by Jacob Juncker
These thoughts started a conversation that was had at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, September 11, 2016, as part of “The Message.” The discussion was based upon a reading from Romans 5:6-11 where Paul describes how we are made righteous–right with God–through the death of Christ, this proves God’s love for us.
For the past 15 weeks or so, Chandra and I have been training for the Hartford Marathon. Over the course of the last 15 weeks, we’ve run approximately 365 miles. We have roughly 4 weeks of training to go before the race on October 8.
In training for the race we run three to four times a week with long runs happening on Friday or Saturday. I find it very difficult to run while listening to music so that means I have a lot of time to observe and think. Over the course of the two months, I began to write down after the jog, some of my thoughts about running. Some of these were mantras that I told myself: motivation to keep moving. Others were simple observations or reminders. Things like: know the route; running the same hill everyday makes it easier; you’re slowest when you stop; and, your body will ache.
As I compiled the list—which now exceeds over 40 tips and observations—I realized that these ideas applied not only to my marathon training, but also to life and faith.
In fact, running is an ancient metaphor for faith. Throughout the Scriptures faith is often referred to as a race. In talking about the need for self-discipline, Paul remarks to the church in Corinth:
Don’t you know that all the runners in the stadium run, but only one gets the prize? So run to win. Everyone who competes practices self-discipline in everything. The runners do this to get a crown of leave that shrivel up and die, but we do it to receive a crown that never dies. So now this is how I run—not without a clear goal in sight…” (1 Corinthians 9:24-26a, Common English Bible).
As I finish my training for the race and as we journey together in faith, I thought it might be helpful for us to look at some of the things I’ve learned so that together we might finish the race and keep the faith; that the champion’s wreath that is awarded for righteousness might be waiting for us. “The Lord, who is the righteous judge, is going to give it to me on that day. He’s giving it not only to me but also to all those who have set their heart on waiting for his appearance” (2 Timothy 48b, Common English Bible).
I hope over the course of the next few weeks you’ll join me in training as we run together the race of faith.
Let us put on our running shoes and consider this first observation:
Running is a dangerous activity. The first runners died.
I officially registered for the Hartford Marathon three weeks ago. It was a momentous occasion. Signing up and paying the registration fee signified my commitment to participate in the race. At the end of the registration you have to sign a waiver. The first sentence of that waiver reads: “I know that running is a potentially hazardous activity.”
Running is dangerous. You could fall. You have to deal with the weather—the hot, the cold, the humid. The road conditions could be hazardous. Car drivers, bicycle riders, and other people walking or running may not see you. There are risks that don’t involve others, just your body. You could pull a muscle, your heart could beat out of your chest (OK, not literally, but it will feel like it), you can easily dehydrate yourself, you might vomit, and you could get runner’s gut. These are the risks you take as a runner. It’s a potentially dangerous activity.
In fact, the first marathoner died. Pheidippides (or Philippides), legend recalls, was a Greek messenger sent by the encamped Athenian army at the town of Marathon to Sparta to ask for help. A large Persian army was about to invade Greece. Pheidippides ran nearly 150 miles round trip deliver the news that the Spartans could not fight because the moon wasn’t right. Without the promise of help, the Athenians made a pre-emptive attack! Severely outnumbered, the Athenians won! The Persians fled. Pheidippides, legs still sore from his last run of some 140 miles, he was again enlisted to run from Marathon to Athens (some 25 miles) to deliver the news. Arriving in Athens, he gave word to the officials, “Joy to you, we’ve won!” and then he died. He died from exhaustion.
Of course Jesus—the pace-setting runner for Christians—died too. He came to show us what it means to live fully as human beings. He allowed the fullness of God to dwell within him. He did God’s perfect will perfectly. He showed us the way to love and life; and, he was executed because of it. The other runners and trainers of his day didn’t like his stride; his training regimen was not to their liking. It was believed that he was leading people astray. They trumped up charges against him and he was arrested, false testimony was offered, and he was accused of religious heresy and political treason. Jesus was executed; and just to make sure that he’d never run again, they broke his legs.
Running is a difficult and dangerous activity. The first runners died. It seems only fair that you know that up front. But, I can promise you that in taking up the sport. In running the race with diligence you will indeed find life.
Running is a difficult and dangerous activity. It is not for the faint of heart, but it will lead to a heart full of love. It will lead, if your faithful, to an abundant and eternal life.
What motivates you to run the race of faith? What keeps you running?
What are some of the challenges you face in trying to run like Christ?
 From the “Running Event Waiver Form” required of all runners who run in a Hartford Marathon Foundation running event. The form was found at <http://www.hartfordmarathon.com/assets/Foundation+Events/Event+PDF+Files/WAIVER_Running+Event$!2bHIPPA.pdf> Accessed September 10, 2016.