My scripture references today are from Hebrews 11:29-12:2 and Luke 12: 49-56Will you join me in prayer…..Loving and Wonderful God, you have called us to be your family. We stand in a moment in time, upheld by the great cloud of witnesses. O God, open our eyes. Open our ears. Open our whole selves to the movement of your spirit through these words and our meditations. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
Many things happened when I went to California. I attended an NEA conference as a State Delegate, spent some good times with my teacher buddies, interviewed for a job, and got to see an old high school friend that I had not seen in over 30 years. I love California….to visit. I have cruised through San Francisco, driven North to the dry pines, clear lakes, and beautiful mountains of Mount Shasta, and driven the entire PCH. There are so many stories to tell of great museums, an invasion of sea lions, a mystical appearance of a deer. I want to share them with you all until you are bored to tears. But, I want to share one impression that left an impact in my heart.A teacher friend and I were in the Mayor’s restaurant in LA. I had just jumped into an Internet Café to check my email. This restaurant is in an upscale area of downtown LA. There were lots of fancy shops, movie theatres, museums. To say the least it was a pretty fancy place. A fun place too. To be lost in the bustle and grind of a big city. I felt so alive. There was so much to see and only a week to see it in.
When I travel, I love to see the new places through my eyes. But when I see a new place, somehow I always come away taking a closer look at myself. While I was in Los Angeles; I examined myself.My friend and I sat at the window of the restaurant. Directly across the busy street from us was a young woman. She wore a greasy T-shirt. Her skin was pale, gray. She sat next to the garbage can. She seemed to blend into the concrete, part of the gray buildings, gray sky. Her greasy hair covered her face. You could not see her eyes. The busy folks of a big city were just hurrying by her. They did not even know that she existed.
It was no accident that she was in front of Starbuck’s - the icon of a new materialism and overpriced coffee. In front of her rumpled rags, she had a cardboard sign in front of her and a small paper cup. Her cardboard sign said, “Please help me. Every day is a struggle.” “Please help me. Every day is a struggle.” She was asking people for money. But her sign was a prayer. “Please help me. Every day is a struggle.” Her sign was a prayer. The money we placed in her cup was not enough to answer her prayer, but it would help carry her through. As I was preparing for my sermon….. I remembered her when I read the scripture for today:“(Very important giants of the faith) . . .through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, ministered justice. . . .shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of war, put foreign armies to flight. (But there were other people who did not have good things happen to them) . . . . Others were tortured. . . .suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword . . . .destitute, persecuted, tormented.”
“Please help me. Every day is a struggle.”
“Please help me. Every day is a struggle.”Her prayer is our prayer. Her day is our day. Her struggle is our struggle. Because she is in the dirt, we have work to do. “Please help me. Every day is a struggle.”
Her body was gray and ragged. My soul has been known to get gray and ragged. Maybe your soul too, your heart, your emotions have gone gray. Maybe you are able to get to your job, get along with your life, but maybe you feel thrown out next to the garbage can, where that woman was sitting.So how do we explain the Christian faith to the now….when they had a hard time explaining it then…... The Jews knew all about the 10 commandments, who Moses was, what the laws were, what the Sabbath was. They knew all about being Jewish. What they did not know was much about this new bunch of people called Christians. They did not know who Jesus was.
They did not know why these people, who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, would endure so much, and yet still be happy. These new Christians were getting beaten and tortured and disgraced. Yet they were joyful. Their faith grew stronger. The more they were persecuted, the more their numbers increased. That was not supposed to happen.The crux of it all comes next, “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 perfector of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Here is shame… Dying a disgraced criminal in front of your family. A total failure. Denied by your friends. Rejected by your people. Everything you preached about came up a big fat zero. That is shame. That is grief.“Please help me, O God. Take this bitter cup from me. Every day is a struggle.”
The prayer of that poor woman was the prayer of Jesus Christ.
There is a key difference between our suffering and Jesus’s suffering. When I suffer, I suffer for myself. My own heart hurts for me. When you suffer, it’s your back pain, your family, your job, your relationship. The suffering - most of the time - has something to do with us.Jesus’s suffering was very, very different. Jesus suffered for us. He did not need to suffer and die the way he did. He could have been a quiet carpenter in Nazareth. He got down in the gutter, in the gray concrete, to suffer, and to cry out his prayer, he did that so that the poor woman down in the gutter with him, would one day sit next to Jesus on the right hand of the glory of God.
When Jesus gave his very inflammatory sermon about how everything would be divided in Luke 12:49-56, “Son against father, daughter against mother, and on and on,” he said that because Jesus was going to turn the whole world in its side.“Please help me, O God. Take this bitter cup from me. Every day is a struggle.”
The answer to that is, “Look to Jesus the pioneer and perfector of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, and disregarded its shame. Jesus has taken the his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus-in-the-gutter is now and forever Jesus-in-the-throne.
“Please help me. Every day is a struggle.”Jesus’s prayer was answered.
Take that prayer and make it your own. Take the prayer of that beggar woman and make it your own. I promise you that God will hear you. I am also assured that God will answer your prayer.There is a cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, witnessed to this great and mighty and powerful truth. “Look to Jesus who had made our faith perfect, who is on the right hand of the throne of God.”
This, ladies and gentleman…. is the good news.