|Union University Church|
By Reverend Laurie DeMott
January 1, 2012
spring, the Alfred-Almond Track team wore special t-shirts that had been
printed for the Wellsville Spring Day competitions and on the back of the
T-shirts was a list of "The top ten ways to know Track and Field is
not your sport." The T-shirt suggests, for example, that you might
come to the conclusion that you are not cut out for track and field if you
finish second... in the heat that started after yours, or if you get shin
splints at the orientation meeting. My favorite, however, is the last on
the list which says, "You know Track and Field is not your sport if
you stop at each hurdle, waiting for someone to open the gate.”
In its tongue and cheek way, the T-shirt reminds us that if you're going to run the race, you've got to be willing to tackle the hurdles. I've seen races won by people who sailed beautifully over each hurdle like a dolphin and I've seen races won by people who clipped each hurdle clumsily, their toes catching mid-jump. I've seen races won by people who tipped hurdles over, leaving a stream of downed gates in their wake, and I've seen races won by people who were tripped up themselves, crashing to the ground before they pulled themselves up blood streaming from their knees to race onward toward the finish. But I have never seen a race won by someone who stopped at the hurdle and waited for someone else to open the gate.
How descriptive that warning is not only for Track and Field events but for our lives. The success of your life will not be measured by how clear the track is before you but by how determined you are to jump the inevitable hurdles you encounter in your path. The ones who wait for someone else to open the gate are the ones who will be left behind because the race is not to the fastest but to the persistent; it is not to the fleetest but to the most determined. The race is to those who have the courage and the resolution to leap over the hurdles in faith and keep going forward.
The letter to the Hebrews says, "Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." Are you running the race and tackling the hurdles you encounter, or are you waiting for someone to open the gate?
The gospel of Mark begins by declaring that in the coming of Jesus, we have received the good news that God is no longer far away in a distant heaven but is now among us and at work in our world. It would be easy to hear this good news as a promise that if you only believe and have faith in Christ, your life will now be smooth sailing and everything will go right for you. After all, didn't we just sing, "Joy to the world, the Lord has come?" Didn't God promise that everything would be different now?
And so we want to shout, "Make the way straight before us, God,"
in ready anticipation of a clear and shining new path where God has cleared
the old obstacles away. Make this year different, God, we pray. This year
reward my faith with prosperity, health, and happiness. This year, give
me the peace that has been so elusive, the rest I yearn for, and the contentment
that I so deserve."
And God says, "I never promised that faith would make your life easy. I promised that faith would give you the courage and the strength that you need to make it over the hurdles and keep running the race to the end."
Mark's gospel does begin with a declaration of the good news of God at work in Christ, but this good news is set against the stark backdrop of a violent struggle with the powers that would contend to hamper and bring down this work of God in Christ. The waters of baptism are still streaming from the robe of Jesus when he is driven into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, and though he returns from the wilderness victorious, before he can speak a word to the people of God's mercy and love, Herod is arresting John the Baptist and throwing him in prison. The gospel warns us that powers seen and unseen will always challenge God's declarations of compassion and forgiveness, and so discipleship will require fortitude as we strive to bring love to bear in a world that is given to selfishness and self-protection. Discipleship will require strength as we work to build community in a world that is given to division and bigotry. It will require determination as we work to teach peace to a world that has a habit of violence, and conviction as we work to preach joy to a world mired in cynicism and despair.
The ones who wait for someone else to open the gate are the ones who will be left behind because the race is not to the fastest but to the persistent; it is not to the fleetest but to the most determined. The race is to those who trust in Christ's promise that he will give us the courage and the strength to leap over the hurdles that we encounter and keep going forward in faith toward the Kingdom.
Author and preacher Fred Craddock tells a story about a man that he met when he was a young pastor who was a committed non-churchgoer. When Fred introduced himself as the new pastor at the church, the man replied bluntly, “I don't need the church. I work hard, I take care of my family, and I mind my own business.”
Fred took the hint and left the man alone. Every now and then, however, they would run into each other in town and the man would greet Fred amiably but just to make sure Fred didn't take his friendliness as an opening, he would repeat his assertion: "I don't need the church, Fred. I work hard, I take care of my family, and I mind my own business.”
Several years later, the man went through some difficulties that apparently
caused him to reflect on his life because one day to Fred's surprise,
he showed up at church. Being a small traditional Baptist church, the
service ended as always with an invitation to declare your commitment
to Christ. This was usually a brief invitation in which everyone thought
about Sunday dinner while waiting the perfunctory twenty seconds for converts
before giving up and moving on to the final hymn but this Sunday, to everyone's
surprise, this man stood up at the invitation and came forward to the
altar, announcing that he would like to be baptized. Fred welcomed him
into the fellowship of the church and the next week he was baptized and
made a member. He went on to become a pillar of the church; he gave generously
of his time to the many works of the church and inspired others with his
“Yep” said the man. “I said that a lot.”
“Do you still say that?” asked Fred.
“Yep” said the man.
“So what made the difference?” Fred asked.
The man thought for a minute, then smiled and said, “I didn’t know what my business was back then.” 1
We are called to be disciples of Christ -- to follow him in bringing his word of compassion and mercy to a broken world in need of healing. This is our business; this is the race set before us. And the race will not be to the fastest but to the persistent; not to the fleetest but to the most determined, not to the ones who sit down and wait but to those who trust that if you truly commit yourself to do all things in love and faith, Christ will carry you over the hurdles and onward to the finish.
I invite you now to the table, to receive the bread of life that will
sustain you and to accept the cup of suffering that may be required as
we give ourselves fully in love as Christ gave of himself fully to us.