Hebrews 12:2 Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.
COMMENT: On this eve of the Epiphany, the Daily Office has woven together a powerful triad of texts... Joshua 1:1-9, Hebrews 11:32-12:2, and John 15:1-16. In the OT reading, the reins of leadership for God's people are handed over to Joshua as the people are about to enter into the Promised Land. With days of challenge ahead of him, Joshua is encouraged by God: "Strength! Courage! You are going to lead this people to inherit the land that I promised to give their ancestors. Give it everything you have, heart and soul... Haven't I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don't be timid; don't get discouraged. God, your God, is with you every step you take." God's work is done in partnership with the strong God who makes and keeps promise, who invades our life with holiness (the love and power to live faithfully before a holy God).
Next I read this wonderful Hebrews text that comes at the end of the preacher's recital of the great heroes of faith. Keep your eyes on Jesus and learn from him how to run with perseverance the race that has been set out before us. Jesus' singular focus on God gave him strength to endure anything that was thrown at him. We need that same singularity of focus. It is interesting to look at the life of Jesus - the people who gave him the most trouble were not the "so-called" sinners (or as we tend to say these days, people of the world); it was the religious community itself (today, we would say, the church) that criticised him and hated him for loving and living the way he did. But, through his baptism (and the reaffirmation of his baptism on the mount of transfiguration), Jesus knew both his identity, as Beloved of God, and his vocation, as Servant who pleases God by his obedience unto death, even death on the cross (see Matthew 3:17; 17:5; and Philippians 2:8).
Knowing our identity and our vocation is critical as we walk through this life, and especially as we encounter criticism and discouraging situations. Unfortunately, many of those things will come from the source where we should least expect it - the body of Christ. At times, the church in its efforts to justify or even sustain itself, fails to act in love and witness to the way of Jesus in the world. Just yesterday, I heard of a local newspaper (with an irreverent slant) who did a less than flattering article on its visit to several local churches - and the author has received written and verbal threats from members of the "offended" congregations... Hardly the way of Jesus! I also learned of a church pastor who is being threatened by denominational leadership for some kind of rumor that has been passed around about the pastor - and no one from the leadership side has even contacted the pastor to see if there is any substance to the accusation... Hardly the way of Jesus! So, how does a pastor, or any person, who experiences these kinds of things keep going? Hebrews says we must keep our eyes on Jesus and learn to live out of our baptismal identity and vocation - to never lose focus of who we are in Christ and what we have been called to be and do in Christ. That is good news for all of us today!
And finally, the Daily Office took me to my favorite parabolic image of Jesus - The Vine and the Branches in John 15. Verse 5 reads: "I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing." For me, this verse is one of the keystones for living the abundant life in Christ - Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing! By God's grace and call, we are invited to be joined with Jesus, the relation intimate and organic - and the harvest will come. God produces the fruit in us and through us - we do not produce fruit on our own. It is a divine-human partnership. The life that we have, the life that we enjoy, and the life that grows and bears fruit - is the resurrection life of Jesus in us (see Romans 8:1-11)
So let the devil, or the wicked person, or the church representative do or say what they will - we are promised strength, power, endurance, victory (vindication), and fruitfulness - as we find our life intimately and organically bound up in Jesus Christ, keeping our focus on Jesus and his way in this world, living by and trusting in the promise of God who calls us to be strong and courageous because God has pledged to never leave us or forsake us.
Today, I choose to remember my own baptism - and the many reaffirmations of that baptism... when I was baptized again as an adult because my Nazarene pastor told me that my infant baptism was of no value - shame on him for saying so and shame on me for believing that... when I was confirmed in the church... when I took my vows of ordination... and the many times that Christ has met me on mountaintop and valley to remind me that I belong to God. I am God's beloved, called to be God's servant... and they can't take that away from me, no matter what!
Soli Deo gloria