All Saints - 2022

Old Testament – Isaiah 40:21-31

New Testament – Hebrews 11:29-12:2

 

The Hall of Faith

 

INTRODUCTION: Back in the 70s a running craze swept America with folks like Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, and Jim Fixx as the gurus of the movement.

 

Of course, another person that was also instrumental in the growth of running in the 70s was Steve Prefontaine. Going by the nickname of Pre, Steve Prefontaine was easily identifiable because of his bushy mustache and long locks that would fly in the wind as he ran. But more than anything else, Pre was known for just being really, really fast! 

 

A middle and long distance runner, Pre would eventually hold seven different American distance records during his career. And all told, he ended up winning an amazing 78% of the races he entered over his lifetime.

 

Known as a fearless runner, Pre was famous for pushing the pace during his races whenever possible. Or as he famously put it when discussing his basic strategy for winning races:

 

“I am going to work so that it’s a pure guts race. In the end, if it is, I’m the only one that can win it.”

 

Needless to say, Pre achieved a folk-like status among avid runners. It wasn’t uncommon for people to show up at races where Pre was running wearing t-shirts with the word “LEGEND” emblazoned on them and chants of “Pre! Pre! Pre!” were frequently heard whenever he was on the track.           

 

Sadly, as some of you might recall, Steve Prefontaine died suddenly at the age of 24 in an auto accident on May 30, 1975. 

 

But because of his fearlessness and dedication to running, his legend is still alive and well even today. For at least in the world of running, no person in recent memory better exemplified the overall fortitude and grit needed to be great at the sport than Pre.

 

“To give anything less than your best,” he once said, “is to sacrifice the Gift.” 

 

ONE: Well, perhaps that explains why the Bible loves to use running as a metaphor for our respective journeys as people of faith. 

 

After all, since running, especially for long stretches at a time, requires stamina and endurance, it provides a natural analogy for describing faith and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. 

 

In 1 Corinthians we’re told to avoid running aimlessly through life so as not to be disqualified from the race.

 

And then there are Paul’s words in 2 Timothy. Looking back on a life well lived, he can declare, “As for me, I am already poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 

 

And let’s not forget about the Letter to the Philippians, which encourages us to forget what lies behind us in the past so we might continue straining forward toward the goal and finish line that awaits us. 

   

And last but certainly not least, there is the Letter to Hebrews. Comparing faith to a foot race, we’re told in Hebrews to “lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely” so we might “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

 

So just like various other parts of the Bible, Hebrews also sees faith as a race. And like any race, it requires commitment and dedication.  

  

TWO: Of course, Hebrews also likes to point out that faith is always more than just some solitary endeavor we must run all by our lonesome selves. 

 

While physically running can indeed be a lonely undertaking, as a metaphor for faith, Hebrews actually declares we can trust just the opposite is actually happening. When running the race of faith, in other words, we can take comfort in knowing that we’re never actually alone. Or as Hebrews likes to put it: “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

 

You see, as far as Hebrews is concerned, while we’re busy running the race of faith, all those who have gone before us, those saints who have already finished their own races of faith, well, they are now gazing down upon us and cheering us on to the same finish line. 

 

Every four years when they run the marathon at the Olympics, the race usually concludes with the runners entering the main stadium for one final lap. The stands, of course, are usually packed with people who have come to urge and applaud the runners on to the finish.

 

Well, the very same thing, according to Hebrews, is happening for us as we run the race of faith. A mythical stadium is packed with all the faithful who have gone before us as they clap and urge us onward.

 

And the faces in that crowd? Well, it’s a long and old list of names. Reaching back into the ages, Hebrews claims people like Abel, Enoch, and Noah, can be found perched in the bleachers. Racing still further through time, Hebrews then mentions the presence of Abraham, Sarah, and Moses. 

 

And still even later, we are assured people like Rahab,  Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel can also be found clapping and hoisting glasses to cheer us on as well.

 

And then let’s not forget about all those other saints who ended up being martyred. Like Eleazar, who was tortured; Jeremiah, who was put in stocks; Zechariah, who was stoned to death; and Isaiah, who was reportedly sawn in half by King Manasseh.           

 

No wonder chapter 11 from Hebrews is often referred to as the “hall of faith.” For it provides a wonderful listing of those, who having completed their own races, are now urging us on to do the same - finish.   


THREE: And did you notice something a bit strange about the listing of all those saints in the “hall of faith” from Chapter 11?

 

Well, they’re hardly a bunch of rock-stars, are they? When providing a list of the faithful who have gone before us, one would think Hebrews would want to jot down the cream-of-the crop. Instead, we get a list full of folks that were hardly steller during their lives. 

 

Let’s see…Noah, as you might recall from Genesis 9, liked to get into the bottle a little too much and then lay around without any clothes on. Moses, after making sure no one was watching, killed an Egyptian and then secretly buried his body in the sand.  

 

And let’s not forget about Rahab, who interestingly, also shows up as part of Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew’s Gospel. Rahab, you might recall, engaged in the world’s oldest profession. And how about David? Sure, he was King of Israel. But he was also a philanderer and backstabber, who had Uriah killed in battle to hide his affair with Bathsheeba. 

 

Nice collection of people, right? And yet there they are in that “hall of faith.” But the Bible is like that, isn’t it? It’s full of scoundrels and lowlifes and tricksters and all sorts of unsavory people who, strangely, seem to get all kinds of accolades.

 

Conniving Jacob is a favorite of God’s. Joseph, the youngest in the family who is kind of a snot-nosed little punk, also ends up getting special perks.

 

And what about the New Testament? Paul, the main persecutor of the church, becomes its chief evangelist. And Peter, who couldn’t tell the truth if it hit him over the head, becomes the Rock upon which Jesus builds his church. Hardly a collection of “Who’s Who.”  

   

FOUR: And so maybe sainthood, just like with everything else when it comes to God, is more about grace than anything else. 

 

While we often tend to think saints are especially holy and righteous people who have somehow earned such a high and fine title, truth be told the rank of saint is something that is simply given, rather than garnered. Turns out, saints aren’t saints because of the things they did in life, but rather because of what God did in and through them. 

 

No wonder our forefather John Calvin and other reformers considered the saints of the faith to be more than just those who were dead. Nope, as far as Calvin was concerned, all living people striving to follow Jesus Christ should be seen as saints.

 

Yep, as odd as it might sound to hear, as far as we Presbyterians are concerned, every single person in this room is also a saint. Again, not because we’ve earned the title, but rather because of what God is doing, and will surely finish doing, in all of us. 

C.S. Lewis was once asked  what he thought happens to us when we die. And rather than talk of pearly gates, clouds, and angels playing harps, Lewis simply said that he believed the God who had hounded, sought, and claimed in him in life, would do the same in death.

While admittedly dated language, Thomas Merton, I think, summed the matter up nicely by writing many years ago, “A man becomes a saint not by the conviction that he is better than sinners but by the realization that he is one of them, and that all together need the mercy of God!”      


CONCLUSION: Of course, this table full of the gifts of God for the people of God, works the same way, right?

In the same way sainthood is a gift, so is this table. It’s a gift from a gracious and loving God to lift our spirits and renew our faith.  For at this table all are invited and all are welcomed. 

 

And so you don’t have to worry about being holier than anyone else, or whether you’ve done enough to have earned the right to come stumbling up here. Why, you don’t even need to worry if you're saintly enough to eat the bread and drink the wine. Because by the grace of God, you are already a saint. 

 

So come, you saints of God. Come to the table.      

 

And now blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.