Running the Race with Joy (Hebrews 12:1-2; Luke 19:1-10)

As I write this blog to all of you, my heart is full. Today is All Saints’ Day. I cannot help but remember (as I am sure you cannot) the people in my life whom God has used to bless me on the journey and to point the Way to Jesus. This year’s remembrance of All Saints is made all the more meaningful as I prepare to gather next week in California with members of Juli’s family to celebrate the life of my father-in-law, Rev. Charles (Chuck) Brehmer: grandfather, dad, brother, pastor, missionary, and friend whom God used in a profound way to make this world a better place. Chuck was called home to heaven the day before yesterday. And of course, though my last Sunday to lead worship at Trinity will be November 17, today is the first day of the month that Juli and I will say goodbye to all of you, the saints at Trinity Lutheran Church Lexington Park, as we depart Southern Maryland for a new mission field in the Research Triangle of North Carolina. There we will transition to life and ministry at Resurrection Lutheran Church, in Cary. It is, of course, a busy time, but a time that I call to mind the words of Hebrews 12: “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also…run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” There are many witnesses who have gone before us who have “run the race.” Not perfectly, of course…only Jesus could do that. But as God gave them the grace to do so, they ran the race as Jesus did: with joy. Today, we give thanks that we are given to follow where they have gone before us.

As I consider this verse from the book of Hebrews, set alongside the Gospel reading for this Sunday about Zaccheus (you can read the verse here), the focus on joy seems appropriate. As Paul D. Duke describes the “flavor” of the Christian faith as demonstrated by Zaccheus: “It is not the chalky, bitter pill that so much of our preaching on justice imparts, it is savory as a feast, generous as hospitality, joyous as hurrying down a tree to go home with a Friend” (Christian Century Vol. 112, No. 29, Oct 18, 1995). If you can recall the pride and excitement you felt as a child when a neighborhood buddy or schoolmate stayed over at your place, you have an inkling of what Zaccheus felt that day Jesus invited Himself over to stay (and have dinner). I imagine that there was a new spring in Zaccheus’s step as his “Friend” ignored the mumbling and grumbling of the holiness brigade, shocked that Jesus would break bread with Zaccheus despite the reputation toll collectors had as criminals and law-breakers. No wonder, then, that at this very meal, Zaccheus stands up to reveal a heart that longs to make injustice right. He has experienced a mercy for him at the hands of his Lord that he never could have anticipated.

God has privileged me by allowing me to serve the last six years as your pastor. I pray that the unconditional love of God, given with no strings attached through our Savior and Lord Jesus has been the thing that has kept us, forgiven sinners and sanctified saints that we are, running the race and bringing our Friend home! As you (and I) transition to a new way of doing that in the weeks and months ahead, may our communion with Jesus, with one another, and with all the saints in heaven enable us to not only persevere, but run with joy…all the way home.