The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 1/5/03
Text: Hebrews 12:1-2
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Or, as the New Revised Standard Version has it (a bit more accurately), "...let us...lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us." I like the way Eugene Peterson renders that in his wonderful paraphrase, The Message:(1) "Do you see what this means - all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get with it. Strip down, start running - and never quit! No extra spiritual fat..."

This is the time of year when we hear a LOT about fat. The annual January challenge. Get rid of those pounds you put on over the holidays. On the internet the other day someone posted a dieter's version of the 23rd Psalm:

Strict is my diet, I must not want;
It maketh me to lie down at night hungry,
It leadeth me past confectioners,
It trieth my willpower,
It leadeth me in the paths of starvation,
For my figure's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the aisles of the pastry department,
I will buy no sweet rolls, for they are fattening.
The cakes and the pies they tempt me.
Before me is set a table set with cottage cheese and fish.
I filleth my stomach with liquids.
My day's food quota runneth over.
Surely calories and weight charts will follow me
All the days of my life,
And I will dwell in fears of scales forever.(2)

A lady was approached by a beggar with hand out - "Madam, I haven't eaten in six days."

"My goodness," she said, "I wish I had your willpower."

According to researchers the number one New Year's Resolution this year AGAIN is..."I have GOT to lose some weight!" Yes!

Well, my friend, if you really want to lose it, you have come to the right place. I may not know much about anything else, but I know plenty about losing weight - I have been on diets since I was twelve, for years weighed in at over 250 pounds, and, over time, have gained and lost about a ton. I KNOW about losing weight, and I know how tough it is.

So what has this to do with our lesson? "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses...those exceptionally faithful folks like Noah and Abraham and Moses that the author of Hebrews has just listed in chapter 11...", let us throw off everything that hinders...every weight...and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Did you notice the link there, the parallel? Scripture uses WEIGHT as a synonym for SIN. If our lesson links "weight" and "sin," then perhaps as we put those New Year's resolutions about taking care of our bodies into practice, we can learn something about taking care our spiritual lives as well.

Think about it. If we want to lose weight, the first thing to do is DECIDE TO DO IT. Nothing will happen until we set our mind to it. It is the same with sin - the things we DO as well as the things we do NOT do that we know we should. If there is something in our life that we KNOW is not as God would have it, the first thing we must do is DECIDE to get rid of it. The theological word for it is repentance - repentance means more than simply being sorry about something; it means being sorry enough to change. Without that initial decision, nothing will happen.

The next thing is to set a REACHABLE goal. Now, I emphasize REACHABLE because if your goal is to lose fifty pounds in two weeks, you will end up terribly discouraged unless you cut off major body parts. You will finally quit all together. But if you choose no goal at all, you will drift off into your old eating habits and, after losing a few pounds, you will gain them back again (and then some) and experience no lasting benefit.

It is the same in our spiritual life. If you are convinced that you have not been communicating with God or letting God communicate with you properly, that you have not been living as God would have you live, and your goal to correct the situation is to memorize the entire Bible in a year, you will most likely be a crashing failure. But a REACHABLE goal might be to at least READ the Bible through in a year. If your goal would be to spend at least five hours a day on your knees in prayer after you have not been spending five MINUTES up till now, that would be an unrealistic goal. However, a REACHABLE goal would be to set aside a certain prescribed amount of time each day (and preferably at a FIXED time each day) to spend time in prayer.

All right, move on. If we want to lose a few excess pounds, we know that we have to EAT PROPERLY. We cannot continue scarfing up all the candy, cookies and cakes that were typical of the holidays. We will have to limit our intake to things that are nourishing and good for us and cut out the things that got our clothes bursting at the seams in the first place. Common sense. Not EASY, but common sense.

It is the same spiritually. If you want to improve your spiritual condition, you will start FEEDING your spirit properly by spending time in God's Word, by taking some of the time you have been spending with people or things that not only may not be profitable to you but, in some cases, are downright harmful, and spending it on things that will HELP...serious Bible study, participation in the fellowship of the church, and not just for Sunday worship. You WILL be a part of Sunday School. You WILL take part in opportunities for growth like our midweek Kirk Nite. Then you will begin to get the spiritual nourishment you need to get rid of those things in your life, those spiritual excess pounds, that "sin which clings so closely."

There is another aspect to losing weight...exercise. I confess, exercise has always been one of my most UNfavorite things. It takes time; it takes energy; it is work. But, I have found, surprisingly, that exercise begins to lose some of its UNattractiveness when I do it REGULARLY. It only becomes a chore when I exercise just in fits and starts, and when I try to do more than my middle-age body is really capable of handling. It becomes even more enjoyable when I start to see results...more muscle tone, more strength, better body proportions.

Again, it is no different in the spiritual realm. Spiritual exercise means regular times of Bible reading and prayer, regular involvement in the life of the church, a regular program of proportionate giving to God's work, a regular search for ways to be of service to the Lord. Yes, it is work; yes, it takes energy; yes, it takes time. But the more you do it, and the more consistently you maintain the routine, and the more you see yourself making real progress, the more fun it becomes.

One more thing about losing weight. For myself, if I got no encouragement whatever to STAY ON my diet, I would soon give it up. If I could not get on the scale in the morning and see a positive result; if I could not begin fitting into clothes better; if I could not look into a mirror and see a difference, I would quit. Fortunately, that encouragement IS there and the result is that I am able to keep on with the program.

In the spiritual realm, again, it is the same. You WILL feel a difference from your prayer and Bible study, from your increased faithfulness in being a part of the church, from more faithful giving, from really making an effort to show Jesus Christ in your life. You WILL feel closer to the Lord; you will feel closer to your family and friends; you will begin to understand more about what God would have you do; and people around you will begin to notice. The encouragement, the help you need, will be there. Remember the words: "...let us throw off everything that hinders...the weight...and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. LET US FIX OUR EYES ON JESUS, the author and perfecter...the A to Z, the beginning and the end...of our faith." You see, we have HELP with our spiritual diets...Jesus, the friend who "sticks closer than a brother," the friend who understands our daily battles, the friend who cares so much about us that he even offers himself to nourish us.

In the comics Dagwood says to Blondie, "My New Year's Resolution is to go on a diet. No more big meals! And no more late-night snacks."

Blondie replies, "That's wonderful, Honey! This calls for a celebration!"

To which Dagwood responds delightedly, "You bet! I'll whip up a pizza and some meatball sandwiches!"(3) UHH!

Losing takes an initial decision to do it, a reachable goal, proper diet, a disciplined program of exercise, and some genuine encouragement. As we come to the Lord's table this morning, we can celebrate the fact that the spiritual "battle of the bulge" we fight to rid ourselves of the "sin that so easily entangles" is already being won...because we have help... because we have Jesus.


1. Colorado Springs, CO, NavPress Publishing, 1993, p. 477

2. John Sehring, via PresbyNet, "Eculaugh," #8520, 12/30/02 quoting C.T. Kuntzlemand & D.V. Runyon, The No Diet Fitness Book

3. © King Features Syndicate

The Presbyterian Pulpit Sermon Library

Mail Boxclick and send us mail