Join the Race!

Sunday August 18th 2019    20th Sunday Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

The tie in between today’s readings: beginning and finishing

Psalm 40:1-4; 17, Jeremiah 38:4-10, Hebrews 12:1-4, Luke 12:49-53

The Christian life is like a race. A lot of people liken it to a marathon.  A marathoner’s life is very introspective and when I think about the lengthy, lonely, and laborious denials that a marathon requires, I shake my head, pat my flabby belly and say, “No thanks.”  It’s just not my race. I see Christianity as an invitation to adventure.  Adventures are challengingly scary as they take you out of your comfort zone.  Adventures are life changing!  Adventures are meaningful!  Faith, love, and sacrifice are all adventures made to be shared. That’s why I see Christian life as more like the AMAZING RACE…with a bit of a twist.  Stop sitting bored in the pew, join the race and become a disciple of Jesus Christ. It starts with a very important step: commitment!  

Just like a gambler at a Texas Hold’em tournament, God wants you all in with your chips.  When you stand up for Christ, you are going to step on somebody’s foot. Know that! The Bible often warns us to count the cost of discipleship. At times, you will be fighting the culture, your friends, and yourself. In Luke 12:49-53, Jesus predicts that following Him can even cost you your family. Do not enter the race half-heartedly. The uncommitted, like King Zedekiah, from our reading today in Jeremiah 38:4-10, not only look foolish, they let their fellow racers down and can cause great harm to the name of Christ.  Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back is fit for the kingdom of heaven” (Luke 9:62). Decide to be decided! Now that you’re ready to start, here’s what you’re getting into.

If you’ve never seen the Amazing Race, you can get some background to it on a post that I wrote last week. In the beginning, about a dozen teams begin challenges that take them around the world to win a million dollars. The partners find ways to work together to overcome each task. The significance of the race is that it’s transforms the participants! Now the twist: there is no elimination in the Christian’s life race and God is your partner! It sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Well, not so fast!  The prize, the goal, the whole purpose of the course, is to become more like Jesus and be a blessing to others.  This will be tough, but with God anything is possible.

You have your first instructions. On your marks, get set…go! You want to run in one direction. God likes a different route.  Decisions have to be made.  It’s part of the process. Since you insist, the Almighty lets you have your way. What’s the outcome? Your first challenge out of the gate…you’re lost, stuck and behind.  It happens a lot on the Amazing Race. Time to admit your mistake and employ our reading in Psalm 40 to get out of this mess:  Since I am afflicted and needy,let the Lord be mindful of me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God (Psalm 40:17).  And the outcome:

He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord. How blessed is the man who has made the Lord his trust,
and has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood
(Psalm 40:2-4).

You make it to the pit stop, time for celebrating and recapping the day’s events. Get some rest, it starts again tomorrow. Each leg of the race has different challenges. You and God have a lot of issues to overcome during this contest. You’ll face the obstacle of loving the unlikeable, turning the other cheek, and praying for those that hate you. There’s the roadblock of poor health, care giving and hospice. The detours of derailed plans, lost jobs, and catastrophes will spring up. Also, you’ll struggle with the U-turns of confessing sins and repentance. Even when you let God lead the way, you’ll experience frustrations, exhaustion, and disappointments. Every day you get up to get beaten up.  The other racers tell you that God your teammate will not give you more than you can handle. They lie. Deep down inside you suspect that He’ll hold you under the water until the last bubbles drift out between your cold cyanotic lips. When you complain to your Almighty partner, God tells you that He doesn’t think like you and you have to trust Him…little solace. Then He’ll point to the example in our reading today: Hebrews 12:2-4.  Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith race, who ran the course of hostilities, endured the cross, and despised its shame because at the end there was joy and a throne waiting for Him!  God will tell you, “This is my Son! Follow Him! The lathe of heaven is shaping you. You are being transformed. Keep going! Don’t quit! My child, you are finishing well!

Then one day you and God will come to the pit stop of the last leg of your race. It’s a stadium filled with saints of years gone by, who ran their race and finished just like you’re doing. They cheer wildly as you enter. Then you realize they are not cheering for you, but for God.  After all, it was never really about you in the first place. You are His trophy of grace. He began a good work in you and now it is finished. You are remade into the image of God the Son. You have the Christ shine! It is now as it was meant to be for you from the beginning. Sit down and take your place good and faithful servant. And look! There are more of your brothers and sisters in Christ racing through the door…more joy, more cheering to come! It’s amazing!

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