If you were to ask anyone at church about my sermons, they would probably tell you that a lot of time I refer to sports references in my sermons.
But come to think about it, I probably do refer too many times over the course of a year to sporting events in my sermons, especially when it comes to baseball and my beloved Kansas City Royals.
Sorry St Louis Cardinals fans.
I really do like the Cardinals when they are playing the KC Royals. (Wink).
Recently the 32nd 2020-2021 Olympiad concluded in Tokyo and although I did not get to watch much of it I am always enthralled by the marathon and the marathon runners.
It is said that in a marathon, which I will never run, that you hit what is said to be a “wall” at about the 20 mile mark in the race. All racers hit the wall.
The “wall” is the point in the race where the runners “glycogen” or stored energy is depleted in their muscles.
At that point, good runners push through to the very end and others are left struggling along to finish.
It is said that many of the Olympic athletes struggled with mental and physical issues because the games had to be pushed back a year because of the virus.
They had trained to be at their peak physical and mental preparedness for the summer of 2020.
As I think about the past year and a half ,it seems to have been like a marathon.
Most of us have pushed through but some of us have hit that wall.
This past summer it seemed like we were all going to make it past that wall with the virus.
But that glimmer of hope that we had pushed through seems to have been stomped down with the increase of new cases.
What is especially troubling now the incidents of younger children getting the virus.
Now it seems like that we are having to run a second marathon before recovering from the first.
Generally speaking, most marathoners do not run but one to two marathons a year.
It is said that a good rule of thumb to wait for six months between each race.
We were not given even a month to recover from the first wave of COVID-19.
Thus, many people do not have the strength to continue running a second marathon.
“Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.
Those simple words have never been more needed than they are now, as we continue the long haul of the pandemic.
Individuals, families and even pastors are very tired mentally, physically and spiritually from the ongoing struggles.
So, what are we to do?
Where do we find the strength to continue?
Or will we simply give up?
How do marathon runners prepare for a 26.2 mile race?
Many begin by running shorter distances and build up to the race length.
They run daily short distances to keep their body in shape and stamina.
As Christians, we can assume that if we read our Bible only in times of trouble, we will not have the spiritual stamina to endure the flaming darts or attacks of the devil.
We must read our Bible daily to be able to discern God’s presence and assurances for our lives, even if at first we only read for five or 10 minutes.
Secondly, marathon runners also run with groups of friends to give each other encouragement along the way. Especially when they hit the wall.
We too should also be with friends at church or in small groups to give each other support when we hit our spiritual walls.
Marathon runners also feast on healthy meals to keep in shape and bulk up.
We as Christians must also feast on the healthy spiritual food of the Bible to bulk up spiritually.
Scripture tells us to feast “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Hebrews 5:12-14
Athletes also practice self-care.
They make sure they get a balance of work and relaxation between intervals of training.
Simone Biles brought the importance of self-care to light at the Olympics this year when she withdrew from competition in the women’s gymnastics.
Sadly, she took a lot of criticism for her decision.
As Christians, we too must have a healthy balance between work and relaxation.
Scripture reminds us, “But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” Luke 5:15
Drawing on his knowledge of sporting events of his day, the Apostle Paul also used the imagery of sports to convey his life of faith to his missionary coworker Timothy to encourage him.
He wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7
Although the Apostle Paul didn’t have to endure the COVID-19 virus, Paul did have to endure being beat almost to death, a deadly snake bite, and being imprisoned for what he believed and shared numerous times.
The Apostle Paul kept on keeping on.
So must we.
We’ve all lost friends and loved ones to the virus, but they would have us to keep steady and to continue to run the race to its completion.
Let us accept the invitation from Jesus to rest along the way so that when tomorrow comes, we will be ready for whatever it may bring as we continue our race.
Rev. Frank Chlastak began work as senior minister of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Poplar Bluff in 2015. He is a graduate of Northeast Louisiana University and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and has served congregations of the Christian Church in Louisiana, Arkansas, Virginia, Oklahoma and Missouri.