Sunday’s Sermon: The Ultimate Tough Mudder

  • New trend in fitness competitions: Tough Mudder
    • Wildly popular
      • 1,000,000+ entrants worldwide
      • Held in …
        • At least 29 states
        • Countries including:
          • Canada
          • Mexico
          • South Africa
    • Description of course –> “Probably the toughest event on the planet.”®
      • 10-12 mile run
      • Designed by British Special Forces
      • 25 Obstacles
        • Fire, ice water, 12-foot wall, cargo net, balance beam, underground tunnels, ascending/descending monkey bars, electric shock (10,000 volts)
      • Only 78% entrants complete
      • There’s even a “World’s Toughest Mudder” –> 24 hours on the course to complete as many laps/obstacles as you can
    • Believe it or not, the “running” part of a Tough Mudder is the easy part. Now, it’s one thing to choose to tackle something like this – a series of obstacles designed to test your strength and endurance. But what about when life throws obstacles like that at us? What about those challenges we face on a day-to-day basis that test us in ways we’d rather avoid?
      • Test our patience
      • Test our spirit
      • Test our resolve
  • Find acknowledgement of obstacles/tough times in Scriptures
    • NT – pretty explicit: Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented … They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.[1] –> Destitute, persecuted, and tormented … There are Christians all around the world today who continue to live in situations in which their faith makes them a target.
      • Voice of the Martyrs map – at least 64 countries around the world categorized as either “restricted” (countries where government policies/laws prevent Christians from practicing openly – e.g. China) or “hostile” (countries where governments try to protect Christians but they are victimized anyway – e.g. Chiapas, Mexico)[2]
      • Admittedly, it’s difficult for us here in America to understand these kinds of hurdles. For us, it’s safe to participate in our faith, but there’s no question that we face trials of our own, too. –> we suffer …
        • Loss of a loved one –> void that creates in our lives
        • Broken relationships –> loss of trust, shattered bond
        • Health crises –> things that weaken our physical, mental, and emotional strength
        • Personal failings/disappointments –> things we wish we could change about ourselves, that make us second guess ourselves
    • The Hebrews passage speaks to our struggle with these obstacles, too. –> text: Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.[3]
      • Gr. “run the race” = “make progress in the struggle” –> This could be any sort of issue that we’re dealing with – anything that’s causing us to slip, to stumble, to feel beat down and left behind. This could be any sort of struggle that causes us to cry out to God for help.
    • Ps speaks to this sort of struggle –> words of Ps used to cry out to God:
      • Hear the pain in struggle description of treatment of the vine: The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it. Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down.[4]
        • Vine = people of Israel
        • The people are struggling. They’re hurt. They feel devastated and abandoned – left to face all the challenges of the world alone. And these words give voice to a feeling that we don’t often acknowledge. Somewhere along the line, we learn that we’re not allowed to question God. We’re not allowed to express how hurt or confused or lost we feel. In our heads, we’re supposed to always remember that God has our backs, so we think our hearts are never supposed to waiver, never supposed to feel unsure. But that sort of attitude is an obstacle in and of itself.
          • Illusion of perfection/“having it all together” = dangerous to our mental, emotional, spiritual health
        • Psalm gives us a way to deal with imperfection and chaos of life – a way to bring it before God – by actually acknowledging it
          • Healthier than pretending it doesn’t exist
          • Think of it this way: How can you figure out how to get around an obstacle if you don’t look at it?
            • Compare to running Tough Mudder with eyes closed —> can’t see the obstacles, can’t follow the path
          • Scholar: The belief that God is in some way confronted in suffering and death as well as prosperity and life is a remarkable affirmation.[5] –> You see, even though the Israelites found themselves in a terrible position – a position in which they had been conquered and by yet another foreign nation – they knew that God was with them. Yes, they were struggling with their faith. Yes, they were struggling with their identity as God’s people. They were even questioning where God was in the midst of their struggle. But they also brought that struggle before God – before the only One who could give them refuge, peace, strength, and courage to forge on ahead.
  • Constancy of God’s presence visible in both OT and NT
    • Ps recalls God’s presence facing past obstacles: You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.[6]
