Tuesday, February 06, 2018

The Bethany Bullet Sermon Message - Week of February 4, 2018

Sermon: “Run!?”

Five years ago I embarked on a journey that took me to places I never dreamed.  As one who has struggled with my weight for my entire life and was blessed by an underactive thyroid gland I have spent a lot of time on the proverbial yo-yo of weight gain, and weight loss.

I’ve tried just about every diet, and embarked on countless physical fitness programs.  I’ve experienced setbacks due to health and an over scheduled life.  I even preached a sermon a few years ago about how I had gotten my life back on track with my physical health, only to have the pendulum swing again. 

In a moment of perceived clarity I took up running.  I’m really not sure what I was thinking.  As a wise person once said, “If I ever had to run for my life I would probably die.”  That was me. 

But off I went.  When I first started my initial goal was to run the distance from one driveway to the next without dying.  Believe me, it was touch and go at first. 

One driveway became two, two became three, three became running for a minute and a minute became a block.  Soon I was able to run a whole mile.

I soon learned of a running program championed by a man named Jeff Galloway.  He calls it the run, walk, run method.  That sounded wonderful to me. 

I couldn’t imagine running nonstop.  Soon I was able to run-walk-run my way to 2 miles, then to 5.  I started asking myself, “Am I a runner?”  The answer was definitely NO!

But I did sign up for a 5K race.  That’s just over 3 miles.  With some serious training I amazingly completed the race. One race became two, which became more and more.  Soon I was running 10K races. 

After a while I got the most insane thought in my brain, “I bet I could run a half marathon.”  So, with Jeff Galloway encouraging me in my ear buds and some EDM music pumping in the background I trained, and I trained, and I trained. 

On September 1, 2013 on a warm and muggy day I ran the Disneyland Half Marathon.  Until that day I had not run more than 10 miles.  Which I thought was a pretty amazing accomplishment when just 8 months earlier I could not even run 50 feet. 

For 3 Hours 22 minutes and 57 seconds I practiced my run walk run method on the course.  At first it was easy, but as the hours passed and the miles ticked off it was getting harder and harder.  Doubts starting entering my mind, Was I hydrated properly? Did I bring enough energy gel to keep me going? 

I was so grateful for the water stations along the course.  What a relief.  In those moment I was encouraged, uplifted, and my physical needs were met.  

But it got worse.  I soon started thinking that I couldn’t do it.  What was I thinking?  This is the worst decision I have ever made in my life.  I was starting to feel utterly and completely alone. I hit the wall.

Ready to quit and get a ride back to the starting line someone along the route recognized me.  Sara Cerulle and her boys were there to cheer people on.  I stopped for a moment, gave the boys a high five.  That moment meant so much to me. 

Little did Sara know what was going through my mind at that moment, but her presence gave me renewed strength.

About a mile later I was in the same boat, this time it was for real, I stopped and was ready to quit when out of nowhere my good friend Evan appeared.  He knew I would be running but I never expected to see him there.  He gave me a big hug, gave me some words of encouragement, jogged a few hundred feet with me and I’ll never forget the final three words he said to me, “Just keep going!” 

I’d like to say the last two miles were easy, they were not, but I did just keep going and the last few hundred feet I was greeted with hundreds of strangers cheering me on, encouraging me with kind words and motivational signs.

Signs like, “Don’t walk now, everybody’s watching.” Or “No one ever died drowning in sweat.”  Well they never met me. Or “Pain is temporary, finishing is forever.”

Eventually I staggered across the finish line I was presented with this awesome medal.

I’d like to tell you that each time I run my time gets better, that it gets easier, that I have acquired an innate desire to Just Keep Going.  In fact, I haven’t run since September of last year.  In fact, last year I ran only two times.  The weight I lost has been added back on once again.

I’m not sure I could even run for a solid minute right now. 

Running is hard.  I saw a great meme this week online it said, “I never run with scissors…well, actually those last two words aren’t necessary.”

