Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2010

Sunday of the Pittsburgh Marathon

This is always certainly an interesting and challenging and also very festive day in the life of our city—the day of the Pittsburgh Marathon.

It’s a day that stirs up in my thoughts and memory a great many associations, since as many of you know I ran the race eight times between 1995 and 2002. Finishing, as my saying always was, “in the group of runners just behind the Kenyans . . . .” A series of foot and knee injuries has kept me on the disabled list in the years since, as I’m just not able to move from my morning six miles to those weeks and weeks of 10 and 15 and 20 mile training runs that it takes to get “marathon ready.” But it is true that every year on this day I do think to myself, “maybe next year.” And we’ll just have to see how that goes.

But on this day, as we do have a good group of runners this year from St. Andrew’s and a number of folks as well who volunteer at the various aid stations along the way, or who do what I can tell you is the very important work of lining the course and cheering the runners, we would have all involved in our best thoughts and prayers for a good and safe day. And with a prayer of thanksgiving for the many gifts of living in this city—which can be in so many ways such a great place, and with such great people.

The marathon can be a suggestive image in many ways as we think about our Christian life. 26.2 miles is not a hundred-yard dash, for example, and while there can be moments perhaps as the runner comes near the finish line when you might think about trying to step on the gas, the plan for the race always has to be about care and preparation, knowing the pace that’s right for you, and keeping an eye on the road, so as not to turn an ankle in a Pittsburgh pothole or to trip on a bit of uneven pavement.

The Presbyterian pastor and theologian Eugene Peterson wrote a book about Christian discipleship, life, and ministry many years ago, a book that has been very influential in my life, centered around the Pilgrim Psalms in the Book of Psalms. Psalms meant to be sung along the way on the journey to Jerusalem. The title of his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

The image, about getting the direction right. The right intention, the right values, the right relationship to Christ, and then sticking with it for the long haul, mile after mile, day after day, year after year. Not just about a moment of conversion, important as that is, but about a life of faith, discipleship, one day at a time, all the way to the end.

And we used to have a saying, adapted from another context. “What do you call the last person who crosses the finish line in the Marathon?” The answer: “A Marathoner!” The point being that there is of course someone who crosses the finish line first. Often one of those amazing East African runners. And it’s fine to call him the winner of the race.

But in fact there are no “losers” of the Marathon. Thousands and thousands of winners, each making this incredible effort, men and women, young athletes and old duffers, the guys in the wheelchair division, everybody. Thinking about St. Paul in First Corinthians 9: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?” But don’t let that discourage you, he says. “ Run in such a way that you may win.” All of us in Christ to win the race.

The propers for this morning are great for Marathon Sunday as well. The collect: Christ not only the goal, but the course of the race, and our partner, our guide: “the way, the truth, the life,” that “we may steadfastly follow his steps.” And of course, he is our cheering section, calling out with encouragement along the way. And our refreshment station, as in the Revelation to John: “To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” No one finishes this race without stopping for this refreshment many times along the way. The Gatorade of the Gospel. (Sorry!)

So simply, on this Fifth Sunday of Easter, and Marathon Day, blessings and peace. And for all of us, for those here who are not running the streets of Pittsburgh this morning, and for those who are, for all of us, with a prayer this morning that we may run with all our hearts the good race, faithful and true, following his steps and refreshed in his presence, mile after mile and day after day, until we will stand with great joy in the holy city, New Jerusalem, to receive as our prize the Crown of Glory that will never fade away.

Everyone, all of us, the word today: Have a great run!

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