Running the race in faith in God’s standards, not ours. First St Johns Lutheran Church, York, Pa. February 8, 2015

[The picture is of Pheidippides accouncing the victory of the Greek forces over the Persians to the Athenians Luc-Olivier Merson, 1869 ]

(For a audio version of this sermon, click on the above link or copy and paste it into your browser)

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who run the race of faith in Christ said …   AMEN!

I have done a marathon, I have done a century. A marathon is a 26.1 mile race, I did it in Falmouth, Ma. A century is a bike ride/race of 100 miles, I did that at the seminary. I’ve done 56 triathlons. Paul could have been talking about running a Marathon. The Battle of Marathon occurred in 490 BC and the Greeks may have included the marathon as a competition in their Olympics which would have made the marathon known to the entire Roman world, Israel and Paul included.

Paul is telling us that we have to do life, like these physical tests, with endurance. The problem is we have pasted over these with our own expectations. As Lutherans, too often, we think we don’t have to do anything. We’re saved by grace, we don’t have to do that. But let’s say you should do that. I still think you have to because I honestly believe God still pushes us to stretch in life. We are saved by grace, but that does not mean that we get to sit and just vegetate, especially when it comes to our relationship with Jesus. He gave His best, why on earth should we think that we don’t have to give our best.

Another issue that always seems to be, at least to me, an excuse with Lutherans and too many other people. “If we can’t run the race, if we can’t ride the bike, if we can’t entertain, or maintain or serve or witness … well then we just shouldn’t do it.” Heck, if that’s the issue what am I doing here? I’m sure not, no Billy Graham, or Dale Meyer, or Matt Harrison, or Jon Diefenthaler. If I’m really not that great as a pastor, as a preacher, the one charged with worship, what am I really doing here?

What I am doing, what you are doing is being led by what God wants us to do in our lives. No where in the Bible does it say, “well you have to do everything and anything with excellence, otherwise, just don’t bother doing it!” It doesn’t say that anywhere, no one demands it or expects it. None of us is perfect, none of us is going to do anything perfectly. We should strive to do our best, to serve as perfectly as possible, but it’s not going to happen all the time, we’re just not going to make it. Sometimes it does look perfect and that’s a great thing, and we should salute excellence, but we should never expect perfection, from ourselves or anyone else.

Recently, studies have shown that perfectionism is really just a form of procrastination. We seem to have always celebrated the “perfectionist”. This is the person who, “well I just won’t put this out into the world until it’s absolutely perfect”. We all think how marvelous that is, this kind of integrity. I’m certainly not saying be sloppy, but I’m also not saying that you use every little thing for an excuse to avoid doing the things that you need to do.

We are called to be disciples. That is a race, that is an endurance effort that makes the Hawaii Ironman look like a walk in the park. Are we called to be excellent disciples? No. Does it mean that we can throw God any old little effort that we want to whenever we want to? No! He doesn’t do that to use. God gives us His best everyday. He’s given us His best in Jesus. God’s not sitting up there grading us, not even on the curve, “well poor Jim, I know about him, I’ll cut him some slack”. It’s not about how great or how bad. It is about do we serve Father, Son, Holy Spirit, brothers and sisters in Jesus and the world to the best of our ability? Not in a one shot, here it is take it or leave it. We serve in the sense of the long-haul, making constant effort. We are always looking for the opportunities, always looking for where God leads us. We do it with the understanding that, Yes, we grow through this process. We also serve others through this process. Service isn’t often a one-shot deal, it’s a matter of endurance. Of continuous service.

I have no doubt in my mind that Paul was probably one crispy-critter by the time he got to Rome. Think of all that he had done, all that he endured, all that he sought to maintain and build. It’s staggering! I doubt that in what was maybe a ten-year period, no other person in Christian history did as much to spread Christianity as Paul. We have to remember that he really had no basis. Sure he had the local synagogues, but often they became as hostile as the pagan world, if not more so. So there’s a great excuse right there; “sorry, we can’t have worship because we can’t use the synagogue on Sunday, they kicked us out”. You know as well as I do that would be a ready made excuse for many people today. Paul could say I don’t have the right clothes, I can’t preach like this! No, he did what he could do with what he had. He could have said; “well, we just haven’t worked out the proper teaching, the proper doctrine here, so as soon as I get all that down perfectly I will get back to you.” Heck if I did that I’d never preach, I sincerely hope you don’t think that I am the fount of all Christian knowledge. But did that keep Paul from preaching and teaching? Would that keep me from preaching and teaching?

