“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…”
Terry Fox was a Canadian athlete, humanitarian, and cancer research activist. In 1980, with one leg having been amputated due to cancer, he embarked upon his Marathon of Hope, an east to west cross-Canada run to raise money for cancer research. He hoped to raise one dollar from each of Canada’s then 24 million people. He began in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador in April, and ran the equivalent of a full marathon every day. He was forced to end his run in September near Thunder Bay, Ontario, when his cancer spread to his lungs, after completing 143 days and 5,373 Km. His hopes of overcoming the disease and completing his marathon ended when he died a few months later at the young age of 22. However, his life became an inspiration to countless others, and has resulted in a lasting worldwide legacy. The annual Terry Fox Run, first held in 1981, has grown to involve millions of participants in over 60 countries, and has raised over $750 million dollars for cancer research., which far exceeds Terry’s original hopes.
Our scriptural focus here in this letter to Jewish Christians living in the first century AD, is one of the great moving passages of the New Testament. It reminds us all that in the Christian life we have a goal; we are not simply bystanders, observers, tourists, or casual participants. We are pilgrims on a lifetime journey, and our goal as followers of Jesus is to learn from him and, by God’s grace, to become more like him. I think this text gives us at least four things to remember on our journey:
Our Spiritual Inheritance
“Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” calls us to remember all those people who have encouraged or inspired us on our faith journey. In the previous chapter (11) of this letter, the author recounts the examples and inspiration of countless numbers of ancestors in the faith. Here in Canada we think of the many communities of faith across the country that have nurtured the faith in those who have travelled before us, as well as our own faith in our own lifetime, and have encouraged our reaching out to others with Good News, especially to those in great need. We may think of the many people who have planted good seeds in our life that may have germinated over time. It may have been through parents, other relatives, friends, ministers, Sunday School teachers, youth group leaders, classmates, colleagues, speakers, group leaders, or any number of people who may have touched our lives in wholesome ways. Perhaps they have lit candles of hope, love, joy and peace in our life in a special way. There is indeed a “great cloud of witnesses” through which our lives have been enriched. They pass on to us a rich spiritual legacy, hoping that we will embrace and live out this faith in our own day and generation.
“Lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely” calls us to remember that there are encumbrances in our lives that may prevent us from being fully engaged in the challenge of our Christian pilgrimage. These could be attitudes, beliefs, habits, or actions that weigh us down so that we are prevented from being at our best. It could be our “besetting sin” that seems to cling so closely to us that throws us off course. The Christian life, it seems to me, includes both the learning of the way of Jesus, and the unlearning or letting go of those unhelpful impediments that handicap our lives. We need to explore the dimensions of both kinds of learning, if we are to be fully engaged in our mission.
“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” calls us to remember a vital component of our pilgrimage. The Greek word here means steadfast endurance. As William Barclay has suggested, it is not some romantic thing which lends us wings to fly over the difficulties and hard places of life. It is a determination, unhurrying and yet undelaying, which goes steadily on and refuses to be deflected. Obstacles do not daunt it and discouragements do not take its hope away. It is the perseverance or steadfast endurance which carries on until in the end it gets there.
Terry Fox is an excellent example of this kind of perseverance. On the night before his initial surgery to remove his right leg in 1977, he read an article by a man who was an amputee who had competed in the New York City Marathon, which inspired him. Terry embarked on a 14-month training program, telling his family that he planned to compete in a marathon himself. In 1979, he entered and completed a 27 Km road race in Prince George. He came in last place, ten minutes behind his closest competitor; but his efforts were met with tears and applause from the other participants. He then revealed his plan to his family of running the length of Canada in hope of increasing cancer awareness and raising funds for cancer research. Not surprisingly, his mother discouraged him, although she later came to support the project. Terry made this statement: “Everybody seems to have given up hope of trying. I haven’t. It isn’t easy and it isn’t supposed to be, but I’m accomplishing something. How many people give up a lot to do something good. I’m sure we would have found a cure for cancer 20 years ago if we had really tried.”
So, in 1980 be began his non-competitive cross-Canada Marathon of Hope, with the hope of helping others through the raising of money for cancer research. He persevered in spite of personal hardship, discomfort and pain, meeting each obstacle as he encountered it. He only stopped in his quest when his medical condition forced him to do so. His life was certainly a testimony to steadfast endurance. He accomplished more than he or anyone else had even imagined. And through his efforts, he inspired many others around the world even to this present day.
Our Source of Power
“Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” calls us to remember that we are not asked to go it alone. We have the presence of Jesus, who has promised to be with us always. He is both the goal of our journey and our companion along the way; the one whom we go to meet and the one with whom we travel. Our supreme motivation is the life and example of Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who needed the utmost of courage and stamina for his strenuous and challenging ministry of bringing ‘Good News’ to a broken world. Jesus’ motivation seems to have been the joy of doing God’s will. Jesus has pioneered the trail ahead of us, he enables us to follow in his path, and he waits to welcome us when we reach the end. He invites us now to sing our song of faith on the journey that lies before us one day at a time.
Two verses of a hymn written and composed by Les Petites Soeurs de Jésus in 1961, which has become the L’Arche hymn, which celebrates the loving and compassionate work of the L’Arche community among mentally and physically handicapped men and women in many countries around the world.
“Lord Jesus, you shall be my song as I journey,
I’ll tell everybody about you wherever I go:
for our life and our peace and our love is yourself.
Lord Jesus, you shall be my song as I journey.
I fear in the dark and doubt of my journey,
but courage will come with the sound of your steps by my side;
and with all of the family you saved by your love.
We’ll sing to your dawn at the end of our journey.”
Amen and Amen
Rev. George H. Lavery
Minister Emeritus, Edith Rankin Memorial United Church, Kingston, Ontario