A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Winnette
January 16, 2011
“Run (Forest) Bradley Hills Run!” Running is a Christian duty considering the Apostle Paul’s metaphor of the good race. I like to run. Long ago I sprinted fast at soccer practice. And later with a measured gait I trained for a marathon. I like running, but honestly, I never really appreciated Paul’s good race. It seemed too competitive, too strenuous, and too lonely. Reading today’s gospel I enjoy contemplating a different view of the race. Maybe the race is not a spry, solitary sprint to win, the fastest. Maybe the race is not a breathless, never-ending marathon to win, the most durable. Unlike sprints and marathons, in God’s race, we are not racing against each other at all. There are no losers. In this race we all win. As we set our eyes on Jesus and run, there are no losers. Even the unjust, the unfaithful, the haters, the saber-rattlers and the fear-ridden don’t lose. As the race is run life is enriched for all and our life together is renamed, More-Peace.
This weekend we honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his leadership of the civil rights movement. Was he sprinting? Were the marches like marathons? Sure. The opponents with burning crosses, nooses, water hoses, bricks, bullets, sticks, and stones raced to win.
Sticks and stones may break our bones and their words indeed hurt many. Many suffered and some died on both sides of the Civil Rights race but in God’s race there were no losers. Those indoctrinated and named Separating-Racists, now live in a less segregated society. And it is good even for them. They have grandchildren and great grandchildren who have no notion of racial eugenics. The children cannot conceive of our and their water fountains; of white seats and black seats. Our life together was named, More-Respect.
We all won. Now the racists did lose a sense of superiority but it was a false, harmful one. They lost some sense of security, with higher wages and preferred national status, but that security had been stolen from others’ children. We all won. There are no losers in God’s race. Any step towards justice is a win for all humanity. Our life together was renamed, More-Just.
I’m now coming around to the Apostle’s notion of the race. The race is not a sprint, nor is it a marathon. It’s both and more. In the race of life and faith, we take turns. Some of us rest in Sabbath preparation.
Others sprint hard running powerfully, up political hills they lobby legislatures continuing to urge justice. Others run powerfully, down city streets feeding our country’s thousands of new homeless families. Many run powerfully, using their gifts and talents to prepare future runners. They organize Bible Music Camps. They mentor Confirmation Classes. They join committees to ensure Christ’s message is taught to the children that they may grow to be good runners. Maybe a class they teach will inspire our country’s next great social orator, a new Rev. Dr. King. Our life together is renamed, More-Hope.
You know the Church’s runners – they work to ensure the Church buildings and grounds are welcoming, comfortable and safe. They tidy this worship space. They balance the church’s checkbook. They nurture the staff; they call new runners; they provide compassion like nurses to those who are weary, and they help us eat, potluck and party together. There are runners who give their gifts to enrich us helping us hear God’s voice in worship, helping us center our lives, preparing us for the race. Together we are renamed, More-Mercy.
Paul’s race is not a sprint or a marathon. It’s both and more – it’s a team-based, relay race. Our runners run hard, but they don’t run forever in the same lane. When the time is right they burst with a final energy and they pass the baton. The baton is inscribed with a name. It’s a call from God. The runners pass the baton to their teammates ready at their side. They take new names and run.
Now as we give up batons it does not mean we are done for God gives us new names. Sometimes we are named Sabbath and we rest. But one day again we will be lured to run and grab a new baton with a different name and a new purpose. Run Bradley Hills Run.
The baton exchange took three days. On the first day Jesus was baptized by John. The Gospel of John does not tell a perspective of Jesus’ baptism as do the synoptic gospels. We hear the after-the-fact eyewitness testimony of John the Baptist. He declares that the Spirit of God descended like a dove and remained on Jesus. The Spirit of God anointed and named Jesus, the beloved one. On the second day Jesus walked by John and John pronounced him the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” He names him the one who clears away the hindrances of our past that we might run the race of God. On this day John humbles himself. On this day he passes the baton.
I feel embarrassed to share my fascination with a cut-throat reality show. While competition has a positive place in human society, it too easily becomes harmfully self-centering. I’m embarrassed that I’m entertained by people striving to make others look bad. Have any of you watched Hell’s Kitchen? British super Chef and astonishingly rude Chef Ramsay, hosts a reality show where many cooks fight each other to be named the best Chef. Every season they have an episode with a relay kitchen race. The two teams race to cook a meal with each of their team members taking a turn. The first cook starts, then when her time is up, she runs past the next cook blurting what has been done. The next cook rushes to pick up the pieces. When the last baton is passed the last cook presents the meal to be judged. Most of the meals look awful. They really are not a team. The show encourages each cook to have at their core a desperate desire to impress Chef Ramsey and to win alone. They were named, Self-Promoting.
Praise God that in the race we run we are all able to root for each other. Each of our tasks is important. So we take turns racing the good race. As a team we strive getting humanity farther down God’s hope-filled racetrack.
There is no need for competition; none of us can win God’s esteem. God does not prefer the prophets who lobby more than the poet who sings. God does not reward the voice in the choir more than the one who brought bagels. God does not prefer the one who served a homeless woman more than the one who taught a child the Lord’s Prayer. None of us can win the name of Best Disciple. All of us seek together to rename our society, More-Holy.
