Prayers4Peace: Fifth Sunday of Lent 2024

The Heroes of Faith, Fifth Sunday of Lent 2024
Written by Rev. Kent D. Johnson

Reading: Hebrews 12: 1-2

“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 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.” Hebrews 12: 1-2

This passage in Hebrews comes after a chapter devoted to the heroes of faith– from Abel to Abraham and Moses down through the prophets. These people of faith are part of the great cloud of witness that the writer of Hebrews mentions; they serve as sources of encouragement for the followers of Jesus who grow weary from the trials, challenges, and hostility to their ministry.  

When looking to the heroes of faith, the words of scripture are a light to our path, especially as we call for a ceasefire in the violence between the government of Israel and Hamas. To have faithful resilience in the face of terror, genocide, and displacement is exhausting. Our hearts are filled with lament for the thousands who have suffered and died, and the tens of thousands who are injured and displaced. My heart is weighed down with despair at the unquestioned military support our government is providing, and I feel paralyzed with fear of being labeled hateful or even anti-semitic when criticizing the Israeli government’s use of their superior military might against an occupied population.

But there are other heroes of the faith who have tread the path of peacebuilding long before us. As a young pastor, I looked up to clergy in South Africa and Namibia (such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rev. Beyers Naude, Rev. Simon Farisani, and Bishop Zepahnia Kameeta) who struggled to end the injustice of Apartheid and South Africa’s illegal occupation of Namibia. I am still inspired by their ministries of faithful resistance despite being tortured, imprisoned, or banned for speaking out against the evils of apartheid. The late Rev. Tutu held the conviction that “there is no future without forgiveness” and embraced an explicitly Christian model of peacemaking through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; this required confession by the perpetrators of the crimes of apartheid, and forgiveness by the people they oppressed, dehumanized, and tortured.  

During Lent, the disciplines of prayer and fasting help us to let go of the sins that weigh us down, and this text reminds us that we do not strive in these efforts alone. We may draw strength from those who went before and are now cheering on all who strive to share Jesus’ radical compassion and love with the outcast, the oppressed, and even his enemies. The key is to keep our eyes upon Jesus and his non-violent endurance in long-suffering love.

As a young runner, it meant the world to me to have family and friends cheering for me when I raced. As an athlete, I looked up to my older teammates as role models in their training and perseverance; they encouraged and inspired me in my running. In this way I imagine the heroes of faith cheering me on in the race set out before me. Later, when my children participated in athletics, I enjoyed attending their events to cheer them on just when they needed it most. I look to the next generations of faith leaders, inspired by their own activism, and hope to be able to cheer them on, too. 

Our struggle against anti-semitism, systemic racism, and what many identify as Israeli apartheid also requires endurance. It requires prayer, both individual and the intercessory prayers of others cheering us on.  May we find courage and inspiration in the steadfast hope and witness of our Palestinian brothers and sisters (such as Bishop Sani Azar, Hanan Ashrawi, Rev. Naim Ateek, Archbishop Elias Chacour, Bishop Munib Younan, Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac and Daoud Nassar) as we join our voices to the great cloud of witnesses encouraging them, and us, through the power of prayer.

About the author: Rev. Kent Johnson served as the Associate Pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in La Crescent, Minnesota, for 27 years, retiring in 2022. Although retired, Johnson continues to attend Synod events and work with the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign, an organization dedicated to ending anti-Muslim discrimination in the United States. Rev. Johnson has served as a regional coordinator at CMEP for Minnesota for many years and often organizes CMEP regional events to support our efforts. 

Please note any views or opinions contained in this devotional series are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

2 Comments On “Prayers4Peace: Fifth Sunday of Lent 2024”

  1. Claudette Harring

    Thank you very much, Kent. You are among my faithful “cloud of witnesses.”


  2. Thanks!—-Albert Luthuli, another “Luthuli”Zulu chief, my Dad’s boyhood pal, also comes to mind. Albert was killed by a train at about age 65-he suffered limited eyesight I believe. Our love, Dave Ransom


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