This Sermon was delivered on Sunday, October 8, 2017, the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost. The readings and psalm were Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-15, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46. We also listened to a Temple Talk by Kirk Oseid.
When I got back from Africa and started seminary at Yale, I decided to start running again. At first it was a walk/run, slowly increasing the time of running until I was able to just go for a run. In order to not get bored mentally and to motivate me, I would pick a Bible verse to repeat as I ran. I picked ones that had athletic imagery, that were active and goal oriented – kind of like a Christian equivalent to the music surging as Rocky ran through the streets and up those steps.
One of the verses I picked was from the lesson just read from Philippians:
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:10-14)
I would write them on strips of paper, commit them to memory and then fold them up and safety pin them to the inside of the waistband of my shorts.
Other verses included …
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. (Hebrews 12:11-12)
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (I Corinthians 9:24-27)
I loved those passages and, as you can see, still know them by and large by heart. And they come to mind at times when I need them most.
One thing most of them have in common is a Greek word – TELIOS – something I preached on last February regarding another Bible passage. As a quick review, the Greek word TELIOS can be translated into various English words like “perfect” or “complete” or “mature” or “full” or “to reach the end” or as in today’s Epistle lesson as “to reach a goal” – “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal.”
It is that towards which we are headed – our end game.
We need to have goals or a vision of what we are striving for and where we are going.
But if we aren’t careful, those goals or that vision can feel overwhelming – reminding us that we are not there yet. “Why aren’t we there yet? We should be there already.” And this can easily turn into self-judgment.
A priest colleague of mine once gave me great advice. He said, “Don’t should on yourself.”
That just makes you feel worse, doesn’t it? And it’s not about “should” anyway.
We aren’t there yet – we haven’t reached the goal or been made perfect. Paul knew that about himself – he admitted that he had not yet reached the goal. But he knew something far more important – that, even though he hadn’t yet reached the goal, Christ Jesus had already made him his own.
This is what gives us the courage and confidence to keep getting up when we fall, to keep asking forgiveness when we sin, to keep forgiving, to keep blessing and not cursing. To keep at it, knowing that he who has begun a good work in us is faithful and will see it to the end.
The Gospel assures us that we are here for a purpose – that there is a reason that Christ has taken hold of us and loves us. We are called to take hold of our belovedness – to simply accept it, embrace it, and share it so that all may know God’s love for them – that they, too, are beloved.
We are called to live our lives with that end in mind – to set our compass by that “true north.” We aren’t there yet, but we press on to make it our own, because Christ Jesus has made us his own.
And let us not forget that we are in this together – with each other now and with those who have gone before us and with those who will come after us. Therefore, reciting one last passage I ran to…
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…Consider him … so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-4). Amen.