|Morning devotions; Aug. 16, 7:30 a.m.; Harrisonburg, Virginia|
So then let's also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses [martyrs] surrounding us. Let's throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith's pioneer and perfecter. He endured the cross, ignoring the shame for the sake of the joy that was laid out in front of him, and sat down at the right side of God's throne.It was an interesting time in Harrisonburg last week. I was back for my second return trip for my ongoing work with EMU, and this time my wife and daughter accompanied me, their first trip back since moving back to Iowa last summer. And...all three of us wept at various times.
(Hebrews 12:1-2; CEB; Revised Common Lectionary reading: Year C, Proper 15 (20))
My tears came on suddenly during corporate prayer last Sunday as we worshiped at Park View Mennonite Church, our last church home in Harrisonburg. "And for those who are grieving, Lord...," the leader intoned. - Boom. Quivering lips, the whole nine yards. My daughter patted and rubbed my back. It had been a while since she'd seen her old man cry.
Grief. I'm still in it.
We're home in Toledo and our sense of God's calling us to move here remains unshaken. But it's also the case that I miss university life and the dynamic community of Harrisonburg. Plus struggling rural Midwestern towns are not easy places to live for people with visions of radical ecclesia and community peacebuilding/development. The fruits of the Spirit - especially patience - are rarely manifest in my daily being in our still-new nearby. My cup of compassion runs low and it impacts my ability to faithfully love my family, neighbor, and enemy.
The text above from the lectionary is water for my dry soul. The race metaphor is familiar, but the cloud of witnesses strikes me afresh when I was doing devotions the other morning (from which this post is derived - the filling out of the blank page pictured above). This cloud of witnesses, it's as if they are watching the race we run, cheering on the runners who yet toil on this earth; not in vain (we pray), but for the joy of life abundant in Jesus Christ.
It's important to notice in the previous chapter that this cloud of witnesses is comprised of those prior champions of the faith who...
...were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others 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; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect. (Heb. 11:36-40)Not without "us" are we made perfect. Suffering, resurrection, and the body of Christ - all inextricably linked. Taken with the other New Testament texts like Romans 5:3-5 which reflect on the fruits of suffering in the Christian faith, this is an encouraging text. It helps put my "suffering" (a strong word for what I'm experiencing, yes) in perspective.
As we continue to discern what faithful and radical discipleship looks like here - seeking the peace of the farm town - I'll continue to seek spiritual nourishment where I can (trips back to Harrisonburg; my dear friend Travis here in town) and try to run the race that's laid out before us here in Toledo...