Or maybe you’re someone who’s seen those around you grow weary and lose heart, and still you remain. Maybe you’ve weathered these storms and have stayed the course. You’ve continued to run with perseverance, laying aside these weights and pains. You’ve witnessed these disappointments and yet continue to fight the good fight.
I once heard an interview with Bono--the lead singer of U2--about the meaning of his song, “Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own." He said that his father was a man of great faith in Christ until he reached the very end of his life. On his deathbed his faith began to waver. He began to question the basics that he had believed in and lived by so firmly for his whole life. Listening to the interview you could tell that Bono was somewhat shaken by this. You could tell that despite Bono’s firm faith--and he continues to say that it’s quite firm--he was rattled. Whether it be faith in an idea, a cause, or in Christ, watching someone you deeply admire lose heart and grow weary can be crippling.
The author of this evening’s epistle lesson from the letter to the Hebrews is aware of some in the early Christian movement who had lost heart and grown weary. He writes to people who have given up all kinds of things to follow the risen Jesus. People who were not very popular. People who had gotten behind a cause--no, a person--that I’m sure many of their friends thought was crazy. Some of these people were tempted to give in, to throw in the towel. Maybe they were tempted by the lusts of this world, maybe what had seemed so true at first just didn’t any longer, maybe they simply burned out. Their once true and lively faith had gotten away from them.
The author of the letter to Hebrews was aware of the possibility of burnout and disillusionment. He was aware of the possibility of growing weary and losing heart, so he addresses it. He writes:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [the saints who have gone before and those around us today], let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for 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 despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.
He tells us, “stay the course.”
A cursory glance at this passage may ring trite. An encouragement that, admittedly, we all need from time to time, but one that may seem to amount to little more than a “try harder” to exhausted and semi-disillusioned people. But that is not what the author is doing. If we take a moment to dig a little deeper we see that the way we persevere in this race marked out before us is to look to Jesus “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” We look to the God-man himself who endured the cross and all of the suffering that came with it. He endured pain both physical and emotional: the pain of crucifixion, of abandonment, of humiliation. He endured all of this so that those whom he loves might be made right with God, with himself. When we are tempted to despair, the author of Hebrews calls us to look to the one who voluntarily embraced a life of self-sacrifice for our sake. We look to the one who paid it all (as the great hymn says), the one who at great cost to himself freed us from the powers of Sin and Death.
Do you see what the author of Hebrews is doing? He’s refocusing us. He’s drawing our attention away from the distractions--shifting our attention away from ourselves--and putting it on Christ. And he narrows that focus to the Cross--our life-vest. He acknowledges that the "sin that so easily entangles" distracts us from our true calling, our true vocation. He reminds us that our addictions and rebellions often contribute to our disillusionment and despair, but he does not dwell there. Ultimately, he fixes our eyes not on our sins, but on Christ--"the author and perfecter of our faith"--whose nature it is to “give life to the dead and to call into existence the things that do not exist" (Romans 4:17). In this case, we look to him to call into existence true and lively faith out of our weary indifference.
Maybe you’re here tonight and you’re in danger of growing weary and losing heart. Maybe some of you already have, and you’re half hoping against hope that something might shake you out of your disillusionment. If you’re in that place tonight the author of Hebrews tells us to look to Jesus--the author and perfecter of our faith. He tells us to look to the Cross that he bore not so that your life might be a burden but so that you might receive Life and live in a kingdom where all the awful things are being undone.
Maybe you need to think back on the people who inspired you to faith in the first place to rejuvenate your faith. Or maybe that isn’t good enough for you because those people failed you becoming disillusioned themselves. If that’s true for you, you might look for others among the “great cloud of witnesses” to strengthen your faith. Maybe it would be helpful to get closer to a person whom you respect of strong faith to enliven your faith. Or maybe you’re the type of person who just has to know that there’s someone smarter than you who really believes this stuff. In ages past, many--including Kathleen Norris, John Updike, and Madeleine L’Engle--looked to C.S. Lewis to remind themselves that intellectuals can be people of faith too. When I would lose heart and my faith began to waver, I would sit down with my brilliant college history professor who got a PHD from Michigan State and taught at Stanford. His firm faith has and continues to restore my own.
So whether your faith is on the rocks or it’s stronger than it’s ever been, we are reminded that we need each other. As Bono said to his dying Father in the U2 song I briefly mentioned at the beginning, “Listen to me now, I need to let you know, you don’t have to go it alone.” There are no lone ranger Christians. In order to build and sustain a healthy trust in Christ we need to feed off of each other’s faith. Most importantly, in order to avoid or be drawn out of weariness and burnout we need to look together to the one with perfect faith who endured the Cross for our sake despising its shame who is now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Namely, Jesus Christ.