1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Walking the Walk: Part II
Here is the second of three installments on this little sermon series entitled Walking the Walk. Last week we heard from Paul about how we are to interact with those in the world. We are to accept little differences, respect the otherness of others in order to win as many as possible for Christ. Today we hear a sports analogy about the Christian life and how we are to approach this journey in front of us.
Out of my three sisters, currently my youngest sister, Jodie, is the craziest. I jokingly say that with all love and admiration for all three of my sisters but Jodie, the youngest is crazy. She will be running the Keys 100 in May at the, that is right in the Florida Keys she will be running 100 miles. The race starts May 19that 6:00am. She predicts that it will take her anywhere from 24 to 32 hours of running to finish. Did you get that? She will finish the race Sunday morning or afternoon. The plug will be pulled at 36 hours. That is a day and a half of running. 100 miles. That is leaving the church here and running to the Tanger Outlets in Mebane and then turning around and running back.
I asked her to give me a little insight to the wackiness that is inside her head. I asked her what is driving her to do this. Anything over 26.2 miles is called an Ultra Marathon. David Embler ran a 40 mile race a couple of years ago so we have one of these people in our midst today. What is driving my sister to do this is the idea of the impossible becoming possible. She wants to see if she can push herself to do this. She has run a lot of marathons and loves them because of the challenge involved and after reading about the Ultra Marathons she was ready to put herself to the task.
In this passage in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he is doing the same thing. We pick right up with where we left off last week. Paul says he does everything for the sake of the gospel and then gives this sport analogy. He talks about runners and boxers. When there is a race what is the purpose of the race? To win the prize. When we watch sports on TV or play them ourselves what is the goal? To win. Ask any professional athlete and I am sure that they will tell they play because they love the game but that all of them would love and desire to win the big game. I don’t think Tom Brady was happy only to play in the Super Bowl, no he wanted to win it. Let’s face it Carolina players really wish they would replay the last two minutes of Wednesday night’s game. Although they played really well and mopped the floor with Duke for most of the game, the one who walks away a winner is the one who has the most points at the end, no matter if it is 15 or 1.
Paul wants us to be ready for our race. To call ourselves a follower of Christ is not a simple thing. To say we are Christ Followers means we have to put effort into it. We cannot simply accept Christ and then think we are finished. When we say the Lord’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we are professing our calling to help the Kingdom of God exist in this world. When we call ourselves Christians we have to walk the walk and to do that means we have to train ourselves in order to become better. A leaner, cleaner, fit, fast, agile, mobile, and wise follower of Christ. That takes practice.
My sister’s husband is one of those people who can sit on the coach for a couple of months and then think to himself, “I think I am going to run a couple of miles,” and then he does it. His body can handle that most of the time. I on the underhand am not like that. I ran one road race. I ran the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, SC in 2006. It was a 10K or 6.2 miles. I struggled but walk/ran it and was proud of myself. My struggle is the mental part of running. It is the telling yourself you can keep going and then keep going. I have that great feature inside my head that when something starts to hurt I stop doing it but that is not what a person who is going to run 100 miles thinks. They have to get themselves out of that mindset.
My sister says the endorphin high you get from running is pretty great and that is what keeps her coming back to it. There is joy and excitement found in crossing a finish line. But how can you keep yourself going when you pass the mile marker for the first marathon and know there are three more to go? Hardcore running is more mental then it is physical. Christianity is a lot more mental then people give it credit for as well.
Now you might be thinking I am mental in that statement but the truth is how we live out our Christian lives starts here in the brain not just in our heart. We have to train our brains to start to think like God before we can see the world like God and then act like he commands. Think of it this way. We live in the south where racism still exists. We may not like it but it is still around. Today, racism is moving from a black and white thing to a black, white and brown thing. It is now an English speaking vs. Spanish speaking thing or even a strait vs. gay thing. But the lines that were drawn 50 years ago still exist today. But no matter what the color of our skin the Bible tells us we are created in God’s image. We are created and loved and if we want to be true followers of Christ we have to start seeing everyone, EVERYONE like they are a child of God. That takes mental toughness to look around at the people we are raised to hate and to think, “how does God see that person? That is a child of God who was made in God’s image.”