So why take all this time to tell you about my struggles with health and running?  Because my life as a runner closely mirrors my walk in faith.    

There are days I seem to be doing great and sometimes vast stretches where I don’t do anything or give in to doubts or just want to quit. 

In our second lesson for today Paul writes, “Don’t you realize that everyone who runs in a race runs to win, but only one runner gets the prize? Run like them, so that you can win. Everyone who enters an athletic contest goes into strict training. They do it to win a temporary crown, but we do it to win one that will be permanent. So I run—but not without a clear goal ahead of me. So I box—but not as if I were just shadow boxing.  Rather, I toughen my body with punches and make it my slave so that I will not be disqualified after I have spread the Good News to others.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

You might not be a runner, but you know about running.  Paul knew the people in Corinth would understand this analogy as running contests were common in the area.

The race Paul is talking about here is how we live out our faith.  It could be easy to think that Paul is saying that as long as you try harder, or run faster, or pray more, or go to worship more often you will win your eternal reward.  Many have used this passage to say just that, but I’m not convinced that winning is the “clear goal ahead” of us. 

I think the goal here comes in few verses earlier where Paul writes, “So what is my reward?  It is to spread the Good News free of charge.”  (1 Corinthians 9: 18)

It’s the spreading of the Good News of Jesus to others free of charge, and like my running life, my faith life struggles.  At times I am doing great, other times I feel like I am the laziest person on the planet.  Can you relate?  Have you been there?

But there is an important distinction that needs to be made here.  In our life of faith we are called to run, not to earn salvation, but so that God can use us to point others to Christ.  

Theologians would call this the distinction between justification and sanctification

Justification is the judicial act of God done outside of us but in Christ.  This is the moment that salvation becomes ours.  We have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.  It is equal for everyone and complete in Christ.  It is a gift of complete victory for us in which we are adopted as forgiven children of God.    It’s the idea that the prize is already ours. 

Sanctification on the other hand, is the act of God inside the sinner in which God works within us in a lifelong process of restoration. 

This is a gradual process of healing and growth and people can find themselves at different points and degrees of displaying this healing.  It happens within us and is a daily battle with our sinful nature in which we find ourselves walking, wrestling, running and fighting that which tempts us to quit. 

This is what Paul was talking about, this is the daily grind and this is what we all battle every day. 

Like my battle for fitness, some days I feel like I’m really making progress, other days I find myself on the other side, not desiring to make any progress at all. 

But Sanctification is not about a destination.  Your destination is already secured, in Christ. 

But you are still called to run, not to earn salvation, but to be a witness to others for the hope that you have in Christ. 

Like running a race, there may be times where it is easy, but more often than not you will have times where living a life of faith is difficult and you might want to give up and quit.  You might be filled with doubts or fear, but you are called to run. 

In this race of faith God has a plan.  He has provided places for you to be rehydrated; stops along the way for you to get what you need.  It’s places like this, in God’s house as we worship faithfully; we are rehydrated for the race.

As you drink deeply from the living water found in the Word and when you come face to face with forgiveness found in this place, you are strengthened for the road ahead.   As water and Word, bread and wine, body and blood are provided for you, you are ready to meet the days ahead in faith.  

Not only do you have the ministry of Word and Sacrament here in this place, you also have those people in your life that are there to encourage you along the way.  Like Sara and Evan during my half marathon, God places people in your life to uplift and encourage you.  Sometimes it might be a random stranger who holds a proverbial sign encouraging you to keep on going. 

Sometimes you are the one who encourages another.  You get to be that one that uplifts and inspires another to “Just Keep Going!”

Remember, sanctification is not about the destination.  But one day, that destination won for you on the cross will indeed be something you will experience firsthand.  On that day, you cross the line from this life to the next a great reward will be waiting; eternal rest, and life everlasting; far better than any medal. 

But for now, we run!

           -Pastor Seth Moorman


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