“…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly  call of God in Christ Jesus. 15”
Playing on Ipad at the pulpit.
Well that’s done. I just crossed the finish line of another marathon. Because with just a couple of taps on my little Ipad here, I just finished. It’s called virtual racing. What you do is register on line and then when you finish “running” you submit your time and then in a couple of weeks, voila you get your medal in the mail. I don’t know why I even bothered to run 26.2 miles the other Sunday
Of course I know I’m supposed to actually do the training and do the run, but this is so much easier and no one will know the difference. No one gets hurt. It is a win win–the charity gets the donation and I get a medal. Isn’t it all about the prize at end anyway?
That’s what Paul is talking about in his letter to the church in Philippi–running a virtual race. You know when he’s talking about straining forward, pressing he’s actually saying he is chasing after, running for the goal, the prize. And where is Paul? Paul is in prison. He’s not actually running anywhere. See, virtual racing is all good. It’s in the Bible.
Nathan: But Mom isn’t that cheating? What about the training? What about the experience? You always tell us it’s not about winning.
Yes, but running is a lot of hard work, and I get sore, and I get tired, and have you seen my feet lately? This one is still a little bit sore. Virtual marathons are just so much easier.
Nathan: But if you would have done that last year, you wouldn’t have actually gone to Greece. I saw you crying as you ran in Athens.
Yup I was crying, and it wasn’t just because of the blisters. I was crying because I did it.There was nothing virtual about it–especially that gentle uphill for 8 miles in the middle. There was nothing virtual about the older guy dressed in ancient Greek hoplite armor, with helmet, shield and sword running the marathon in bare feet. There was nothing virtual about seeing my husband and 2 boys cheering for me as I made the turn to run into the white marble stadium built 1896 for the first modern Olympics. Yes, I still can’t believe I got that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There was nothing virtual about that. It was real.
Real life. That’s where Paul comes from and writes from–real life. He’s not some academic writing in the luxury of his home. He was in prison because of his faith in Jesus. He didn’t know what would happen from day to day. There was nothing virtual about his life. It was literally in the hands of others. The jailers, the authorities, and even the Philippians. See, in the ancient world being jail was nothing like it is today. It was a cave or a pit and nothing was provided–no food or water — not even an orange jumpsuit. Paul in this letter is thanking the Philippians for the money they sent that was feeding him, literally keeping him alive. Paul was depending on them. I guess Paul wasn’t virtually doing anything. He needed the people of Jesus to keep giving so that he could keep going. They were together in this.
Not a virtual relationship, but a very real partnership. He needed their gifts and they needed his spiritual guidance. They needed to hear about Jesus. There is so much in this little letter of 4 chapters. We’ve only taken bits and pieces here and there for this liturgy for this worship. I encourage you to sit down some day and read the whole thing through
I don’t know about you, but these days I’m just like the Philippians, I need to hear, I need to be reminded, I need to be immersed in the love of God in Christ Jesus. Because there is nothing virtual about being a Christian, about following Jesus. I probably do not need to tell you how in some places, in some circles, how so many people are turning away and don’t believe that we are to overcome fear, hate, and violence–even terrorism with lives of radical welcome, love, forgiveness. I have known followers to be called naive and worse. We are being dismissed. OK let’s get real–as we get closer and closer to Christmas. Virtual Christians are dismissing Jesus, are replacing Jesus for a false sense of security, for Christmas trees, and loads of presents. People what we face in our world and in our lives is much more difficult and much more important than running 26.2 miles. There is nothing virtual about our faith. It is real. What Paul really wants us to know is that even though it looks sometimes perhaps inconvenient or even hopeless and impossible–we can lean in, we can keep on, we can stand up, we can keep running, speaking, posting, praying. Why? The truth is that maybe we won’t quickly and easily persuade people. They may not even seem to be listening. There is no guarantee that we will change all hearts and minds. But according to Paul. We are already winners.
That’s what was another thing that was so cool about my marathon last year. In the ancient world, only the winner received a crown of olive branches. But the modern marathon is different. Along the route some Greek spectators hand olive branches to any runner. I remember an older woman in her black skirt,shoes, and sweater handing me a branch. Last year as I ran, I could feel the olive branch in my hand, I could feel it when I stuck it in the back of my hat. I felt it as I ran, it helped me keep going even when it got really really hard, I kept going knowing I that the prize was mine, that I had already won.
That’s how Paul sees our life as followers of Jesus. Because Jesus wore not a crown of olives, but a crown of thorns, the prize is ours. We can trust that God’s love is here. We feel it as we share the peace. We hear it as we sing together. We taste it at this table. We are surrounded by it with the prayer and support of one another. We don’t know what the future will bring. We don’t know the races, the struggles, the pains. Those are very real. And just as real is the love of God that we share, that we feel. There is nothing virtual about that. Amen.