Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
“Let Us Run with Perseverance the Race”
Hebrews 12: 1-2
All Saints’ Sunday (November 5, 2017)
(as the New York City Marathon finished in front of the church)
For those of you paying attention, tonight’s sermon title is actually not “O God, Turn Me into a Unicorn.” That was last week’s sermon. Just for fun, let’s say this week’s sermon title is, “O God, Turn Me into a Saint.”
Today is All Saints’ Sunday; it is also, as you have figured out by now, New York City Marathon day. So, it is fitting that we remember all the saints, living and dead, who have run and continue to run with perseverance the race set before us.
Saints, by the way, from the Lutheran perspective at least, are not necessarily super-heroes; often times they are not much better than us and sometimes quite a bit shoddier.
The very mention of saints may cause some of us to recoil. Aren’t they the holier-than-thou folks who don’t have a single doubt? Aren’t they ones who, to all appearances, live courageous and virtuous lives?
With such thoughts running through our heads, that’s why I am glad this evening is a bit more raucous than usual: as we hear the announcers calling out the finishers, some who completed the race hours ago and some who are still stumbling toward the finish line, we think of the saints: some stun us and some are not quite as stellar and yet all cross the finish line as God takes their hands and pulls them forward.
I have run all my life though New York has gotten the better of me and I am a tad too sedentary these days. I started running when I was a sophomore in high school. Since I am from West Virginia, all our courses were hilly affairs. I remember my first race on Oglebay Park’s golf course. I ran the first 150 yards as fast as I could and was far behind. As soon as we were out sight of our coaches and parents, a number of us new runners started to walk, wondering how in the world any human-being could run the entire 2.3-mile course without stopping from time-to-time for a few breaths.
It took a while before we could run the whole way. We watched in awe as that great cloud of junior and senior witnesses seemed to sprint the entire way. With time, mostly by watching, we got better. There came a time, in college and beyond, when I could run ten miles in 65 minutes and go 4 ½ hours hardly stopping at all—unimaginable without the witnesses before me who led me to believe running the with perseverance was actually possible.
All Saints’ Day is like that. We gather to watch those who have given their best over the years. They aren’t perfect by any stretch and, in many cases, no better than any of us. Some even sickened themselves and yet kept watching those who ran ahead of them until, by hook or crook, they preserved and finished the race.
The leader of our saintly race is Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, the one who endured the cross, trusting that God would raise him from the dead and give him the crown of victory at the finish line. We watch Jesus with particular delight because he promises that we, too, can end up taking a victory seat near the throne of God.
One of my favorite “top shelves saints” is Dorothy Day, the foundress of the Catholic Worker on the Lower East Side where homeless people continue to be fed and housed long since Dorothy joined the church triumphant. People often call Dorothy Day a saint for giving away all her earthly belongings and living with homeless people. She often said: “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed that easily…I am as mean and nasty in my head and my heart as all the rest of us here… Just this morning, I was thinking of someone I know with a terrible anger and scorn in my heart!”
I imagine most of us can relate to Saint Dorothy Day. That is why it is a gift to watch those who have gone ahead of us, those who struggle beside us, and even those who lag far behind and yet keep slogging along. Just watch the saints you know so well, not the haloed or dashboard variety but the ones you sleep next to you, work with you, and worship with, and they will tell you in the throes of despair, “You will make it, I promise. I did;” they will lovingly whisper, “I lost my husband and cried and cried and cried until I finally came through the shadows to a radiant field of wonder albeit with a few scrapes and bruises;” they will hug us and say, “I drank a fifth of vodka a day and then, somehow, with a little help from my friends, stopped and haven’t had a drink in 4,766 days—but, hey, who’s counting?”
It’s not that any of us is perfect. We simply join the race and follow the one in the lead, Jesus, who pulls us along. In that the race, when we can barely run a single step more, someone takes our hand and says, “Come with me. I have done it and you will too.” That, my friend, is a saint.