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"Guide our Feet" - Baptism Reflections at RiverStone

mark riverstoneLast Saturday I ran in the 5 km Run for Relief at the Mennonite Relief Sale in New Hamburg. I have run every year since it began 10 years ago, and each year I both look forward to and dread the run. It is beforehand that the thought of running scares me and I get nervous that morning. I am a casual fair weather jogger. Despite my best intentions, I stop jogging in winter and only start going again in Spring, a few weeks before this run. I tend to run alone, like yesterday morning along the country roads, without anyone watching me or judging me. At the Relief Sale I know there will be all sorts of people there, and some very good runners that will blow by me, both younger, and older than me. I worry about finishing or killing myself running too fast, beyond my normal pace. I worry about what others will think. I have to push myself each year to sign up, and yet each year I am so glad afterwards that I ran it again.

We just heard a bunch of scriptures about running the race and walking in God’s way. ‘Guide my feet, while we run this race.’ There is something about this image that captured the imagination of the Biblical writers in all sorts of ways. It is a good analogy to the life of faith, to that race of our whole lives. I want to play around with this image a bit this morning before we have our baptisms. There are lots of directions you could go, but I think about 3 simple directions, three phrases: ‘Everybody runs’, ‘The joy is in the running itself’ and ‘We run this race together.’

One thing I love about the Relief Sale Run, and so many community runs, is that ‘Everybody runs.’ Anyone can sign up. It is not just for serious runners. They are there too and they take off quickly and I don’t them again until they pass back by me after the turn around, but then there are runners of all sorts, all ages and all abilities. And there is a 2 km run as well, with lots and lots of kids and parents and seniors – some of them walking, some pushing strollers. The point is participation, getting out on the course, taking part. While some of us might engage in some friendly competition, it is really about running your own race. There is a place for everyone. Everybody runs.

I love how the author of Hebrews phrases it – ‘let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.’ (Hebrews 12:1) Run the race of faith that is set before you. Zach and Ryan – you each have very different stories and life journeys that have brought you to this place of choosing baptism. Zach, a significant part of your journey of faith is the time spent in the hospital and Ronald McDonald House in London. Ryan, your journey of faith has been longer and taken shape in different places, and yet this is the time when it is right for you to get baptized. For both of you, by choosing baptism today, you are choosing to join the run.

Now, ‘the joy is in the running itself.’ There is something totally freeing and wonderful about a run – where legs and arms and body are in good rhythm and good pace. It can be fun to run, to feel the energy in your body and the wind on your face. You are joining a run, a journey, that will be a part of your whole life. You did some training beforehand – through your life experiences, through asking questions, through your faith exploration. And now you have decided to join the run. This run will not always be easy. There will be challenges, roadblocks, detours, new directions needed.  But you will keep running. We don’t know what is all ahead of us. As Paul says ‘ we walk by faith and not by sight.’ (2 Corinthians 5:7) My brother Kendall and I were joking at the run last weekend that us Harders – my dad who is still running, the 2 of us, our kids, have never been particularly swift runners, even when younger. We’re more awkward than smooth, but we keep going, keep running. Persistence is more important than speed. We also don’t run this race just out of our own efforts, what we can do on our own. Ecclesiastes reminds us that ‘the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, not favour to the skillful.’ (Ecclesiastes 9:11) It is not all up to us. We will need to rely on God, and rely on others. But in this run, this journey, we will find joy.

Finally, ‘we run this race together.’ Both last year and this year in New Hamburg, I ended up running beside my brother Kendall. Our history has probably been more competitive, but we somehow decided to simply keep pace with each other. We ended up talking and sharing stories throughout the run, and I think, running more comfortably and quicker because of it. We even decided to increase our speed and sprint to the finish line at the same time, to finish together.  I saw others running in groups last Saturday. Rick Cober Bauman ran with about 5 others in his family – different generations, and they finished in a family clump. We don’t run the race of faith alone. There are always others around us, running with us and cheering us on. It is that ‘cloud of witnesses’ from Hebrews. When our journey is tough, they will carry faith for us. When others are struggling, we will give them a boost of support. We look forward to next Sunday, when the two of you, as well as Nathan, join SJMC in church membership, join the community of faith we call the church.

The two of you are ready to run. You have prepared. You have warmed up. You are ready to make the commitment. And you have a whole community cheering you on, ready to run with you. May God guide your feet as you run this race. Amen.

Scriptures Reader’s Theatre
Baptisms, 2017 

All: Guide my feet, while we run this race.

Voice 1: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1)

All: Hold my hand, while we run this race.

Voice 2:  I laid before them the gospel that I proclaim, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain. (Galatians 2:2)

Voice 3: Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful. (Ecclesiastes 9:11)

All: Stand by me, while we run this race.

Voice 2:  Thus says the LORD:
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls. (Jeremiah 6:16)

Voice 1: For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

All: I’m your child, while we run this race.

Voice 3: How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
    who announces salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”  (Isaiah 52:7)

Voice 2: Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge God,
    and God will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

All:  Search my heart, while we run this race.

Voice 1: So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all God’s ways, to love God, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 10:12)

Voice 3: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  (2 Timothy 4:7)

All: Guide my feet, while we run this race.