      • Heb. “cleared” = not just haphazard hacking away at weeds and underbrush –> This word can mean “pay attention to,” “concern oneself with,” or “worry about,” so in making a place for the Israelites after leading them out of slavery in Egypt, God was acting with care and concern. There was intent. There was purpose. There was attentiveness. God was genuinely invested in the life of Israel.
    • Also see evidence of God being there in the past in passage from Heb – recounts history of many great Scriptural stories
      • Exodus from Egypt and parting of the Red Sea
      • Battle of Jericho
      • Triumphs of the judges – text: Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel and the prophets – who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.[7] –> all of these = ways in which God has been with the people
        • Lifted them up
        • Gave them strength
        • Bolstered their spirits and their faith
        • The people mentioned in this passage all turned to God at one time or another. Were they perfect in their faith? Of course not. No one is.
          • People mentioned were full of flaws
            • Samson – vanity
            • David – lust, pride
            • Gideon – full of doubts, testing God
            • But God still came to the aid of each of them when they needed God most.
          • Thankfully, there is no prerequisite for calling out to God.
  • And that’s the bottom line here: No matter what obstacles we’re facing, no matter whether or not we feel “up to the challenge,” God is with us in the midst of those struggles.
    • When I spoke about the Tough Mudder earlier, I called it a “fitness competition.” But I guess that designation isn’t entirely accurate. You do get an entrant’s number to wear on your shirt, and there is a timer at the finish line. But running a Tough Mudder is more about making it through the obstacles and helping each other than it is about the timer at the end.
      • Description from website: Tough Mudders are team players who make sure no one gets left behind.[8] –> expresses same attitude that God has toward us – God will never leave us behind to try to conquer an obstacle alone.
    • This is why we know that even when we feel lost and abandoned in the face of our struggles as the Israelites did, we are never truly alone.
      • From Ps: But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name. Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we might be saved.[9]
        • Scholar connects these ancient words to our faith today: In an act of faith and hope not unlike that of Psalm 80, the followers of Jesus dare to affirm that in Jesus the light of God shines and that through Jesus we are restored and have life. Like those who prayed Psalm 80 so long ago, Christians dare to see and expect the reign of God where others see only chaos and expect nothing.[10] –> You see, it’s not that as Christians, we’re going to avoid struggles altogether. Everyone experiences times in their lives when things are hard – times when we find our paths blocked by a seemingly-insurmountable obstacle. But as Christians, we know that our strength, our hope, and our ultimate end all lie in the same place: the grace given to us by Christ.
    • This is also the hope that we find in the Hebrews passage.
      • Text: 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, 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.[11]
        • Hope and courage in the way Jesus faced ultimate obstacle of the cross – “disregarding its shame” –> Jesus  faced the cross knowing it would be a struggle. Through faith, knowing God is with us, we can face our obstacles, too.
        • Scholar (assurance): Faith allows people to see beyond what is right in front of them, their daily problems, to see what God is doing in their midst, to see what God has done throughout the ages, and to see the future joy God has in store for us.[12] –> Notice the way that statement ends: “the future joy God has in store for us.” People who run a Tough Mudder aren’t worried about time. Their goal isn’t the perfect race or the fastest finish. People who run a Tough Mudder know that the experience is as much about helping others get through the obstacles as it is about getting through the obstacles themselves.
          • From Tough Mudder website: Tough Mudder is all about taking on the obstacles in your life and the enormous sense of accomplishment that you feel when you overcome them. –> slightly altered: Faith is all about taking on the obstacles in your life and the enormous sense of unity you feel when you face them with God. Amen.

[1] Heb 11:36-37.


[3] Heb 12:1b.

[4] Ps 80:12-14.

[5] J. Clinton McCann, Jr. “The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 4. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 1001.

[6] Ps 80:8-9.

[7] Heb 11:32-34.

[9] Ps 80:17-19.

[10] McCann, 1001.

[11] Heb 12:1-2.

[12] David E. Gray. “Proper 15 (Sunday between August 14 and August 20 Inclusive): Hebrews 11:29-12:2 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 354.

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