The baton exchange took three days. On the third day Jesus walked by John again. John was with two of his own disciples and he passes the baton. He pointed to Jesus saying, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” He declares Jesus the Messiah. John the Baptist preached that people should repent should go down to the water to be cleansed and made new. He passed the baton to the one whose very nature is transformative, the one called the Lamb. He passed the baton to the one who renames us, who redeems us and revives us for the race. John’s disciples trust his testimony and they follow Jesus. Jesus invites them to come to his home. They spend a day together. We too are invited to Jesus’ home. Together we are named, Disciples.
The call to God’s race is a call to relationship. We are called to friendship with God. We are called to Christ’s home. We are called to the Spirit’s work.
Andrew was convinced. He found his brother and passed him a baton saying, “We have found the Messiah.” Simon, the brother went to Jesus and Jesus gave him a new name, Peter, the Rock. The call to God’s race is a call to a community of friendly teamwork. A call to strive dissatisfied against hunger and injustice, fear and selfishness. We are called to name all people, all creation, Beloved. We are together named, The-Church-of-Christ-at-BHPC, a long but good name.
Are you ready for a new name? Do you yearn for a new baton? Are you tired of running as, Pew-Sitter? Are you ready to give up the name, Committee-Chair? Maybe your new name is Sabbath-Worshipper. Five leaders this month will pass on the baton of elder and five deacons will stop their runs. Praise God, ten new leaders are taking those batons. Are you ready for a new name? Might you want to trot with the name, Quiet-Praying-One? Others yearn for louder names and faster runs. Maybe your new name is Loud-Singer, Lay-Preacher, Pastor.
Maybe your new name is AV-Sound-Girl. A brand new name for our community is Camera-One. And they will film parts of our worship. You want that name? I have the baton.
Maybe you’re being called to take the mission baton, or the property management baton. Are you tired of the name, Check-Writer? Maybe you have a new name, Church-School-Teacher. Can you hear God calling you, Evangel or Inviter or Welcomer or Usher? Maybe your baton is inscribed with the name, Website-Re-designer. Can I hear you called, New-Member. We love those named, New-Member. Maybe your name will become Cook-For-homeless. God is calling for many with that name. Talk with me if you are ready for that baton.
Martin Luther King Jr. has passed on his baton, it was an old baton and it’s inscribed with many names: Prophet Isaiah, Moses, you can see etched an Abraham Lincoln. Rev. King said, “Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” The baton will likely be needed for a while for the justice race continues.
I now share his words about a renaming, a rebirth. They were lifted up at the Eleventh Annual Convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Georgia on August 16, 1967.
And if you will let me be a preacher just a little bit. (Speak) One day [applause], one night, a juror came to Jesus (Yes sir) and he wanted to know what he could do to be saved. (Yeah) Jesus didn't get bogged down on the kind of isolated approach of what you shouldn't do. Jesus didn't say, "Now Nicodemus, you must stop lying." (Oh yeah) He didn't say, "Nicodemus, now you must not commit adultery." He didn't say, "Now Nicodemus, you must stop cheating if you are doing that." He didn't say, "Nicodemus, you must stop drinking liquor if you are doing that excessively." He said something altogether different, because Jesus realized something basic (Yes): that if a man will lie, he will steal. (Yes) And if a man will steal, he will kill. (Yes) So instead of just getting bogged down on one thing, Jesus looked at him and said, "Nicodemus, you must be born again." [applause]
In other words, "Your whole structure (Yes) must be changed." [applause] A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will "thingify" them and make them things. (Speak) And therefore, they will exploit them and poor people generally economically. (Yes) And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and it will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together. (Yes) [applause]
What I'm saying today is that we must go from this convention and say, "America, you must be born again!" [applause] (Oh yes)
Dr. King ran with the prophet’s baton and he preached the ways of Jesus, Jesus the Lamb that renews, the one who renames us and gives the world new life. Dr. King preached that God’s justice is our task, the good task of humanity. He calls for the race to be run. A race where no one loses but humanity wins. He ended his speech urging a dissatisfaction that spurs us to run. I quote:
And so, I conclude by saying today that we have a task, and let us go out with a divine dissatisfaction. (Yes)
Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. (All right)
Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. (Yes sir)
Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.
Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history (Yes), and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home.
Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality integrated education.
Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.
Let us be dissatisfied (All right) until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin. (Yeah) Let us be dissatisfied. [applause]
Let us be dissatisfied (Well) until every state capitol (Yes) will be housed by a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy, and who will walk humbly with his God.
Let us be dissatisfied [applause] until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Yes)
Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until that day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together (Yes), and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid.
Seeking God’s satisfaction justice races are run. While many races made humanity winners, we still must run. So together we are renamed: Prophets, More-Peace, More-Hope, More-Grace, More-Sabbath, More-Love, More-Respect, and More-Justice.
And there is another name on all our batons. It’s etched on them all, a watermark claiming our names together, God’s-Beloved. Run Bradley Hills Run. Amen.
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