************ Funeral Sermon on Hebrews 12:1-2 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 8, 2015
Funeral Sermon for Francis Leon (Lee) Miller
I used to see this man running. At a pretty good clip. Until two weeks ago I did not know his name. It was Pamala who told me about her dad, his career in the navy, his love for sailing, and how he took up running when he was 44 years old. He was a serious runner because he even ran the LA Marathon.
In our Scripture reading we are told to "run the race." As a runner, Lee understood and appreciated this verse better than most Christians.
"Run the race." Hebrews is not talking about the LA Marathon, or the Summer Olympics, or Camp Pendleton's World Famous Mud Run, or San Francisco's Bay to Breakers run. Hebrews is talking about the Christian life. You believe Jesus is your Savior from sin. Now you need to live for Him as your Lord. So, live the Christian life. "Run the race."
In telling you this, I am assuming something. I am assuming you all are Christians. If you are not, I invite you to repent of your sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. And, as a believer, you are to run to race. And, I want to tell you, the family and friends of Francis Leon Miller, that he has run the race. As I heard last night when I met the family, he stumbled and fell more than once because, like you and me, he was a sinner.
Hebrews not only tells us to run the race but also how to run the race.
Let's go back to Lee's first marathon. Runners are lined up, stripped to the bare essentials. All is ready for the race when suddenly we see Lee coming to the starting line. Strange as it seems he is fully dressed. He has on a full suit, heavy overcoat, hip boots, and a heavy woolen cap. In his hands he carries his lunch bucket and an umbrella. His pockets are weighed down with water bottles and energy drinks. This is not the Lee I used to see running in Visalia.
This is not the image of the runner presented to us today by Hebrews either. It says, "let us lay aside every weight." God's athletes must lay aside a preoccupation with worldly cares and goods. It is hard to run, awfully hard, when your arms are filled with treasures and your heart divided by desires. It is hard to run the Christian race, to grow and develop in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, when career, money, recreation, sex, sports, or family are more important than the Lord. Whatever hinders us, whatever prevents us, from running the race must be laid aside. Jesus says, "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things (food, clothing, shelter, etc) will be given to you as well" (Mt 6:33).
The biggest hindrance to God's athletes as they run the race is sin. Sin to the Christian is the same as alcohol, tobacco, and too much food to the athlete: it impedes, slows down, and makes one out-of-shape, out-of-condition, and over-weight. Think of the church in Galatia. Paul says to that church,
(Gal 5:7) You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?When the Galatian church fell into sin, it dropped out of the race, it was no longer running and living for Jesus. Based on your stories last night, I can say that as Lee got older he got wiser. By the grace of God he learned how to run the Christian's race.
We must get rid of sin in our life for sin keeps us from running the race. This isn't easy, of course. But you know what the athlete is told: "no pain, no gain."
To run the Christian race we must also run with endurance. "Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us," says Hebrews. This means we have to run and keep on running. We can't quit half way through. We have to keep on running until the goal is reached. We have to keep on plugging and struggling and may never quit until we are called from this life. The Christian life, you see, is a marathon. In a marathon, the prize doesn't go to the person who starts the fastest but to the person who endures and perseveres to the end.
Let's go back to Lee and his first marathon. Let's say he got bored and tired at the 13 mile mark. He decided to stop at a Starbucks for a quick cappuccino and a sandwich followed by a movie or a tour of Hollywood. If Lee did this he did not endure to the end.
One last point on how to run the race. "Run the race," says Hebrews, "looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith." Do you know what Jesus is? Jesus is the finish line. Jesus is the goal. Jesus is the prize. To run the Christian's race we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Let me give a real-life example of this:
In 1987, Eamon Coughlan, the world record holder at 1500 meters, was running in a qualifying heat at the World Indoor Track Championships. With two and a half laps left, he was tripped. He fell, but he got up and with great effort managed to catch the leaders. With only 20 yards left in the race, he was in third place -- good enough to qualify for the finals. He looked over his shoulder to the inside, and, seeing no one, he let up. But another runner, charging hard on the outside, passed Coughlan a yard before the finish, thus eliminating him from the finals. Coughlan's great comeback effort was rendered worthless because he took his eyes off the finish line.It's tempting to let up when the sights around us look favorable. But we finish well in the Christian race only when we fix our eyes on the goal: the Lord Jesus Christ.
Lee has finished the race. As a believer in Christ he has kept his eyes on the prize. So last week he was able to lift his arms in triumph as he entered into the presence of our Lord.
We've been looking at Lee and his race. But now we have to move from Lee to every person here. Do you believe in Jesus as your Savior from sin? Then you too, my brothers and sisters, need to run the race. "Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [are to] run with endurance the race that is set before us."
The race is not reserved just for Lee. The race is for every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you run the race? Do you lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares? Do you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith?
Let me end by telling you about the cheering section. Every marathon has crowds of people cheering on the runners. According to Hebrews, those who run the Christian race are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. Who makes up this cloud? Our spectators, our witnesses, our cheering section are the heroes of faith that we read about in Hebrews 11: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets.
These Old Testament spectators aren't couch-potatoes, arm-chair athletes, or Monday-morning quarterbacks. At one time these witnesses were also combatants or participants. They are veteran athletes who have already run the race. And now they are cheering us on to also reach the finish line.
Last week one more saint was added to the cheering section: Francis Leon Miller. With the saints of old he is urging us and cheering us on as we run the race, as we live for Jesus.
Francis Leon Miller believed Jesus was his Savior from sin and the Lord of his life. So he ran the race. And now he is cheering you on to do the same.
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