Let’s get this out of the way early on. Sunday’s Gospel lesson is a doozy. It’ll take a good preacher a lot of time to deal with the harsh words of Jesus in this eschatological passage. It’s Monday, it’s cloudy, and I’m just not up for it yet. I promise I’ll get there, but at least for today (and maybe tomorrow too), the Hebrew’s lesson seems much more appealing.
For the first time in a while, I found myself drawn to a word as I read the long passage on faith from Hebrews 11-12. Skipping past the stories of Old Testament heroes of faith who trusted in God, even when God wasn’t their God, I find myself focusing on those famous words about the Great Cloud of Witnesses. I’m especially keen on what that Great Cloud motivates us to do.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…”
Those saints who have gone before show us what a life of faith looks like. Whether they’ve done it heroically like Dietrich Bonhoeffer or been symbols of God’s ongoing forgiveness like King David, the Great Cloud invites us to follow their example of constantly laying down those things that would hold us back from pursuing the life of the kingdom. Metaphorically, Paul calls those things weight that should be set aside, but more realistically, it is sin that the NRSV says “clings so closely;” a turn of phrase I found myself drawn to this morning. The Greek for “clings so closely” is probably better rendered by the NIV as “so easily entangles.” Sin is kind of like a Purse Seine fishing net. It surrounds us on all sides, such that we might not even notice its presence, until all of a sudden, we are tangled up in a mess, fighting for our lives. Unlike the fishing net, the entanglement of sin is often of our own doing, and Paul rightly invites us to lay it aside for our own protection.
As I read that line, I can’t help but think of Dory and Nemo, caught in a Purse Seine of their own at the tail end of Finding Nemo. Dory’s longstanding advice to “just keep swimming” proves salvific for Dory, Nemo, and the school of whatever fish that are equally tangled up in the fisher’s net. Paul suggests a plan better suited for us bipeds, “run with endurance the race that his been set before you.” Either way, the message is the same. Just keep moving forward in faith and the sin that so easily entangles you will have a hard time keeping you ensnared. So, the next time you feel like your sin is all around you, listen or the voice of God, who maybe sounds a lot like Ellen DeGeneres and just keep swimming.