So how’s everybody doing? I think for the most part, we’re doing OK, right? But again we’ve been overwhelmed this week with bad news. Senseless killings. Injury. Maiming in Boston. A tragic fire and explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. I first saw the news of what happened in Boston on a TV monitor in the Phoenix airport on Monday.
But there I stood – like most of you – looking at that monitor. In shock. in awe. Shaking my head, and I said out loud, “Who does this? And why?”
Folks – [tomorrow] [today] is known in the church as Good Shepherd Sunday. All of our texts use this sheep and shepherd imagery as a metaphor to describe who Jesus is for us – and who we are as people who follow Jesus. And that’s important for us to remember today – important for us to remember when we read or hear about these kinds of senseless killings – acts of violence – tragedies – tragedy that we ourselves experienced not 200 yards away from here with the crash of flight 3407 just four years ago.
So let me ask you a question. When things like this happen – where do you go? Where do you get your courage? Where do you get your strength? It would be my hope that we would turn to the Lord – to Jesus the Good Shepherd. And that secondly – we would also turn to each other. It’s just another reason – I’ve got to say it – it’s just another reason why church matters.
Now certainly – we prayed. We all prayed. Wherever we were on Monday – or on Wednesday – we prayed. We prayed for the victims and their families. For strength – for comfort – for courage. Some of us turned to the Scriptures.
Psalms like today’s Psalm – the 23rd Psalm – many people’s favorite – because this Psalm reminds us that “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” Or maybe you turned to a Psalm like Psalm 18, where verse 2 declares “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
We turned to God. To Scripture. To prayer. We turned to each other. For strength. For comfort. For courage.
Now, I have already used several metaphors this [evening] [morning]. I’ve talked about the Lord as our shepherd, our rock, our shield, our strength. Those are all powerful metaphors – powerful ways to speak about who God – who Jesus – is for us. But I want to throw one more metaphor into the mix. Because this act of violence on Monday occurred at the Boston marathon – I want to use the picture of a runner – of running – as a metaphor to say something about who we are as followers – as disciples of Jesus Christ.
The book of Hebrews puts it like this, “…since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,…”
Let us run the race. I am a runner. I have never run a marathon. I have run a half marathon, one time. Four years ago. If you’ve ever wondered why there is a 13.1 sticker on the rear window of my car – and some of you have asked me about that – 13.1 is how long a half marathon is. And someday – someday – it’s on my bucket list – I hope to put a 26.2 next to it – the length of a full marathon.
But let me tell you something about running. If you want to be a runner – it is not easy to get started. Once you stop – it’s not easy to start up again. Laying off running for even two weeks – can make getting started a tough thing to do.
Running involves preparation. Stretching, before and after. Proper diet and nutrition and hydration. For instance, you can’t just decide to run a marathon. You have to train for it. And what’s more – it’s also helpful to train with others – and to have someone to coach you during your training period.
And then there are the occasional injuries. Shin splints. Sore muscles. Joint pain – especially knees, and sometimes hips. And sometimes, it’s boring. So all of you non-runners out there are probably wondering, “why in the world do runners do this?”
I’ll tell you why. I don’t know! Actually, I do know why. The benefits of running outweigh the costs. I like the way I feel, and the health benefits are great. And when I ran the Buffalo half marathon. I want you to know that I did not stop. I did not walk. I ran the whole distance.
Now most marathon runners also set goals for themselves. Mine – was just to finish. And quite frankly, to finish well. I was hoping to finish in less than 2 hours and 15 minutes. And I am happy to say, that I finished in two hours, 14 minutes, and ten seconds. But I had to sprint the last quarter mile or so do that. And let me tell you – crossing that finish line is an exhilarating experience.
Now the wonderful thing I discovered about this race is that there are people all along the route who see their whole purpose in life that day is just to cheer the runners on. Think about them as this great cloud of witnesses. At the same time runners were encouraging each other. On one particular hill, a guy ahead of me stopped to walk – and I just shouted, “Don’t stop!” He picked up the pace and kept going.
And by now you’re probably all wondering, “This is all fine and dandy Randy, but where are you going with all this?” Glad you asked.
When you think about it – life – the Christian way of life – is a lot like running. When the Apostle Paul knew that his end was near, he was able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Perhaps you’ve heard it said that the Christian life is not a sprint. And that’s right. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. The life of faith is not a quick dash to the finish line. We’re in it for the long haul. Sometimes our faith – like a runners muscles – gets stretched. And we need proper preparation – we need training. Again folks – that’s why church matters. This is where we get our training.
Proper nutrition is required for all runners, whether running a marathon, or 5K race. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we get proper nutrition from the Word of God. From bread and wine. In the waters of baptism. The Holy Spirit energizes us. We encourage each other along the way. Oh – and Jesus is our coach.
Do you see? We need God. We need Jesus the Good Shepherd. We need each other. It’s why church matters.
After those bombs went off in Boston – we heard numerous stories of heroes. Firefighters; police officers; first responders. Ordinary bystanders who ran towards the scene to help. The surgeon who finished the race – and an hour later was performing surgery on bomb victims. The man who finished the race – and kept on running for another two miles to the nearest hospital to give blood. On Tuesday, New England Patriot wide receiver Danny Amendola pledged to give $100 to the fund for victims for every pass he catches this season – and $200 for every dropped pass. Let’s hope he drops a lot of passes this Fall when he comes here to Buffalo.
This past week on Facebook, lots of people posted a picture of Fred Rogers – we remember him as Mr. Rogers – along with a saying that he is known for. I’ve put it up on the screen for us to look at. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
It was Edmund Burke who said, “All it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing...”
Yes – there are evil men and women in the world. Bad things do happen to good people. There are no guarantees in life. That’s just the way it is. Sometimes life delivers a sucker punch, and knocks you down. And I think of the image of 78 year old Bill Ifrig – running his 3rd Boston Marathon. He was 15 feet away from the finish line when the blast went off. You saw it. His feet gave out from under him, and he crumpled to the ground. An assistant came – lifted him up – and took him by the hand – and walked him to the finish line.
If the image of Jesus the Good Shepherd doesn’t work for you – think of yourself as Bill – and that helper who picked him up – took him by the hand – and led him to the finish line – as Jesus. OR – think of that helper as one of the disciples of Jesus. Maybe someone – a disciple – like you and me. We are the helpers. The hands and the feet of Jesus.
As followers of Jesus Christ – we can make a stand against evil. We do not have to and we will not live in fear. And what’s more, we can make a difference in the life of someone – anyone – who is injured – suffering – lonely – someone who’s been knocked down. We can do this because of who we are – because of whose we are – and who we refuse to be.
So let us run with confidence the race that has been set before us. Let us be the hands and feet – let us be the voice of Jesus – to a hurting world. And please know that no matter where you are in life today – no matter what’s going on – no matter where you may be hurting today – maybe the world is treating you unfairly…
…turn to Jesus – He is your rock – he is your strength – He is our Mighty Fortress – the Good Shepherd – the Good Shepherd who cares for you. Amen