“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, 2 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.” Hebrews 12: 1-2
I cheated. Today’s reading was only supposed to be verse two. But context is so important in so many cases and I did not think that only seeing verse two did justice for this reading. The very namesake of our non-profit, Casting Off, was predicated on this notion of throwing off all that hinders: material wealth, possessions, predispositions, and fear. Moreover, the great cloud of witnesses has been so instrumental in our mission. Without their support we might never have gone this far. So I feel it paramount that this portion of the Hebrews text be included in today’s reading. Jesus endured terrible hardship, pain, embarrassment, and ultimate human suffering for “the joy set before Him.” My hardships along my way then seem quite trivial by comparison. But they have not come without the one thing which is necessary as the ultimate guidepost, “fixing our eyes on Jesus.”
Tonight we spent an evening with some new friends whom we met this last weekend at church, our first service here in Romania. They are from New Zealand and like us felt called to leave their home and relocate. In their case this was more permanent in fashion in that they have been in Romania for three years now and their next stops will take them even farther from New Zealand. What I have enjoyed about their company is that they have been willing to share their ups and downs, challenges and successes, and most importantly have reaffirmed my faith. They did not question my feeling that we were called for this mission trip, instead they embraced it and shared their own similar experiences. When Sara and I spoke of the signs we saw, heard, or felt that prompted us in one direction or another they did not question our sanity or try to dismiss them as coincidence. Instead, they have acted as part of that great cloud of witnesses, like so many of our friends and family who have supported us from day one and sometimes later, realizing that keeping our eyes focused on the ultimate joy would bring us along God’s path.
Looking back on our travels I have seen so many instances of Jesus’ guidance in the strangest of ways. From the initial call to our recent change in plans which sent us to Romania in spring and then to Kenya later which ultimately was much better for the volunteer programs we were serving, we have seen God’s hand at play. As we spoke with our New Zealand friends about their experience and as I thought about my own I imagined that some people could and will simply dismiss this notion as us simply finding God, not the other way around. In other words, there were no signs or calling from God, we just saw a coincidence and assigned it to God to justify our desires.
Jesus was notorious for speaking in parables and was pretty good at it, I am no Jesus. But I will share what I think to be an apt way to think about these signs that we have seen. Imagine being on freighter on the Great Lakes, it is late fall or early winter, the gales are howling and the water is tumultuous. Feel free to throw on your tape of Gordon LIghtfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” if it helps. You have lost your ability to navigate through radar and maps so your only means of recognizing your heading and location is by way of lighthouses. You stare intently into the pitch black looking for the faintest glimmer of light and watch as the winds whip the water around you. You sense fear as your ship lurches to and fro and you wonder if you will make it home. As water breaks over the railings and the hatchways are in danger of giving way you catch the glimpse of a harbor light, a beacon of hope that promises safety and peace. Is that light a coincidence because you found it while looking for it? Or is it rather an opportunity for salvation? Better yet, does it matter why you saw it? The world is tempestuous place, to me it only seems natural to seek a light which will lead the way to safety and salvation. I don’t care how I found it or if it found me, I am just so thankful it is there and that it will guide me home.