The Epistle for August 18th, the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, is Hebrews 12:1-13. In his letter to the Hebrews, and to all Christians, Paul talks about this faith race we're running. He admonishes his readers to "...lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and...run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God."
Praise be to God that Jesus, unlike many of those who call themselves his followers, does not take the summer off! Or even a longer break than that. If I had a dollar for every person who's ever said to me "I'm spiritual, but not religious," I'd be a wealthy man. Many times I've heard people say this, feeling that they have to explain to me why they seldom attend church.
"I'm spiritual but not religious." This makes no sense to me. A spiritual person is a religious person. There's no way around it. In Lutheran circles, with our complete understanding of Grace as "God always comes down," a spiritual person is one who finds joy in reading and studying the Scriptures, meditating on the creeds and spending time in prayer; he or she is someone who delights in worshipping on Sundays and at other times, such as Advent and Lenten vespers, and partaking of the life giving Sacraments; he or she is a person who looks forward to fellowshipping with other believers and who counts it a privilege to participate in the work and recreational activities of their local congregation, as they are able. They delight in using their time, talents, skills and money for the glory of God in their local congregation and the world. They are people who've made a commitment and dedicated themselves and their families to God. They know that the only way their lives will make sense and be fulfilled is in trusting his will and following his leading. They are running the race of faith!
Jesus was spiritual and he was very religious. His parents saw to it that he studied the Scriptures and learned the prayers and rituals of Judaism from childhood. He worshiped in the synagogue every Sabbath and from a young age revealed the Scriptures to those who would listen. He prayed at every opportunity, long and deeply, holding real conversations with his heavenly Father. He left his home and family and whatever creature comforts he might have had and roamed the countryside teaching, preaching and bringing healing, physical and spiritual. He stayed with people when invited, but he often slept outside. His commitment to God was total. His reward was a cross. It wasn't picturesque. The pre-resurrection cross wasn't golden and draped with lilies or stylized out of all recognition. It was rough hewn and splintery wood. It was hard and harsh. It was sticky with blood--his blood. It was the place where our Lord bought our salvation with his own life.
If the thought of him hanging there with nails pounded into the soft flesh of his palms and feet, a crown of thorns pressed into his scalp, dying so that you might live, does not inspire you to total commitment, then ask yourself "Why not?" Then fall on your knees and ask God to break your stony heart to bits and give you a flesh and blood servant's heart in its place. Then get up and head to the track. Start running your own faith race! Your victory is assured. He ran it before you, winning against all odds, and he'll be running right along beside you! Praise God!