John Wesley concentrated a lot of his ministry on the pursuit of holiness. In his eyes we could achieve perfect holiness, or Christian Perfection. This meant that if a Christian pushed him or herself to the limits he or she could be made perfect in love of neighbor and of God. John Wesley said this about being made perfect, “to be ‘sanctified throughout;’ even ‘to have a heart so all-flaming with the love of God,’ (to use Archbishop Usher’s words,) ‘as continually to offer up every thought, word, and work, as a spiritual sacrifice, acceptable to God through Christ.’ In every thought of our hearts, in every word of our tongues, in every work of our hands, to ‘show forth his praise, who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.’ O that both we, and all who seek the Lord Jesus in sincerity, may thus ‘be made perfect in one!'”
We have an end goal, we, as Christians, desire to have eternal life with God. But until then we need to work on living this life to the best of our ability. We need to look at what we need to do to be the best person that God has called us all to be. That is found in this idea of Christian perfection. We have to believe that every thought, word, and work in our head can be acceptable to God through Christ. If we don’t then what is the point. It would be like playing professional baseball and never wanting to win the world series or being a pitcher who never wants to through the perfect game. That is just insane. No one competitively runs a race hoping to never finish or to finish last. Even those who know they will never be fast enough to beat a Kenyan in a marathon have personal goals to beat to run their own perfect race. If we are not seeking that perfect game, that perfect goal then what is the point? Lukewarm and mediocre? I don’t think God calls us to the mediocre and we are told in Revelation that those who are lukewarm will be spit out? If we don’t believe it can be so then it will never be.
Paul states that we have a purpose. We don’t run the race with out a goal. We don’t box like we don’t have an opponent. As he says in verse 27, “Rather I’m landing punches on my own body and subduing it like a slave. I do this to be sure that I myself won’t be disqualified after preaching to others.” Paul calls us to find self-disciple for the purpose of the gospel; in order to be better followers of Christ.
As Jodie is now less than 100 days away from her 100 mile race her training is starting to pick up. She says, “The toughest part for me with the 100 miler training is the amount of training. During the week is pretty manageable, but the weekends are just unreal. Last week I did a 31 mile race here in Charlotte as my training run. I’ve run every other hour from 6am to 6pm (running the last 2 hours) and covered 34 miles total in that 12 hour time span. This weekend I will not sleep on Friday night. I have to keep myself awake all night long and then run a half marathon (13.1) on Saturday morning. It’s a great mental test and helps me to get a feel for how it will be to run exhausted. That’s not it though, Sunday afternoon I will run another half marathon (13.1 miles). Monday it’s back to work. The balance between regular life and training can be hard. But I push through because I know each and every training is important. They are small building blocks to prepare me for the big event.”
How are you training to run the race in front of you? What are you doing to build yourself up and ready yourself for your own match? How will you gain perfection within this life? We start where Paul tells us to, with self-discipline. It is self-discipline that make or breaks the mental game that we all play in our own heads. It is telling yourself that reading that chapter in the Bible before bed is much better than watching the late show. It is deciding it is more important to find time to pray daily because when you do you feel better about life in general. It is coming here to worship in a community and to remind yourself of the goal we have in life to welcome in the Kingdom of God here and now and to ready ourselves for eternity in God’s presence. It is seeing the people that surround us as God sees them. It is reaching out to the least and the lost. It is living into the example that was perfectly given in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jodie also said these words which I think I needed to hear this week. “Pain is another factor. All this exercise takes a toll on my body, especially big weekends like last weekend with 31 consecutive miles. I see a chiropractor/sports therapist once a week. I also get a massage from his assistant after big events like last weekend. That’s helps with the physical side of things. Usually the mental side is bigger. For me it’s quite simple – I just have to keep moving forward. No matter how much my feet already hurt after running for 5 hours, I have to keep them moving. Even if my legs ache and my muscles are getting tighter with each passing minute, I have to keep moving forward. No matter how slow I become (because as the hours pass by my body naturally gets slower and slower), I just have to keep moving forward. As long as I don’t stop I know I can finish. Sometimes my mind is consumed with how much something hurts. I may have to take an extra walk break or my run becomes more like a slow jog. Even as I dwell on how much something hurts – I still move forward.”
Life can get us down. It can tear us apart and make us not want to do anything for God. We can take punch after punch and feel like we are running mile after mile while life keeps bringing the hurt. But we still need to move forward. We still need to realize we are not alone and God is walking, crawling and even at points carrying us through our lives. We are never alone and we are always loved. No matter how hard the fight is, we can rest assured that we can continue on. We can make it a little bit further. We can live the life God calls us to live no matter how big the sacrifice, no matter how impossible it sounds or feels in our hearts. We can, because God made the impossible possible through his Son and we are called to pick up our own crosses and follow him. We continue to walk the walk, mile by mile and sometimes inch by inch, but always forward towards our prize.
And all God’s people said…Amen.