Speaker: Rev. Chris Winterman
Scripture Passage: Ephesians 1:3-5
So our scripture this morning comes from the book of Hebrews Chapter twelve verses one through three. Let’s hear the word of God together.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance, the race marked out for us fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith for the joy set before him. He endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Would you pray with me? God, we hear your word and the Holy Spirit. We ask for the wisdom to understand it. Amen.
Back in late September, early October of 2019, I took a journey. My brother Tommy, my cousin Austin and I, we flew out to Las Vegas and then we drove around to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. We hiked down the South Kebab Trail head down to the middle of the Grand Canyon, stayed at the Phantom Ranch, hiked through a little more state at the Cottonwood campsite and then hiked up and out the North Rim, the North Kebab Trail.
It was a journey that took us just the hiking part was three days, 24.4 miles and a net change in elevation of 10,000 feet. So, I wanted to show you just a couple of pictures of this. This was the most difficult thing I have ever done by far. So, let’s put the pictures up there. Put the first one up there, guys. Is it up? There it is. So you see, this is this is starting out on the this is the view from the trailhead as we’re getting ready to go down. OK, put the next one up there so you can see a little windy road and that bridge. That’s a view back. We had gone through that and come up. That’s a view backed down. Those are the kinds of things we traversed.
Alright go ahead and show the next one. There’s us, my brother, my cousin, myself. That’s that’s a location called Ooh Ahh point. And the reasons it’s called Ooh Ahh point. When you’re there at sunrise, you say two things. Ooh and Ahh. So really a beautiful view. All right. And that’s me over in the right, that little blue speck. So my cousin took that picture from far off.
So in our passage this morning, the author of Hebrews uses this metaphor for the journey of the life of faith. And the metaphor that he uses is that of an endurance race, not a sprint, but a distance race. Now I have to tell you, I am not one of those very strange people who runs just to run. We have some of those in our church. They don’t run to catch a ball. They don’t run to get somewhere. They just like running. I’m always impressed with cross-country teams at high school because they almost always have shirts made up and the T-shirts say, our sport is your sport’s punishment. So and they’re proud of that. So I can’t identify with distance runners because that’s not something I do. I can, however, identify with the journey of faith being something that requires perseverance in light of my trip through the canyon. Because it was, as I said, one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, and yet one of the most rewarding.
And what a great analogy for the life of faith, especially on this All Saints Sunday. As I mentioned earlier, we lit the candles and we stood and we heard the chime and we offered prayers giving thanks to God for the lives of those saints who have gone on before us. And yes, while we grieve and while we mourn the temporary loss in relationship, we’re also encouraged. We are also given hope because as we lit the candles, we did so as a sign that their light is not gone out. Again, that it burns more brightly than ever, that they have finished their journey and they are enjoying their reward with the Lord Jesus Christ. And that’s where we hope to get one day as well. And our scripture passage this morning, it gives us some insight into how we can do that and how we, as people of faith now can finish the journey.
So I’d like to share with you three lessons: three things I’ve learned about the life of faith.
One, the life of faith, as any journey does, it has a cost. So as I was preparing, we were looking at making this trip, this Grand Canyon trip. And in order to stay at the place in the middle of the canyon called the Phantom Ranch, they have very limited seating, are betting, they have very limited supplies. You had to enter a lottery 18 months in advance. We had to send in our names, hope we got chosen and we did. Then we had to book airfare. We had to book hotels before and after. We had to book transportation while we were there. We had to sort out a lot of details. Got all that done. Thought I was ready?
Now I’m in Winnsboro at the time and I had another guy from Winnsboro. He called me up about three months before our trip. He calls me up and says, Hey, I heard you’re going to the canyon. Like, yeah, I’m excited. I’ve been talking to the people about it. He said, I think we need to talk. OK, so we got together, he says. Do you have trekking poles? So I don’t even know what trekking poles are. He says, well do you have on those backpacks that does this and that? And he described the type of bags, I was like, No, I don’t have that. Well, do you know Moleskine is? I have no idea what Moleskine is. And those of you who are hikers, you’re smiling right now because, you know, just how essential every single one of those things are. Just, for example, Moleskine this little stuff you peel off. If you start to get a blister, you put it on where the blister is. You say it’s just a blister. That’s not a big deal. Hiking down and up and in the middle of the Grand Canyon, there’s only two ways out. Either you walk out or you get medevac’d out. And if you get a big blister without Moleskine to stop it from getting bigger, you’re in trouble.
