Finishing The Race


This is the message that I gave at Tompkins Corners UMC on 4 April 2004.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Luke 19: 28 – 40, Philippians 2: 5 – 11, and Luke 22: 14 – 23: 56.

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With the Olympics coming up later this year, we are going to see some interesting competition. For it is entirely possible for a competitor from a small nation to set a national record while not even coming close to actually winning the event. That is not to denigrate the competitor in any manner but it does show that the Olympics is the ultimate level of competition.

Now, it used to be, when running races were held in both English and metric distances such as the 100-yard and 100-meter dash that it was possible to set a record in the former but not the latter. 100 yards is just slightly less than 100 meters and it is possible to set the record for the 100-yard dash while not doing so in the 100-meter dash. I don’t know if that is still true today, since only records in the metric lengths are honored. But it is an interesting thought that one could celebrate setting a record for one’s country or in a separate length and yet not win the event in which they were entered.

In one way Palm Sunday is like that. We celebrate the end of the race even though the race is not finished. We like celebrations; we like the feeling that comes with celebration. And we tend to hide the defeats or the "bad news". If there is no victory, then there is no celebration. We celebrate the homecoming with songs like "When Johnny Comes Marching Home."

When Johnny comes marching home againclip_image002

When Johnny comes marching home again,

Hurrah! Hurrah!

We’ll give him a hearty welcome then,

Hurrah! Hurrah!

The men will cheer, the boys will shout,

The ladies they will all turn out,

And we’ll all feel gay

When Johnny comes marching home.

Let love and friendship on that day,

Hurrah! Hurrah!

Their choicest treasures then display,

Hurrah! Hurrah!

And let each one perform some part

To fill with joy the warrior’s heart,

And we’ll all feel gay

When Johnny comes marching home.

But we forget that in order to gain the right to celebrate, sacrifices have to be made. The writer of the first of the celebratory songs took the tune from an Irish folk tune, "Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye", a tune with a much darker side.

Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye

With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo

With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo

With your drums and guns and guns and drums,

The enemy nearly slew ye

Oh my darling dear, Ye look so queer

Johnny I hardly knew ye

Where are your eyes that were so mild, hurroo, hurroo

Where are your eyes that were so mild, hurroo, hurroo

Where are your eyes that were so mild,

When my heart you so beguiled

Why did ye run from me and the child

Oh Johnny, I hardly knew ye

Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo

Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo

Where are your legs that used to run,

When you went for to carry a gun

Indeed your dancing days are done

Oh Johnny, I hardly knew ye

Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo

Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo

Ye haven’t an arm, he haven’t a leg,

Ye’re an armless, boneless, chickenless egg

Ye’ll have to put with a bowl out to beg

Oh Johnny I hardly knew ye

They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo

They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo

They’re rolling out the guns again,

But they never will take our sons again

No they never will take our sons again

Johnny I’m swearing to ye (From http://www.instantknowledgenews.com/johnny.htm)

And even in our churches today, we see the celebrations but not the work. We like being a member of a church; there is a polite type of correctness in being a member of a church. we, as a congregation, celebrate when someone, child or adult, was baptized into the faith.

Through baptism you are incorporated by the Holy Spirit into God’s new creation and made to share in Christ’s royal priesthood.

We are all one in Christ Jesus.

With joy and thanksgiving we welcome you as members of the family of Christ. (page 37 of the United Methodist Hymnal)

When then, as a congregation, say

We give thanks for all that God has already given you and we welcome you in Christian love.

As members together with you in the body of Christ and in this congregation of the United Methodist Church,

We renew our covenant faithfully to participate in the ministries of the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts and our service,

That in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (page 38 of the United Methodist Hymnal)

And in doing so, we enter into a covenant with that person. Whether we realize it or not, when we joined the United Methodist Church, we entered into a covenant with the other members of United Methodist Churches, you all together as Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, me with the other members of Fishkill United Methodist Church. It is a covenant that says we are together in this moment.

The Discipline says that "when persons united with a local United Methodist Church, they covenant together with God and with the members of the local church to keep the vows which are a part of the order of confirmation and reception into the church." The Discipline then lists vows made at baptism – renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness, confessing Jesus Christ as Savior, and so on, in addition to promising to be loyal to the UMC, to strengthen it, and to participate in its ministries through prayer, presence, gifts, and service.

Elsewhere the Discipline defines our mutual responsibility as UMC members, and here it specifically says that we have a covenant, presumably with the other members of the church. "A member is bound in sacred covenant to shoulder the burdens, share the risks, and celebrate the joys of fellow members." (From the April issue of Connections by Barbara J. Wendland)

But all too often, we quickly forget those vows when the service is over. We like the celebrations, we like people joining the church; we like to see people baptized into the faith. It makes us feel good; it gives us a sign that things are good.

But we don’t follow up; we don’t continue the process. And I am not just blaming one side or the other; the blame goes to all. For those we seek to be baptized or have their children baptized have just as much an obligation to fulfill the covenant as do the members of the congregation who joined in affirming their faith on that day.

Church is more than just making others feel good. It is about reaching out, helping and caring for others. But too often, we focus on the feel good part and avoid doing anything else. Despite all the reminders and opportunities, we try to avoid what comes next.

The people cheering Christ that first Palm Sunday thought the work was over, the kingdom of God would now take effect and the rule of tyranny would disappear. They felt that the hard work was done and the celebrations could begin. But as the week moved on, they suddenly realized that the hard work was just beginning; they suddenly realized that the Kingdom of God was just beginning and the hard work would be theirs to fulfill. Christ did not come in completion of His work but rather to begin his work. And the people did not want to be involved. They no longer cheered for His victory but yelled for His crucifixion because they did not want to face the truth that God’s kingdom required much more from them. With the sudden realization that they would have to get involved; with the sudden realization that they would have to take part, their happiness quickly turned into fear. And their fear turned into hatred.

Should we fear being a Christian, especially in this day and age? Perhaps, simply because being a Christian today is complex. The public image of Christians today is not the one it was back in Jesus’ day. Even today, I have a hard time reconciling the public image of Christianity with those who would, in my opinion, have been against Christ back then. But we have to realize that Jesus back then knew full well what lie ahead; Jesus knew what he had to do so that His mission, His work would be completed. In Luke 22: 42, we hear Jesus pray "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done."

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul reminds us that Christ experienced much the same that we did. He was as we are on this earth, capable of celebrating as well as fearing. Jesus was afraid but not so that he would lose his faith in God. Thus, he could accept the full forces of evil and death, and find liberation and redemption for Himself and for us. In confronting, accepting, and then defeating death Jesus gives us the assurance that life will always triumph over all forms of death. (From "Living the Word", Sojourners, April 2004 for April 4th)

We read in Isaiah 50: 4 – 9 that the Lord gives us the skills of a teacher, so that we can sustain the weary with the right word. He opens our ears so that we can hear the words and we are assured that the Lord will help us. We are given assurance that there is no one who can contend with us, if we are willing to accept the Lord.

We celebrate today, not because the race is over or the kingdom is established, though so many thought so some two thousand years ago. We celebrate today because the task we face is just beginning. We know that this task, though it is difficult and rough, can be faced if we look to God for guidance and comfort, just as Jesus did in those darkest moments at the end of the week.

We need to see that today represents not the finish but the beginning, we need to know that the work that Jesus laid before is ours to finish.


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One thought on “Finishing The Race

  1. Pingback: Notes for Palm Sunday « Thoughts From The Heart On The Left

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