This sermon is based on John 10:11-18
“Did you finish?”
The most common question asked after my completing the Boston Marathon.
“Did you finish?”
Not, “how fast did you go?”
Not, “did you have fun?”
Not, “what was your place?”
But, “did you finish?”
Why this question? I’ve now run eight marathons and I don’t remember being asked this question. Well, except for after that very first marathon.
So why the question now? I suspect it’s because this was the worst weather ever for the Boston Marathon.
- 25-30 mph head winds with larger gusts
- Rain. Sideways sometimes (that wind!). Ever hear of car wash effect in a forecast? Me neither until last weekend. It was always heavy, with the occasional feeling of a bucket of water being thrown on you. At one point I got enough water in my mouth I could swallow it. And, sometimes it hit my face like ice.
- That’s because it was also cold. 30° at the start. 38° at the finish. Pretty much felt like the 20s but with rain instead of snow. Snow would have been better.
- Over 2000 people treated for hypothermia – during and after the race. At least 80 hospitalized.
Did you finish? Not everyone did! And (almost) nobody finished as quickly as planned or desired.
Did you finish? Some couldn’t. Some could but quit anyway.
I was tempted to quit. Like the hired hand in today’s text I was tempted to flee into safer places. Dry places. Warm places. The temptation was great because it was so hard.
I’ve always thought of the marathon as an example of the very real challenges we face in life. The 2018 Boston Marathon was an extreme example of this. Extreme because it was a bit crazy to even start running in conditions such as these. A coach who’s podcast I follow said, “no one in their right mind would set out to run 26 miles in those conditions except that it was the Boston Marathon” (On Coaching Podcast).
We all face times when we want to give up, to quit. Sometimes we should…if continuing means literally risking our lives…or our continued well-being. For those suffering extreme hyperthermia this was the case. But in the majority of times, when we face the extreme desire to give up, we can or should push through…we can or should dig deep for the perseverance and resiliency that takes us to the goal. Sometimes we give up when the goal is so close…but seems so far away. I saw it in Boston when so many were stopped in that last mile. I wanted to round them up and say, “keep going, you’re almost there.” How often do we give up when we’re almost there. I think I gave up in this way when I gave up on our Spanish language service a couple years ago.
Can you think of a time you wanted to give up? Did you? Or did you push through? What happened? Would you do anything different if you could do it again? Have you ever felt like the hired hand? Giving up when going forward was too scary, too tough?
Or maybe right now you feel like giving up on something. You don’t see an easy way forward. Heck, you might not see any way forward. So, the idea of quitting sounds appealing. It’s usually a struggle to even decide to quit because alongside any desire to give up is the feeling of loss. The feeling that it’s not the best choice. Maybe even the feeling that in giving up we’ve sacrificed a bit of ourselves.
Here’s some good news from Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Jesus never gives up. Jesus never abandons us. He always goes where we go…even if where we go is not the best idea…even if where we go is to flee the task that is ahead of us. The Good Shepherd loves us, cares for us, and comforts us. Always. Even when we don’t recognize or feel it.
The Good Shepherd also invites us to love, care for, and comfort others (and ourselves). The Good Shepherd calls us to be active in the world…to help others through their own challenges.
Going back to my story of Boston. I experienced this love, care, and comfort from the thousands of volunteers that lined the course. They too were standing in the wind, rain, and cold. One man was so cold, as he handed me a cup of Gatorade, that his hands were shaking. He could have fled to warmth…like a hired hand abandoning his sheep, but he too braved the elements to help thousands of strangers.
I experienced this love, care, and comfort from the thousands of spectators that lined the course. From the cheering and the encouraging to the offers of food. After the race I read a story of another runner who was so cold that at the halfway point he approached a group of spectators. He asked if anyone had a blanket. Nobody did. But a woman took off her LL Bean jacket, gave it to him, and said, “now you can finish.” He did.
I read about this love, care, and comfort in the story of a church that decided to open their sanctuary to the very cold runners who were suffering from the extreme conditions. The pastor called upon members. They lit a fire, gathered blankets and food and opened their doors. The news photos showed lots of dejected runners sitting in the pews. Getting warm. Leaving water everywhere.
I experienced this love, care, and comfort after the race when the managers of an office building opened its lobby to the soaking wet runners, their families, and their friends. I remember seeing a man fruitlessly trying to mop up all the water! We were probably in their building for only 15 minutes, but it was long enough to dry off, change my shirt, put on a dry jacket and get ready to go back into the rain to make my way to my hotel. This probably saved lots of race finishers from hypothermia.
And sometimes it is in giving care to others in the midst of difficulty we find the ability to continue. Desi Linden won the women’s race. I’m so happy for her and I had been rooting for her. I’m a fan. When she started she didn’t feel like she was going to finish. She told fellow American runner Shalane Flanagan that she would most likely drop out, but first she offered her help. To run as a team. So help protect Shalane from the wind and rain by running in front. She later helped other American runner Molly Huddle.
Something happened when she quit focusing on how she felt to help the other runners. She started feeling better and stronger and eventually found herself to be in a great position. So she didn’t drop out. She pushed and won by 4 minutes. What a great example in finding strength in a touch situation by helping others.
It was all hard. It was all wonderful. Just like ministry is hard and wonderful. I would do it again.