He asked do we know about the water where you could find potablewater? Because in that climate you can dehydrate in an instant? I didn’t realize just what it was going to take to complete this journey, and I’m so thankful that he got in touch with me because we got all the things that we needed.
Let me tell you a story from the Ministry of Jesus. Luke’s Gospel, Luke records. Jesus is walking along and a man comes up and says to him, I’ll follow you wherever you go. Now there were lots of people that follow Jesus around, lots of people who wanted to be his disciples. And so you would think someone comes to Jesus and says, Hey, I want to follow you. He’d say, Hey, that sounds great. Let’s go. Hey, where we’re going to say sorry to next? Let’s make it happen. But here’s what Jesus does. He turns to him, and he says foxes have dens and birds have nests. But the son of man has no place to lay his head. You know what Jesus was saying to this guy? The guy said, I want to follow you. I’ll go anywhere, Jesus says, are you sure you know what you’re getting into? Because here’s what life is like for me. And if you follow me, this is what life is going to be like for you. And in other place in the gospels. There were thousands of people that follow Jesus around, whether they wanted to see the miracles, whether they wanted to hear the teaching, or whether they wanted to see what drama was going to happen because the religious leaders always had something to say to Jesus, whatever reason. Thousands and thousands of people would follow Jesus around, and at one point he stops the whole crowd. He says, Listen, if you want to follow me, if you want to be my disciple, here’s what you have to do. You need to sit down and count the cost. What he was saying was, you need to evaluate, you need to decide if this is worth it for you. Because let me tell you something that I hope you’ve heard. But if you haven’t, you need to hear. Nothing about following Jesus makes your life easier. Nor should it. The life of a disciple has nothing to do with a life of convenience. It’s not about getting what we want. Matter of fact, it’s about specifically laying aside what we want for the Kingdom of God.
Jesus said, if you try to hold on to your life, you will lose it. But if you lose it for my sake, you will find it. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ has a cost. And it should because it’s worth it. Everything that’s worth anything will cost you something. And the greater the cost, the higher the value of what you are receiving. And if Jesus is who he says he is and if he really offers what he says he offers, then it should be the most costly thing there is. My friends being a disciple of Jesus Christ, which is what being a Christian is, the two are inseparable. It carries a great cost. But I can tell you personally, it’s worth it.
Second thing I’ve learned to finish the journey to really do this thing right requires perseverance. So we started out the first day of this hike on the South Kabab trailhead, and we had a spring in our step because really we thought we knew what we were in for. We knew it would be somewhat difficult. But at the end of the day, we were like, It’s it’s walking, right? I can. I can walk ten miles a day around town and barely be tired. It’s just walking. It’s not a big deal, so go ahead and show the next picture.
So this is this is us up here. There we go. So we’re walking along, right? We’re having a good time. We’re chatting. We’re doing what we do. It’s not a problem. But after four hours, it was a different story. And by the third day going back uphill, I was more than a little tired. I was finding myself having to stop more and more frequently to rest. The pack I was wearing, which weighed in at 38 pounds, felt like 300. Go and show the next one. So I just had to stop. I just had to take a breather. I realized at this point, OK, now I really know what I’m what I’m in for. And I was beginning to think this is harder than I thought. Have you ever stopped and looked at your discipleship? Have you ever stopped and looked at your journey of following Jesus, your journey of life and said, you know, I might be in for a little more than I bargained for?
That’s why the life of faith requires perseverance. It requires endurance. Let me tell you, the last two miles of the hike were the most grueling and the last two miles were the hardest of the hardest thing I’d ever done. That was the hardest section because the last two miles, we went up a 30 degree grade at least, and we gained in two miles, 1800 feet of elevation. Let’s go and show that next picture up here. This is this is just one example. And it got more and more steep going up. So here’s what happened. I’ve got the pack on, every step in that last two miles is like this. Stepping up in sand that deep, I had to stop every single step. I’d step up. I’d pick my foot up and I just had to wait. I just had to catch my breath and then take the next step. That last two miles took us well over two hours.
So let me ask you a question. Have you ever been at the point in your faith journey where every single step forward feels like that? It feels like one huge amount of energy, and you’re not sure how you can take the next step. Have you ever been at the point in your journey where you didn’t even have the strength to take another step? You barely had the strength to take your next breath? If so, you’re not alone because we do get tired. We do have to stop and rest. And we do, at times, question whether or not we were going to make it. So there was a point there I couldn’t see the end. I had no idea how much more was left. And I really began to question if I could make it up or not. I wasn’t sure where I was, exactly. I mean, I knew I was on the trail, but I didn’t know how far up. I really was thinking, I’m not going to make it through this. Go and show the last picture there. And then I saw that I came around the bend and I saw the end. Boy, I got a rush of energy. I was going to make it.
