Sunday, May 22, 2011

If You're Wearing the Bib, You're in the Race

1 Peter 2: 1-10

A while back, I spoke about a “Christ-shaped foundation”. I don’t know what images that may have created in your mind, back then, but some of them may have been about what a real Christian looks like to you.

What does a real Christian look like?

Let me ask this-what does a real runner look like?

I have begun transforming my body and my habits into those that are consistent with a lifestyle that includes running and exercise. I started this first as a way to combat the effects of the stress of Donna’s illness and imminent death; My blood sugar had skyrocketed, my cholesterol had risen, and I was gaining weight. All of these indicators of illness were back under control within a few months after I had started a daily routine of exercise and eating better.

In the course of learning about exercise and being around people who run and bike, I began to explore more about this new world, and decided to make it a goal to run a race. I have decided on the race, and it’s in November, which I figure gives me plenty of time to continue to get stronger and lighter.

When I look at photos of friends at races, especially the easier, shorter distance races, there are lots of people in the background who look all kinds of ways. There are short round people, tall people, muscular people and thin people. There are people all decked out in Lycra and the latest performance fabrics, wearing $200 shoes or even those spiffy new shoes that are just gloves for your feet. There are also people in beer t-shirts and their old high school gym shorts, wearing their lawn-mowing sneakers. Some are obviously runners, they look the part, but everyone has paid their money, gotten their race bib, and lined up at the start.

And when the gun goes off, they all begin the journey to the finish line. Some will run the whole way, some will walk all of it, and some will do a combination of both.

Who among that crowd is not a runner? Do you really have to run to be a runner? Who among that group of people wearing race bibs and following the race route isn’t trying to get better? It could be that they have been running since they were children, ran cross country in high school, and runs now for the health benefits. It could also be that the person who walks the whole way is seeking to live better, a healthier lifestyle, and the race is a milestone in doing so.

It’s a truth to me that, since you don’t pay the money and sign up for the race accidentally, you want to be there, you want what the preparation for the race gives you.

For many people, winning such a race is irrelevant. Participating and finishing it is.
There are several ways that runners try to get better, and doing all of them is where the greatest benefit is gained. Runners eat right-they eat lean, they eat whole, they eat green, they don’t gorge. Runners do more than run, they train and strengthen their muscles doing other things besides running. And runners run. There are infinite varieties of how and what they do, but they run. Swimmers swim, bikers bike, kayakers kayak. These are their foundations. Eat, strengthen, and do.

You might even say that these are the foundations, or the cornerstones, of success for them. Do them, and eventually, the benefits of these choices will become evident.

Now, think again for a moment about what the ideal Christian is, for you. Some people obviously look the part, like those Lycra-wearing runners may be ideal runners. On the other hand, some people, perhaps you might even include yourself in that bunch, are more the gym short-lawn mowing shoes crowd.

Just as we talk about eat strengthen and do, there are things that all Christians do to benefit themselves. Just for the sake of simplification, let’s use Bishop Job’s Three Simple Rules, which we’ve studied here before, and were his distillation of the General Rules written by John Wesley over 200 years ago. Do no Harm, do Good, Stay in Love with God.

Do no Harm: Just as runners eat right, Christians seek to treat each other properly-not gossiping, not speaking badly of people, seeking to minimize their own prejudices. They seek to see each person they meet as a child of God, a person created in the image of God, created with a little spark of God within them.

Do Good: Just as runners strengthen by doing exercises outside of running, so too do Christians seek to go outside of their “Christianly” pursuits in order to strengthen their faith. Cross-training, you might call it, pun intended! Runners need to keep their core strong, all of the muscles between their knees to chest, and devise all manner of ways to do so, through weights, stretching, and other exercises. Christians can keep their core strong by reading the Bible in different ways, trying to pray in new styles, and continually seeking new people to be with in settings outside of the church and the congregation. They may also seek out non-Christian pursuits, and reflect on them while applying their faith. A stagnant Christian is like a stalled runner, and it takes new practices and new ideas to break through and grow again.

Stay in Love with God: Runners run, swimmers swim, bikers bike, kayakers kayak. Christians do the things that are distinctively Christian. They pray, they read the Bible, they take communion, they worship and praise. They get baptized. They tell of God’s love and glory each day.

You might even say that these are the foundations, or the cornerstones, of success for Christians. Do them, and eventually, the benefits of these choices will become evident.

When you think of those people at the start of a race, it is difficult to impossible to see who the real runners are, because, if they are at the starting line, and wearing a bib, they are in the race. Those who walk are no less runners than those who run. They’re all trying to get better, do better, be better.

When you look around you in church this morning, it is difficult to impossible to see who the real Christians are, because if they are here, and a part of this community, they are obviously seeking God.

They are all trying to get better, do better, be better, too. They are seeking the cornerstones upon which they can build a better life.

So, just as at a race, how people are cheered on as they do their best, let us also cheer each other on, encourage each other, support each other as we seek to get stronger. Let us be a royal priesthood, a chosen race, a holy people.

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