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Faith For the Long Term
based on John 6:55-69
Reverend Dr. Wasena Wright

Years ago, when Albert Schweitzer was receiving international attention, a late night television personality told his television audience, "I'd like to be an Albert Schweitzer . . . . if I could commute!"

Similar feelings were developing among those who followed Jesus. There were some who were following Jesus who discovered to their amazement they could not commute! As He began to fill in the details of the kingdom life, the number of followers started dwindling rather dramatically. Fewer were willing to follow Him. One by one they drifted away. Finally, Jesus turned to the twelve and asked, "Do you also wish to go away?"

Who would we expect to answer except Simon Peter? "Lord, to whom shall we go?" he asked. "You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."

Good old Simon Peter. Impetuous. Excitable. Sometimes speaking before his mind was fully in gear. But Simon Peter was in for the long term. His commitment was no momentary, fleeting experience good only when things were going his way.

Certainly, he got discouraged. After the crucifixion, he was ready to go back to his fishing nets. We can understand that. After all, he felt terribly let down. Still, his commitment to Jesus never failed.

As a pastor, I can appreciate that. I watch boys and girls go through our Sunday School and never become part of our youth program. I see members of our youth program who graduate from high school and disappear until they have children of their own. I watch people bring their children to Sunday School and church, but then drift away as the children leave home. I have seen people who have spent twenty or thirty years in the church, who have a disagreement with another member or with the pastor, and are never seen again. What a treasure, what a blessing, what an encouragement are those of you who are in for the long term. You have a very special kind of faith -- a faith that will be rewarded. Indeed, it is really the only kind of faith that counts.

I. FOR YOU SEE, LIFE IS A MARATHON. Life is hard. The obstacles are many, and just because we are Christians does not mean that the way will be made smooth for us. We get cancer, have heart attacks, strokes, diabetes. We watch family members suffer. We lose our jobs. We grieve the loss of loved ones. At such times we need faith for the long term.

While God promises to care for us and not abandon us, we are not promised that we will be removed from trials. Indeed, God sometimes delivers us from a situation only when the circumstances of the situation seem to us to be beyond hope, but God never forgets us. Life is a marathon. To know this is a great advantage in life.

One of the worst things that can happen to many of us is to have too many successes early in life. We think all of life will be that way. But it will not. Life is hard. It is a marathon.

AND THE GREAT SECRET IN LIFE IS NOT HOW WE BEGIN, BUT HOW WE FINISH. In the 1990 Tour de Trump, an eleven-day bike race, a little-known Soviet amateur held the lead for seven days. He took the lead on day three and did not relinquish it to any of the more experienced professional riders until the next-to-last day. At one point, he had a 12-minute advantage over the next closest rider.

However, this young rider found himself over half-an-hour behind by the end of the day on which he lost the lead. He finished the race far down in the pack.

A few things in life are like a sprint, but most things are more like a marathon. The issue, then, is not how you start but how you finish!

Many of us are good starters. We have talent, we have enthusiasm, we start off with a burst of well-doing. But sustaining that beginning -- that is the problem. That's true also in our commitment to Jesus Christ, to our marriage partner, in our work and in a host of other endeavors. How are we at finishing?

Theatrical producer Arthur Hopkins used to receive dozens of manuscripts for plays. Before he would read any script, he always asked, "How is your second act?" He realized that many new playwrights had a wonderful first act, but allowed the drama to fade and the plot to drift in the later parts of the play. Whenever there is a second act, it must be just as impressive as the first.

How is your second act? That is the test of any commitment in life. When the enthusiasm fades, when the passion cools, when the numbers drop off, can you maintain your intensity? That is the mark of a champion.

Olympic champion Jesse Owens once put it like this: "There is something that can happen to every athlete, every human being -- it's the instinct to slack off, to give in to the pain, to give less than your best...the instinct to hope to win through luck or your opponents not doing their best, instead of going to the limit and past your limit, where victory is always to be found. Defeating those negative instincts that are out to defeat us is the difference between winning and losing, and we face that battle every day of our lives." Life is a marathon. Finishing is what it is all about.

III. FINISHING IS WHAT FAITH IS ALL ABOUT. That is the critical thing for us to see this morning. Faith becomes real when we are down and out, ready to call it quits.

Faith is hanging in there when the day looks dark and the options are limited, because you know that somehow out there is coming the victory of God. You may not experience it for yourself -- at least not this side of the grave -- but you know it is coming. Thus you place yourself in Christ's hands and you say with Simon Peter: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life...we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."

Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch woman who spent months in prison and in the Ravensbrueck concentration camp for hiding Jews during the Second World War, had that kind of faith. Those awful days in prison were a strain on her faith. Once she was in solitary confinement. She prayed, "God, how much longer do I have to take this? If you're alive, if you really care, will you please show me a sign that you are alive and that you hear my prayers?"

That night Corrie laid down on her cot feeling totally abandoned and alone. She fell asleep crying and wondering why God wouldn't answer her prayers. The next morning when Corrie woke up a beam of light was shining down through a crack in the ceiling on a few blades of green grass. A miracle in the middle of that concrete cell!

"I knew without any doubt," Corrie told us, "that God was alive and that his light would shine again in my life in a beautiful and wonderful way, even though the possibility seemed impossible."

That morning Corrie's faith in God and her commitment to allow God to control her life were renewed.

Friends, that is faith. Life is a marathon. It's not how you start, but where you finish. Faith has to do with both having a great race and an even greater finish. The writer of the Revelation put God's promise to us about finishing the race like this: "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life" (2:10). That is faith for the long term -- the only kind of faith that really counts. Amen.