On Sunday August 21st Rev Michael Wearing led worship at Wesley Chapel. We began worship when we sang, ‘Let all the world in every corner sing’; that hymn always reminds me of my father as it was one of his favourite hymns. Michael led the prayers of praise, thanksgiving and confession. He wondered if some of us had been watching the Olympics, which had originated in Greece. The earliest Olympics had horse and chariot racing and boxing and only men took part. The marathon was a later addition; it was the distance from Marathon to Athens a messenger had run dropping dead after he had given the message. At the Olympics the athletes desired medals of gold, silver or bronze; the gold medal being the most sought after. We sang ‘As the deer pants for the water, before the offertory and the first reading of Mark 10.17-21. We sang, ‘May the mind of Christ my Saviour,’ before I read the second reading, which was selected verses from Hebrews chapters 11&12.
Michael explained that we don’t know who wrote the letter to the Hebrews, but whoever he was, he was sporting, as he used sporting images to encourage his readers. Michael quoted the final verse of his selection of verses, which encouraged them to persevere with the race looking to Jesus the pioneer, as we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. We should rid ourselves of all that gets in the way of our progress. The athletes were naked, so nothing was impeding their progress. Michael suggested we imagine trying to run a marathon in boots and carrying a rucksack to weigh us down; we would not consider running a race with such an encumbrance. It is just the same for our spiritual journey so we must not be weighed down by religious ritual or observances or extravagant lifestyles. An athlete knows he or she must be in peak condition, have nerves under control and be focussed as she or he waits to begin a race. We too need to be aware of any hindrance or bad habit and not let it hold us back.
We need to run with determination and perseverance to win the race. Mo Farah fell in his race but got up and ran on to win. 4 years ago Ben Parkinson, a most wounded soldier clutched the Olympic torch in Doncaster; everyone was in awe as he walked on prosthetic legs, his back and hips had been broken, yet he defied all odds and carried the Olympic torch 300 metres even though it took him 30 minutes. He persevered without needing the wheelchair which followed him. We as Christian disciples need perseverance and determination as discipleship is not always follow an easy or pleasant route. There will be delays and obstacles, and we may be discouraged but Christ will be with us on our way. An athlete Derek collapsed in 1992 in Barcelona with a torn hamstring half way through the race but he crawled and hopped to finish the race and the crowd cheered him on! Someone from the side ran at his side and embraced him and together they reached the finishing line; it was his father. When we rely on Jesus, God is at our side helping us to finish the race.
Brazil beat Germany in a penalty shootout in a packed stadium with a noisy supporting crowd of cheering spectators. The writer to the Hebrews identifies celebrities in the crowd of spectators such as Samuel and David, the Olympians of their own day; the heroes of faith all gathered to see us race and encourage us on our way. So our crowd of encouragers include people like Francis of Assisi, Luther, Mother Theresa and Bonheoffer. We too have our own lists of those who have encouraged us on the way. Michael admitted he had spent too much time attending the Methodist Conferences over the years, but he still found himself moved by the list of names of those who had died in the previous year; the obituaries gave a commendable record of their lives. Every year following the reading of the list of names they always sing, ‘Come let us join our friends above that have obtained the prize.’ We could keep on naming those who have challenged us as Christians, those living friends and family. Apart from us there is an unseen cloud of witnesses from the church in heaven and here on earth. Finally it is most important to know the goal we are aiming for and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Are we ready to set off on the race without encumbrances and fix our eyes on Jesus, as he beckons us to come.
Michael led the prayers of intercession and the Lord’s Prayer. Worship concluded when we sang, ‘Fight the good fight’.