The life of faith requires perseverance and listen to me, friend. Listen to me closely. When you’re at that point when you can barely take the next step, when you can’t see the end in front of you, that’s exactly the time not to give up because the end could be right around the next bend. The miracle that God is going to work in your life could be right around the corner. So don’t stop. Don’t stop. God knows what’s coming next. Even if you don’t. It’s OK if you’ve got to stop and catch your breath for a minute.
It’s OK if you need rest, it’s OK if it takes more time than you thought it would take. We thought we’d be up and out of there by 10:00 a.m. It was 1:00 p.m. before we got out, and that’s OK.
Listen to this parable that Jesus tells in Mark’s gospel. He’s teaching by the lake. There’s a lot of crowds. So he gets on a boat and he and he goes out into the water. And here’s what he told him. Listen to this.
A farmer went out to sow his seed as he was scattering the seed. Some fell along the path and the birds came and ended up. Some fell on rocky places where it did not have much soil. Listen to this. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants so that they did not bare grain. Still, other seed fell on good soil, it came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying 30, some 60, some 100 times.
I hope you caught what Jesus was saying here. He’s saying that if it springs up quickly, if it happens quickly and easily, it probably isn’t going to last. But the faith that endures is the one that takes its time. The one that grows slowly and steadily. So do not be discouraged if you don’t see the fruit you think you should see. Do not give up because it’s not going the way you think it should go. Instead, go to this passage of scripture. In the book of Philippians: I am certain that God who began the good work within you will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
The life of faith has a cost. It’s a journey, and it is difficult, and it’s going to require perseverance on your part, but God began a work in you and God will finish doing what he has started.
But what do you need? How do you find that perseverance? How do you find that strength to carry on? The final point the life of faith. The journey of faith. It requires encouragement. Friend to finish the journey, you will need encouragement.
So during our third day of hiking, a really funny thing happened. People are going up and down and the people who are just hiking down from the lodge and going back up just for an hour or so. They’re dressed one way, they look a certain way, they don’t have packs on. But people like us who camped and who did the hike, it’s obvious what we were doing by the gear we had in the way we looked. So we’re coming up that trailhead people are going down the trailhead, and as they passed us, they’d look at us, they’d kind of nod and they started to say things like, You can do it, guys, you’re almost there. They’d say things like, You’re doing such a great job, you’re going to make it. They’d say things like, Wow, I’m really impressed. Keep going. You’re almost there. And I’ll be honest with you, that encouragement from people I had never met gave me just a little more strength to finish the journey. So hear me on this, too. What you’re doing right now in here, this is not where we live out our life of faith. This is where you get the encouragement, the support, the energy to go out there and live your life of faith.
First day of the hike, when we got down to the Phantom Ranch, I had brought these electrolyte tablets with me, noon tablets, they’re called and you break it and you put them in your water. Well, I had forgotten to drink them and I was beginning to feel horrible. I was grumpy. I didn’t have any energy, and then I remembered I had the tablets. I broke one. I put it in my water. I drank it. And I’m saying within 30 seconds, I felt re-energized, reinvigorated.
You’ve got to be here to worship. Otherwise, you’re going to Red Line, you’re not going to make it out there. People say, Do I have to come to church to be a Christian? I say, why in the world? When would you want to try it without it? That’s like saying, Do I have to put oil in my car for it to run? You need the church. I need the church. This is where we get that energy. This is where we get that support, that encouragement. We need the encouragement. Check, check out the last pick. Here’s the last one I’m going to show you. We made it. We made it. The feeling! I cannot describe to you how we felt after doing that, and I won’t tell you how much food we ate in the lodge after doing that. It was incredible. I herniated a disc in my neck doing it, and it’s totally worth it. It’s worth every bit of sweat and pain, every moment of struggle. It was worth it. So follow me here. These folks who have gone on before us, I guarantee you in the presence of the Lord right now, they’re saying every single moment was worth it. The journey of faith is worth it. But you’ve got to know that it has a cost. You’ve got to know that you’re going to have to persevere. But the good news is that in order to persevere, you don’t have to rely on your own strength. You find the encouragement of those in this room. And we look to those who have gone before us. So we then find the strength to finish our journey as well.