I’m not saying don’t prepare to the best of your ability. But I think one thing that military training, even athletics has taught me. At some point there is going to be a case, a mission. Probably the biggest case I had, a really bad situation that was my Damascus Road experience. Someone asked the boat coxswain afterwards and he replied, “I’ve never done that before, I was scared to death, I can’t believe I got through that”. He was as prepared as he could be for that storm, he  showed up and people needed help and he got to where people needed him. He didn’t wait until he was perfect, he didn’t have that luxury. He had trained to the best of his ability and likewise the rest of us in the crew, and when the call came we responded to the best of our ability. Despite very difficult circumstances, we got the best possible outcome and all of us that were involved in that case, got an education that we could never have paid for, never arranged, have never gotten under any circumstances other then we were there, we were called, we went out and put on our best effort and, the outcome was as good as it could have been expected.

As I said, yes I ran a marathon, yes I have done a century, yes I have done 53 triathlons. Having said that, I wouldn’t be too impressed if I were you. I did the marathon in 4 hours and 57 minutes. Most people finish under 4 hours and the winning times are almost under three hours. I finished the century in about 8 hours. I did finish before two other people, but otherwise the rest of my group had finished anywhere between 3 and 4 hours earlier than me. So does that mean I should just hang my head in shame, “oh how embarrassing, I’d never tell anyone that I did a marathon or century”… uhmmm no! I can tell anyone that I have finished either one, it’s called bragging rights. I did it and I’m entitled to put a little plate on my Road ID to say I did it. I may not camp on the fact that I took almost 2 to 4 hours longer than most, but I can say that I did it.

Yes I might be able to brag, a little, about what I’ve done and I have no doubt that everyone of you out there has done something that the average mortal never really does and you are entitled to bragging rights. Go ahead, yea Christian humility and we should be humble, but hey, in these cases be a little obnoxious. But when it comes to running and ultimately finishing the Christian race, we do that with humility. Why? Did we really run it in our strength? No! I have no doubt in my mind that my thirty years as a Christian and where the Holy Spirit has put me, that it was entirely through the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit, not mine. How can I take credit for something that someone does through me? But does that make me any less saved? No! I am perfectly saved and if I faithfully follow that leading and do the things that I’m lead to do, in the time I’m lead to do them, then I am a faithful servant. I have been put into plenty of situations by the Holy Spirit, where I knew that a lot more preparation would have been good. I assure you and anyone at Concordia Seminary would agree, that new pastors have a lot to work out when they get to a parish. Frankly some more than others. But is that a valid excuse to avoid what you’re supposed to do and not run the race? No! Sometimes the trial is the teaching moment, the growth moment. That the Father knows that you will only grow through doing versus sitting around talking about it or reading about it. We should continually strive to be the best possible disciples we can be, our Savior is the best and most perfect and He gave us all that we have or ever will need. But we should be ready to run that race at any moment. Not when we decide that we are ready, but when the Holy Spirit hits that alarm and tells us we need to jump up and run out that door. Sometimes we may never even know to what we are running, but we run anyway instead of waiting until we’re perfect because the Father has given us the faith to trust in Him, not in our abilities.

I didn’t run/ride the races perfectly, but I did do them. We aren’t called to run/ride/fight the faith perfectly, we are called to serve the Lord in obedience. God says I am more interested in your obedience then your sacrifice. When we faithfully obey, even we don’t do it the best we can, we are doing God’s will and will be rewarded on that basis. Not on the basis of what we think is acceptable, what is up to our standards, but what we did when we responded to God’s call in faith.

May God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit bless and preserve you to all eternity. Shalom and Amin.

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