us and his law condemns us, that is the beginning of our agony.  It is what happens in our life of faith. 

The writer of the book of Hebrews knew a little bit about this from our assigned reading for today, “Endure your discipline. God corrects you as a father corrects his children. All children are disciplined by their fathers. If you aren’t disciplined like the other children, you aren’t part of the family. (Hebrews 12:7-8)

We agonize over our actions, those things done and left undone.  We struggle with our insecurities and inadequacies, and our sinful flesh. We strive to put on a good appearance and try hard to get it all right, but we fail.  We reject the discipline of the father and we not worthy to be called his children.

In the agony of life we come in last. 
“Jesus went out of the city to the Mount of Olives as he usually did…he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if it is your will, take this cup of suffering away from me. However, your will must be done, not mine.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. So he prayed very hard in anguish. His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:39-44)

Jesus was in agony in the garden, knowing what was coming, he prayed for strength.  He knew that he must make his way to the cross because we had failed.  The perfect, sinless son of God agonized for you.  His agony was necessary, because not matter how hard we try, we can’t get it right.  It was a great reversal.

The Gospel of Luke is about great reversals. 

Mary sings of it in the Magnificat in talking about what God has done:
“He pulled strong rulers from their thrones.
He honored humble people.
He fed hungry people with good food.
He sent rich people away with nothing.” (Luke 1:52-53)

Jesus teaches about it in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Blessed are those who are poor. The kingdom of God is theirs.
Blessed are those who are hungry. They will be satisfied.
Blessed are those who are crying. They will laugh.” (Luke 6:20-21)

And when he spoke in the home of a Pharisee: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

His parables in Luke 15 of the lost sheep, lost coin and lost son all have this theme of a great reversal and culminates in these words, “This brother of yours was dead but has come back to life. He was lost but has been found.” (Luke 15:32)

And it’s in our text for today: “Some who are last will be first, and some who are first will be last.” (Luke 13:30)
The greatest reversal took place on a hill outside of Jerusalem when the Son of God exchanged his life for yours, when he took on your fears and failures and fashioned for you a finisher’s medal engraved with the promise of life eternal.   

Originally the word agony was used to describe what an athlete goes through when training for an event or contest.  As we strive in this life, as we go through agony, perhaps we can use it to help our life of faith. 

A- Admit that you can’t do it alone.  In your walk of faith, as you train, you need to lean on others, drink deeply from the well of God’s Word and be encouraged by the faithful when you come into God’s house for worship and listen to God’s discipline. 

G- Give it your all.  Don’t sit back and relax.  Make every effort to bring glory to God in everything you do.  Live out that phrase, “Pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on you.”

O- Offer your body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.  This gets into what we talked about last week to live a life by faith, knowing that God has it all under control.

N- Notice the areas that need work.  You should always be looking for ways to improve.  Get feedback from someone you trust, and when you mess up, come to the one who worked out your salvation on the cross.

Y- Yearn for the harvest of righteousness and peace that comes when we strive for God, when we agonize for the holy one.

And remember, it will take training and effort and time to get to where you want to be, where God desires you to be. 
When the way seems difficult, when the discipline seems harsh, remember that one day we will all run through a kingdom, not magical but eternal, surrounded by the Angels in the stadium of heaven cheering us as we confess, “I have fought the good fight. I have completed the race. I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7). The prize is not a medal, but the words of the Master, “Well done, good and faithful servant” and an eternal banquet in heaven. 

-Pastor Seth Moorman


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