Swifter, Higher, Stronger

Romans 5: 1-5
The guiding principle of the Olympic games states that, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning, but taking part. The essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”
The guiding principle of the Christian community in Rome states that, “…we shall take pride in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not humiliate us.”
Sounds similar to me.
Back in the spring of 1986 my father was in Cambridge at the time of the Boston Marathon, which is not only the oldest, but is also the most grueling of all the Olympic events and he shared this account of the race, at my ordination service, which dramatically illustrates what the Christian faith and church is all about.
About the neatest thing I did this spring, although I thought beforehand it would be somewhere between boring and mildly interesting, was to watch the famed Boston Marathon. I had no idea of what I was getting into. I went to Kenmore Square, near where the Red Sox’s play, which is at the 25 – mile mark, by which point it is very intense. It was a blissfully cool day for the runners and Bill Rogers won in record time, third in a row.
The real drama started after the (world class) runners had passed, and it was the most dramatic thing I have ever seen. The street was lined with spectators, thousands of them, all screaming, “Come on, just one more mile. You can do it. Come on.” After 25 miles – well you see people don’t care any more about what their style of running looks like. They don’t care if their once chic, $60.00 Adidas running shoes are mud-spattered and worn.
After the first 100 or so world-class runners, there are 8,000 men and women who do it on sheer guts and willpower alone. And one ingredient gets them there, and every marathoner will tell you: The people of Boston love the race. They are yelling encouragement the whole way, handing out little Dixie cups of water or orange juice, hosing runners down, advising how far to go, how far they’ve come. But where the crowd really comes in is after the first 20 miles. At 25 miles, where I was many people are in serious pain… their faces are studies in pain and concentration.
When a struggling runner would come into view and in agony with a mile to go, unable to run any more, he would stop, often crying himself, an then it would begin: The crowd… “Come on… one more mile… you can do it… don’t give up.” And you hear the yells build to a roar, a really loud roar, with all voices and all eyes on that one suffering soul. And every time, EVERY TIME, the runner would be swept up in this incredible, intangible energy – and often with an absolutely agonizing look into the heavens or a love-hate look at the crowd that was literally forcing him to continue past his limits, the runner would begin again the cheers that met his first running steps are not to be believed because each of the people yelling believed it was he or she who did it… AND IT WAS.”
The church functions as a community of support cheering runners on. Some of the participants run well. But others are hurting so badly they can barely move. Some run with beautiful form; others are crippled and run awkwardly, but they run. And the Church encourages them. The Church of Jesus Christ, the Church of the Holy Spirit, cheers the runners on with the gifts they have, holding them accountable for running to the best of their ability. And that’s what WE, the church are to be about. Amen

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