I intentionally shy away from sports metaphors when preaching. Too often they only serve to reinforce the winnings-the-only-thing and the ends-justify-the-means obsession of American unspirituality. Hebrews, like Paul (I Corinthians 9:2, Galatians 2:2), uses the image of a foot race to speak about the spiritual commitment needed in our personal lives. She writes, “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1) and remember that we are being cheered on by an invisible crowd of witnesses (the saints of old). The flow of the unknown author of Hebrews’ thinking, reminds me how Jesus called us to pick up our own cross daily (Luke 9:23). We each can have a race, or a cross, of our own.
In high school I ran track and cross-country. Often the stadium would fill at the beginning of the meet with those cheering for the pole vaulters and sprinters. But, my race was the two-mile. It was always held last, in hopes that it might get rained out. Unlike the hurdles, that had to be done in heats to accommodate all the participants, the two mile event rarely drew more than 6 entrants and we quickly spaced ourselves out on the track. It was easy to imagine yourself running alone. I would do math homework in my head as I ran. This was good preparation for my vocation as a Christian writer. Throughout life, I sense that God has called me to run the less popular races. This is why Hebrews first gives us a chapter full of saints before telling us to run our own race with joy. Some of us need to see dead people to believe we have any fans.
Of the saints in the bleachers, Rahab the Harlot needs special mention (Hebrews 11:31). When she invited the spies to use the fire-stairs at the back of her apartment, she was committing an act of treason (Joshua 2). Her king and her neighbors assumed that she would run the same patriotic race they were running. Human history is filled with people who broke ranks because they felt an inner calling to pursue a different course. Half of them made what the winning side considered to be the wrong choice. Still, there is no real spirituality without going into the wilderness and rejecting all temptations to run someone else’s race. Jesus knew the cross was before him, because he saw everyone else running the other way. He calls us to each pick up our own cross.