Text: Hebrews 11:39-12:3
This morning, I and my wife, together with our sister are glad to be with another group of people in a new place, with probably new heights of visions and dreams. We consider this transition in our life a step of consummating the race we have started to run when we received the call of ministry and when we made our covenant with the Lord. We hope to enjoy with you the journey as we carry out the Church programs.
I don’t know if you agree with me that visions and dreams in life are often times a long race to run that life-span of a person cannot commensurate. Even we try to catch up, they run ahead of us. When we are gone they are left behind. We need someone to continue the race.
In Filipino culture, most parents at the near end of their life divide their properties or any wealth to their own children as a token of their sacrifices in the past. But some parents don’t have; they only have one significant thing to offer—their “last will.” I heard some of the old parents who have left their last will before their last breath. The “last will” serves as their legacy to their children to cherish it as possession and to concretize or realize in their journey of life.
This “will” often resound as if freshly speaking. “My child, do not go weary in doing good to other people. Take care of your brothers and sisters” These words are strong that carry the will, dedication, and commitment of the recipient. At this moment, try to remember any last will shared to you by any of your friends or any other people. If you remember any, have you actively and passively responded or obeyed it?
Prayer: Our God, You have revealed your ways to our ancestors, and they have a foretaste of what it would be. Your promise awaits us. May we, in the consummation of our time help draw near to the final line of the long race reserved for a grand prize. Amen.
In 1995 southeast Asian games, a Filipino woman athlete Elma Muros conquered the first place in the 100meter run. In terms of race, she was the fastest among the runners of that event, time and place. While she was the first to reach the finish line, the race continued until every player reached the finish line, the race continued until every player reached the same. To think of the race is not meant only for the fastest but also for the slow. The race is regardless of the size of participants and the race is for all persistent runners. After all, they are all victors.
In that event, thousands of witnesses physically present both non-athletes and athletes, were at the same time overwhelmed by joy that thrilled their hearts by being part of that event. I can imagine millions of viewers were also eager and expectantly, as well as curious enough, to see what happens in that historical excellence in the field of games.
Not only as viewers having the thrill and excitement but they tried their best to inspire their runners and participants. Cheered with shouts on particular names to encourage their players to go on. All of these give the impression that they themselves as runners are not alone but they are in the midst of a crowd filled with expectations. What makes the crowd appreciate the runner is when she/he consummates the slot given because she/he believes in one thing, that she/he can reach the finish line.
Having thought of these, an athlete (a runner in particular) must not forget these important factors involved in the athletic endeavor:
i. First, the Necessity and manner of the call. This call is not by compulsion. It is only for those who want to accept the challenge of the call and respond willingly and submissively. To be able to become an athlete is to be able to hear the call that something important and valuable is offered. Nobody can just declare one’s self an athlete without enlistment. You have to secure the support and aid needed to be employed in advancing particular interests.
ii. Second, Having heard the call and accepted the challenge, an athlete must take the risk. Why risk? A runner doesn’t think only of who are her/his rivals. Who do they represent, where do they go? But even think the best of the efforts they employ in the consummation of the calling. They are required to give their whole being, not only partial, for that purpose. Anything happens, whatever happens, is part of the gameplay.
When I was still a student at the Union Theological Seminary, I sometimes have the opportunity to jog around the oval early in the morning. For the first time, I aimed to reach 6 rounds. The time, 10 rounds, and the latest 15 rounds in 30-40 minutes. I tried to maintain the same speed persistently until the ends of my aim. Having done it, I sometimes felt very exhausted and dizzy. But I have the joy of realizing that I was able to do so.
Relating these, the faith of our ancestors in the God of justice, the faith of our ancestors in the God of peace, the faith of our ancestors in the God of transformation, the faith of our ancestors in the God of a new creation is more than what we can think in terms of museum pieces and theater activities. Nobody serves as spectators but we are all runners and participants. We are all going to a direction and we are bound to a single place. The victory is all ours. If we fail, it is all ours, We should be reminded that faith is a calling which is not a stroll or a saunter but it is a race that entails strenuous effort. God doesn’t guarantee a life of luxury and ease. It is a tough faith.
Faith is a race that is inevitable. Why? Because right at the moment that we are totally possessed by it, we cannot resist. Its light beacons us and motivates us to continue in the midst of doubt. Its power carries us to a concrete direction. It invites us to a place to go and feel the purpose of being called. Faith also is a struggle which involves fixing one’s aim. There is a goal to be kept in view; a goal that is to be reached enthusiastically.
I remember a story about Napoleon Bonaparte and his leadership. There’s a myth about him and his army’s defeat and victory. Napoleon Bonaparte was a French leader in his own dynasty. He was a politician with a movement during his time, associated chiefly with authoritarian rule usually by a military. He became ambitious and he thought of conquering the world. He was a victor in many ways of his wars but in his victory, he has learned much from his defeats.
He wondered why he lost consecutive wars that almost threatened him with his ambition. However, he did not surrender. Instead, he thought of a way to win the next battles.
In preparation for an invasion and to ensure the success, they need to be well coordinated, united and resolved for one thing. They need to know when and how to retreat and move forward. To do these steps, they need one special person—a person who is not necessarily involved in the war but he who knows music, a music for all the soldiers. A young man volunteered and that he has to be taught. All that is required of him is to memorize a selection of music for attack and a music for retreat.
The soldiers were taught to listen and to distinguish which music is being played and be able to remember when they will be in the firefight. The instruction was clearly given to the young musician that when their soldiers are in disadvantage position, he has to play the music for retreat, and he has to play the music for attack at the advantage position.
They all received the instruction clearly and they have to go for war. When the battle started, Napoleon’s army was so inspired by the music being played signifying the advance position. But on the other side, they were worried because many of them were noticeably slain on the ground. The question was, why did the music change not? The fear is rallying everyone for retreat, but the same music prevailed. Yet despite horrible situation they were in, the challenge was, they have committed themselves to risk with trust and confidence in full obedience to the mandate of the music. Eventually, they have won the battle. When the musician was asked why he seemed to be uncompassionate to the soldiers who are dying in every gunfire, he answered, “I forgot the music for retreat.”
The deceiving gesture of the world is filled with masks that invite us to fall into a continuing destruction: The reality of robbery, drug addiction, oppression and corruption, rape and sexual harassment, is not far from the Christian community. They are just around. Pastors and Church workers are not exempted. Perhaps they are the first victims if not the perpetrators. Recognizing this reality, we have been endowed with the sword. That sword is the faith and lifestyle of Jesus Christ who struggled triumphantly over all evil forces.
Today, we have come together to proclaim, and to celebrate with thanksgiving the victory of our ancestors who have started the race. The faith of our Lord Jesus Christ is the faith of our ancestors and is our faith. It is a perilous fight that possibly entails our lives. But God is our guide; the music He gives to us is the music that knows no retreat, and knows no surrender. This is the faith we must share as we consummate our slot for the race that is offered and prepared for every one of us. May it be our legacy to our sons and daughters, and may everyone who witnesses our lives finds is faithful. May the steps we trod and to tread on brings glory to our God. Amen.