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HEBREWS 12:1,2

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
June 1, 1997

I’d like to invite you to turn with me to Hebrews 12:1,2 and we will read these verses together. While you’re turning I want to tell you a story which relates to our topic today.

There is a story told of a sea horse that set out to find the “meaning of life.” The sea horse swam and swam until it came to a goldfish. The goldfish asked, “Mr. Sea Horse, where are you going?”

“I’m going to find my purpose in life,” said the sea horse.

“Oh, I’d like to know my purpose in life,” said the goldfish. “May I come too?”

“Of course,” said the sea horse. And, they swam off together.

After a while they came to a sea snail. “Where are you going?” asked the sea snail.

“We’re going to find our purpose in life,” said the sea horse.

“Oh, I would like to know my purpose in life,” said the sea snail. “May I come too?”

“Of course,” said the sea horse. And so off they went. In time they came to a hungry shark.

“Where are you going?” asked the shark.

“We are going to find our purpose in life,” said the sea snail.

“Oh,” said the shark. “I can show you your purpose in life. It’s in here.” And as the shark opened it’s mouth wide the sea horse, goldfish, and sea snail rushed in to discover their purpose in life.

The point of this story is very basic. If we don’t know where we’re going we may never get there - worse, we may end up someplace we really don’t want to be. Its important to know where we’re going.

Read with me Hebrews 12:1-2. As we read - consider these words as a purpose statement for the Christian life - a compass pointing us in the right direction.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which 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 joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the Throne of God.”

In your mind - or if you brought your own Bible this morning, underline these words: “therefore” - “run” - “looking to Jesus.” These words point out the basics of where we are to go and how we are to get there. “Therefore run looking to Jesus.”

This morning, in order to consider - practically - what this means for us - we are going to look at ourselves as a church. What does it mean that we - The Calvary Armenian Congregational Church - are to run, looking to Jesus? And, my outline is pretty easy to follow. Just think of the acronym C.A.C.C. and this question - what is the purpose of C.A.C.C.?

First, we are the CALVARY Armenian Congregational Church.

Does anyone know - with 100% certainty - why this church was called Calvary? I have done some research on this - First I started with the Church Annual Report from 1926 - handwritten in Armenian - and didn’t find the answer. Then I talked to my grandmother - who said that my grandfather would know.... I talked to Leah - who is the unofficial church historian - I talked to Peter and Elsie - I’ve asked everyone I could think of and they all gave me the same answer - “I don’t know.”

And it’s an interesting name. With the exception of the Troy church, no other Armenian Evangelical churches in the world uses “calvary” in it’s name.

"Calvary" comes from the Latin translation of the Greek translation of the Aramaic. The Armenian is simpler. "Koghkotah" is a transliteration of the Aramaic “gulgolta” - meaning skull. It refers to the place outside of Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified - skulls of the executed were found there - and the hill even has a rock outcropping that looks like a skull.

The writer of Hebrews says that we are to fix our eyes on Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The basis of why we are a church is found in the cross of Jesus Christ.

In Rembrandt’s painting of The Three Crosses - what first catches the eye - is the center cross - the one on which Jesus died. Then there’s the crowd gathered around the foot of that cross. And each character is story in and of themselves - the different facial expressions and actions of the people - involved in the awful crime of crucifying the Son of God. Finally, on the edge of the painting is another figure - almost hidden in the shadows. Art critics say that this figure is a representation of Rembrandt himself. Rembrandt painted himself into the picture because he recognized that by his sins he helped nail Jesus to the cross.

To go where God has called us to go - to be whom God has called us to be - each of us must first come to the cross of Jesus Christ - to realize our sin - and to look on Him who died in our place - Jesus whom each of us has nailed to the cross with our sins - and to trust Him for our salvation.

Secondly, we are the Calvary ARMENIAN Congregational Church.

If you check out our website - you’ll find listed there a purpose statement for our church - which was a product of our CACC Spiritual Retreat in January 1995. Let me read that statement to you.

“As a Christ-centered Armenian Church, the primary purpose of Calvary Armenian Congregational Church is to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior through worship, spiritual nourishment, fellowship, and evangelism - with special focus on the spiritual and physical needs of the Armenian people. A secondary focus is the preservation of our Armenian heritage.”

There is an emphasis on Armenian. We’re not saying that we are better than others - or that we are exclusive and don’t want any “odars” around. We don’t check people’s “ethnicity cards” at the door. But, we are recognizing a very important reality of our Christian experience. Our roots and calling are within the Armenian people.

