Continuing the Relay

I like to run races. In any race, it’s a lot easier to run when people are cheering for you. When running in the Pittsburgh Marathon last year, by mile 22 or so I was completely spent and sore all over. But as soon as a complete stranger would yell out my bib number and cheer me on, I was immediately running a bit faster.

The most significant crowd support I’ve ever received in a race, though, happened when I was running the Spirit of Pittsburgh Half Marathon. It came from my friend and co-pastor, Chris. As I approached the finish line, I heard him shout “Go Mike!” and I immediately sprinted to the finish line faster than I have in any other race. It wasn’t that Chris said anything profound. It wasn’t even that the encouragement was coming from a friend as opposed to a stranger. The significance was that the race was a relay, and Chris was my partner. Chris had run the first 6.5 miles of the race, tagged me, and I was running the second half. Knowing that the person who started my race was watching made me want even more to end it well. Because my finish was his finish too.

I recalled this experience this afternoon while reading the lectionary’s New Testament reading – Hebrews 11:32-12:2. Hebrews 11 recounts the faithful people of God we read about throughout the Old Testament – Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the whole nation of Israel crossing the Red Sea and circling Jericho, and Rahab, and more too many to recall. The writer of Hebrews describes how their faith was embodied in actions – and often times stranger actions. Building an ark. Offering his son to God. Giving up privilege. Harboring spies. And as Hebrews sums up, “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire…”

The people listed in Hebrews 11 are some of the greatest examples of lived-out faith ever. Yet how does Hebrews 11 conclude? Verse 39 says,

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised…

As great as their faith was. It was for all of them a faith with out an ending. A race without a finish line. But then comes the real surprise. Verse 40:

…since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

The story of God’s faithful is continued in us. We are the continuation of their story. Apart from us, the stories of Abraham, Moses and all of the prophets are stories without endings, a race without a finish.

It’s in light of this that we hear the well-known words that open Hebrews 12:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight… and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…

The witnesses that surround us, all of the faithful named in Hebrews 11, aren’t merely spectators that came out to watch a race. They aren’t even faster runners who have already finished and are now watching the other participants. They’re our relay partners, watching the finish of the race we’ve started. They aren’t merely watching with curiosity, but with great interest, wanting to see how the race they’ve started will finish.

For Abraham, Moses and the prophets, the finish line was not in sight. Christ had not been revealed. In Christ, though, we can see the end the story when every knee will bow and every tongue confess. We can see the finish line, and our relay partners who started the race are watching and cheering us on. And so, let us run – no, sprint! – toward the finish line – Jesus himself, the author and perfecter of our faith!

“Hall of Faith” Litany

The Epistle lesson for today in the Daily Lectionary is Hebrews 11:23-31. After reading it, I was inspired to write this liturgy. Perhaps it could be used in a worship service as the Prayers of the People?

 

Leader: By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

People: God of Life, your son Jesus called the little children to himself. Give us faith to care for all children who are in danger – children prone to starvation and malnutrition, children without parents or homes, children whose lives are threatened even still while in their mother’s womb, until all children know Your Fatherly love.

Leader: By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.

People: God of Blessing, your Son Jesus proclaimed that your Kingdom has come, and that your Kingdom belongs to the poor. Give us faith to give up our privilege and our wealth and to live with those who possess your Kingdom, even if it means mistreatment and reproach, until our only treasure is that which you have for us in heaven.

Leader: By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.

People: God of Freedom, you led your people safely out of captivity in Egypt, and in Christ lead all out of captivity to sin and shame. Loosen the chains that bind children, women, and men to slavery in our own day. Break the bonds of addiction that hold us captive to the idols of our culture. Give us faith to enter into your promised freedom.

Leader: By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

People: God of Passover, your Son Jesus is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Cover us in the blood of Christ. Give us faith to be nourished with Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. And prepare us, Christ’s Bride, for the Wedding Feast to come.

Leader: By faith, the people crossed the Red Sea as if on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.

People: God of Covenant, in our baptism you call us out of the ways of sin and into faithfulness to you. Give us faith to hear and obey your voice, that everything we do and say may serve your purpose.

Leader: By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.

People: God of Good News, in Christ, your Kingdom has come, and by your Spirit you have empowered your Church to advance your Kingdom. Give us faith to claim your authority everywhere we go, that walls of division and hostility may crumble, and peoples be reconciled in Christ’s name.

Leader: By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

People: God of the Outcast, in Christ you have adopted us as your children, unworthy as we are. Give us faith to welcome others as Christ has welcomed us. Strengthen us to offer hospitality to all your people, and humble us to receive hospitality from all – saint and sinner, Pharisee and tax collector, maiden and prostitute. May your Church be a sign of your promised peace, justice and reconciliation. Bring new life through Your Church into Your world. Amen.