(Preached in Spanish at All Saints Church, Pasadena, CA, Nov. 13, 2013)
My friends in Jesus Christ,
Six years ago, I ran my first marathon—the California International Marathon in Sacramento. I wasn’t sure that I was capable of running a marathon, so I took a training class to prepare. One of the coaches had run in the women’s marathon in the Olympics, so I had a lot of faith in her. And for the most part, I followed the advice she gave me about training, and by the day of my race, I felt like I was in good shape.
For example, she explained how I should mix long training runs of 15 or 18 miles with short, fast runs or training runs on hills. She also told me that it was important to take in a lot of water and sugar before and during the race so that I would not run out of energy. You probably have seen videos of marathons and the tables with cups of Gatorade along the side of the road. Those little sips of sweet water are really important for long distance runners. I probably could have taken more sips of Gatorade along the way, but the fact is I really don’t like the taste of it.
For the day of the marathon, our coach told us that she would be looking for us around mile 22 or mile 23 to check in to see how we were doing. Just as I arrived at mile 22, I saw my coach. She asked me how I was feeling, and I told her I was feeling horrible. I think I said, “I’m dying!” My legs hurt, my feet hurt, I was slightly dizzy. I told her that I had tried walking a little bit, but that did not make me feel better.
And you know what her advice was? “Run faster.” Run faster? Was she crazy?
So I asked her, “Why faster?”
Then she asked me, “Have you taken in enough sugar?”
I said yes, even thought I secretly questioned whether I had drank enough Gatorade.
She said, “You look good. Run faster.”
And so I did. I ran a little faster, and I finished the marathon. I don’t think that I could have done it without my coach. The second time that I ran a marathon, I followed all of my coach’s advice, and I ran it faster and with less difficulty.
Naturally, I am attracted to Biblical references about the race that God has put before us, and in particular I like any mentions of endurance in the Bible. In today’s Gospel, for example, Jesus says, basically, that no matter what horrible things happen, not a hair on our heads will be harmed. “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” In other words, run faster.
In my life, Jesus is my ultimate coach. Without Jesus, I would have made many more mistakes in life. Without Jesus, I would have given into hatred or violence at times. Without Jesus, I would have let the world convince me that arrogance and pride and competition are the keys to survival. Without Jesus, I would have believed the world when it told me that money and power were the most important things in life. It is Jesus who gave me the strength to endure all of life’s difficulties. He is my coach.
Of course, I hope that you consider Jesus to be your coach, too. He is the voice of wisdom. And he is more than that. He is wisdom itself. He is the revelation of God.
And how do we know this? We know it from the Bible. We also have personal experiences, mystical encounters with Jesus Christ as sources of revelation for us. But typically, we encounter Jesus as God in the Bible. For this reason, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote this beautiful collect that we heard today. “Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life….”
Notice how both Jesus and Thomas Cranmer refer to endurance in relation to salvation and eternal life. “By your endurance you will gain your souls,” Jesus says. “Hold fast the blessed hope,” Thomas Cranmer says.
At times, our lives are exhausting. We run out of energy or we run out of hope. In these moments, we need a coach who will tell us, “You look good. Run faster.”
However, if we don’t consult a coach until we are tired or devoid of hope, we have waited too long. We experience the benefits of a coach when we take his or her advice in all stages of the race: when we’re training, when we are feeling good, when we are experiencing difficulties. If we wait until we are suffering to listen to a coach, we are not capable of absorbing his or her words very well. We have to drink these sweet liquids of advice along the way.
And so, how can we hire Jesus as our coach in every moment of our lives, not only when we are tired or without hope? Thomas Cranmer has the answer. Read the Bible—not only the Gospels in which Jesus speaks, but also the whole Bible. Hear it, read it, mark it, learn it, and inwardly digest it. For progressive Christians, Bible study may seem too primitive, too obvious, not sophisticated enough. For other Christians, Bible study can seem too inaccessible. They may think it is for experts or for really holy people. But the Bible is for everybody.
The fact is that all of us are running this spiritual race, and we all need sustenance. We need small bites of food along the way, small sips of Gatorade along the way. We need to feel like our coach is running next to us, encouraging us.
For me, the most important way to consult Jesus as my coach is to study the Bible. I prefer to read the Bible with other people so that we can listen, read, learn, study, and assimilate it together. When we do it together, we act as coaches to one another.
I have a wonderful memory of a friend from the night before my first marathon. This friend is not a runner. In fact, she does not exercise at all, and she has very bad back pain. She walks with difficulty. And yet she gave me the best advice of the night. I confessed that I was afraid, that perhaps I might not finish the race, or perhaps I might hurt myself.
She said, “Janine, you are not running a marathon. You are running one mile—twenty-six times. You only have to run one mile. Then run another mile. Then run another mile.” It was a message about endurance. She was right, and her message carried me from mile 13, to mile 14, to mile 15, to mile 16…. I inwardly digested her words, and her words were like a coach running next to me, saying, “You look good. Run faster.”
I got this wonderful advice because I consulted a group of friends. This is what Bible study does for me, too. We don’t go to Bible study to ask advice. We go to learn together. However, the result is often that we coach one another.
I find it interesting that many people ask me if we have Bible study here at All Saints. If God reveals Godself in Holy Scriptures, as many theologians have written, then it makes sense that people are hungry for the Bible. People ask me because one of my responsibilities here is to foster community between people. They seem to understand that Bible study is a gateway, not only to deeper communion with God and Jesus Christ, but also to deeper communion with other people. These people also sense that growth in knowledge and in community happens only with frequent, regular attention. We cannot learn anything unless we dedicate ourselves with endurance over time. And we cannot achieve anything that requires endurance without sustenance and sugar along the way. I hope that we are able to begin Bible groups in the near future.
Communion with others as Gatorade. Bible study is Gatorade. Jesus is our Gatorade. Drink deeply and frequently, my friends.