Last week - during our message - we considered the foundation of the church - Jesus Christ. Built on the foundation of Jesus Christ is a rich heritage of those who have lived faithfully serving our Savior. Heroes of faith who have stood firm as servants of Jesus Christ - to the point of rejection by their families and nation - and even in martyrdom.

The writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also.... run.... the race that is set before us,”

To go where God has called us to go - to be whom God has called us to be - we need to consider our uniqueness in this world. God has created us to be Armenian - has given to us a unique heritage - and given to us special abilities to reach our nation with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thirdly, we are the Calvary Armenian CONGREGATIONAL Church.

In my research I found a very interesting fact. The original name of this church - in Armenian was "Koghkotah Hye Joghovagan Yegeghetzee" and was translated into English as Calvary Armenian Congregational Church.

On May 2, 1948 - at the Dedication Service for the church building in the Avenues - while the English name remained the same - the Armenian is listed as, "Koghkotah Hye Avedaranagan Yegeghetze" - “evangelical.” And, if you look on the front of this church building you’ll see both names listed there. By the way - the ticket price for the Annual Banquet in 1948 was $2.50.

We are “congregational” for two reasons. First - because many of the missionaries who came to Turkey were sent by the congregational denominations in America. As they worked with our forefathers - attachments were formed - roots of association grew. And, when our forefathers came here - to America - and were in the process of founding churches and gathering for worship - they sought out those familiar roots for aid and fellowship. Those of the congregational denominations - of past years - have historically been very helpful to the Armenian Evangelical Movement.

Secondly, we are “congregational” by polity and belief - the way we govern ourselves and what we believe. We believe in the “priesthood” of all believers - that each believer has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ - and does not need the mediation of a priest or some church hierarchy to maintain and define that relationship. We believe that God speaks to and through each person who is seeking the Lordship of Jesus Christ over their lives. And, we need to listen to each other - and help each other to follow God’s will.

And, in this sense we are also Evangelical - "Avedaranagan" - because there is a purpose to our beliefs. We do not believe that as Christians we should just come and listen to sermons - sing hymns - read Bible verses - and drink lots of coffee.

The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” - We believe that the Christian life should be lived out daily in our lives - having a dramatic impact on the world around us. That each of us is called upon to declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a world which desperately needs to hear.

Imagine this scene - a football game - and the team nearest us is standing together, heads bowed in prayer, with the coach at the center. Suddenly they give a great cheer, and the coach trots out onto the field by himself. The players go sit on the bench.

“What’s going on?” we ask a team member standing next to us. “What’s the coach doing out there?”

“Oh, he’s going to play today.”

“All by himself?”

“Sure, why not? He’s had a lot more experience and training than the rest of us. We’ve got a lot of rookies on this team and we might make mistakes. Anyway, they pay the coach well. We’re here to cheer an support him - and look at the huge crowd that’s come to watch him play!”

We watch as the opposing team kicks off. The coach catches the ball. He valiantly charges upfield, but is creamed and buried under eleven opposing tacklers.

It’s a sad picture of how many Christians think of themselves in the Church. We are all called to evangelism - all of us working together - running the race set before us to win the world to Christ.

Fourthly, we are the Calvary Armenian Congregational CHURCH.

We’ve heard the Biblical definitions of “Church” - the Body of Christ - A Royal Priesthood - Living Stones Built Up On The Foundation Of Jesus Christ - and other descriptions. Ultimately - the Church is a Community.

Notice the plurals in Hebrews 12:1,2:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded.... let us also lay aside every weight....let us run....the race that is set before us....Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith....”

Dr. Gilbert Bilizekian - who was with us as a speaker this last August - in his book “Christianity 101” - describes the church as, “the community mad up of those who believe in God as revealed in the Scriptures and who unite for worship and service to Him.”

We - are a community. Not just ethnically - but spiritually. And God has called us together to turn this world upside down for Him.

We need each other. We are called to love and care for one another - to uphold and encourage each other - to defend and champion one another in a world which is hostile to the community of God - and yet desperately needs to see the reality of that community lived out.

We need to take our eyes off of ourselves - to lay aside the sins of our self-recognition - and self-will - sins which encumber us -which keep us from loving each other and being God’s community in action.

Ultimately - if the Calvary Armenian Congregational Church is to be what God has called us to be - then we must run the race with our eyes fixed only on Jesus Christ.