PRESS ON 9-1-19

Press On

September 1, 2019

When people find out I’m a runner they often joke and say, “If you see me running, you better run, too, because something is chasing me!”  While everyone’s motivation is not the same, we are all called to be runners.

Both Mazon UMC and Braceville UMC recently held a 5K run, in which the runners and walkers lined up at the starting line, and then completed 3.1 miles at their own pace until they reached the finish line.  They then received a prize for their participation, speed, and endurance.  One runner that had pre-registered in the Braceville 5K, which was held on a day when the temps quickly rose into the 90’s, came and picked up his race packet and declared that he was not going to participate because it was too hot.  When the results were posted, his name appeared at the bottom after those who had crossed the finish line; but instead of a time, his had the dreaded D.N.F. after it.  D.N.F. stands for Did Not Finish. 

You may not realize it, but if you are a believer in Christ, a child of the one true God through faith in Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection, you are part of a race as well.  But it isn’t just a local race, as was our 5K.  While your roots are in this local church, you are also part of the Vermilion River District, which is part of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, which is part of the 11 million member United Methodist Church, which is part of the Body of Christ.  And this race won’t be over in an hour, or a day, or even in your lifetime.  It has been going on since ages past, and will continue until Christ returns.  For this greater race is also a relay race, in which one generation passes the torch to the next.  Every believer and every church, as part of the Body of Christ, is called to run the distance marked out for them, to reach their individual finish line, and then pass the torch to the one that comes after them.  We may get sore.  We may grow tired.  We may sometimes feel we just can’t go on.  But we can’t quit.  We must press on.  Just as the apostle Paul said, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  (2 Corinthians 14:16-18 NIV)  Yes, we need to fix our eyes on that heavenly prize and continue on toward the finish line.  When our Lord posts the results, we don’t want a D.N.F. after our name.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the service, I recently submitted a Call to Worship, Prayer of Confession, and a short devotion for consideration by the board of General Conference 2020.   You have already participated in the Call to Worship* and the Prayer as our Congregational Prayer**.  Now here is the devotion to encourage you in the race that is set before us:

If you have ever run in a race, no matter if it was a 5K or an ultramarathon, you know it takes endurance just to make it to the finish line.  And if you want to win a prize, you need to train.  That means eating right to maintain a healthy weight, as well as exercising regularly to strengthen your muscles, heart, and lungs.  The apostle Paul, who often compared living our lives for Christ to running a race, said that he disciplined his body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. For Paul doesn’t just want us to run halfheartedly.  He wants us to run to win!  He urges us to strip off the weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up, and run with endurance the race God has set before us. 

What race is set before us today?  A 5K on a smooth and level course?  A longer 10K with a few minor hills? Or maybe a marathon that requires more endurance than most casual runners are capable of?  Or…  perhaps what lies before us is what is known as a ‘Warrior Dash’.  A warrior dash is a race that is beset with obstacles - a race in which you must climb walls, wade through mud, and leap over fire.  To reach the finish line in a warrior dash you need more than endurance, more than strength - you need courage, determination, and a willingness to suffer possible pain and injury.  The race that Jesus ran for us was the ultimate warrior dash.  He overcame the obstacle of temptation, never once being tripped up by sin; climbed over the walls of hostility, religious condemnation, and rejection; and willingly suffered more than any mere human could possibly endure.  Yes, “because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne”. (Hebrews 12:2).  Are we willing to follow him down the same course?  Are we willing to endure the fiery trials of this warrior dash we are called to run?  Do we rejoice over these trials that make us partners with Christ in his suffering?  Do we have what it takes to press on and reach the end of the race, cross the finish line, and claim our prize? 

We each must answer these questions in our own hearts, as well as the church as a whole.  The race that is set before us is not an easy one by any means.  God never promised it would be.  But He did promise to give us the strength and endurance we need to run it.  He did promise to be with us the entire way and never leave us.  And He did give us His Holy Spirit and His Word to guide us through the obstacles. 

And so I ask you, ARE YOU READY TO RUN?  Amen. 

VIDEOS:

"Overcomer"  (Mandisa)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06AGjLtIXis

"Move (Keep Walkin')"  (TobyMac)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzYsrAcuS0s&list=RDtzYsrAcuS0s&index=1 

*CALL TO WORSHIP

L:   All who are part of the Body of Christ have been called to run the race.

P:  Lord, we have heard your voice!  Your call we shall embrace.

L:  You cannot stand motionless and hope to win the prize.

P:  Lord, we shall run the course which now before us lies.

L:  Forget the past, and press on, although the road is long.

P:  Lord, we pray your Spirit guide us.  May He keep us strong!

ALL:  Amen!

**CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER: 

Forgive us, Lord, for our hesitation to embark on a race that is long and hard, wrought with obstacles, and which seems impossible to win.  Forgive us for contemplating the difficulty of running it under our own strength, rather than relying on the power of the Holy Spirit.  We humbly turn to you now, and pray you would fulfill in us your promise that those who trust in You will find new strength, that they will soar high on wings like eagles, and they will run and not grow weary.  This we pray in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.  Amen.

Pastor Karen with District Representative Rev. James Barnett: