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Guide My Feet - Baptism and Membership Service
Scriptural Collage: Guide My Feet
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.
You can always count on the Olympic games for a few feel-good moments where human compassion shines through the demands of competition. At the Rio games last year, one of those moments took place in the Women’s 5000m foot-race. It was during one of the heats that New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin stumbled and fell, taking down American Abbey D’Agostino with her. Abbey was able to get up quickly, and turned back to help Nikki to her feet and encourage her to keep going. Both runners did continue, but Abbey quickly realized that her fall had been worse than she thought. She had done something to her right knee on the way down, and now it was beginning to give out. Abbey fell again, and this time it was Nikki , the cause of the earlier collision, who stopped to tend to her.
In a nice gesture, Olympic officials decided that both women would be advanced to the finals in spite of their mishaps. Turns out Abbey had torn a ligament in the first tumble, so her Olympic games were over. But she was there in the crowd joining in a roaring ovation when Nikki was announced at the final.
Abbey had this to say afterwards: "The only way I can and have rationalized [this experience] is that God prepared my heart to respond that way. This whole time here, he's made clear to me that my experience in Rio was going to be about more than my race performance.” (see article at: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetorch/2016/08/21/490369971/olympic-moments-the-highlights-and-lowlights-from-rio)
We’ve heard a collection of fragments from scripture this morning that describe the life of faith as a race, or at least a long walk. There are a lot of references like this in the Bible, because it's a good image. Being a Christian means committing to a life journey in a particular direction - following Jesus. It can be a long haul, requiring endurance and perseverance. And so we ask God to guide our feet as we run, helping us to follow the path that's been set before us.
Of all the passages that Nathan, Ryan and Zach read, however, the one from Ecclesiastes caught my attention. "Again, I saw under the sun that 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 skillfull." For the writer of Ecclesiastes, this is simply an observation about the way the world works. And we know it to be true in our time, too. Things don't always work out the way we figure they should. The fastest or the strongest don't necessarily win, and let me tell you - riches are not always an indication of intelligence!
The bottom line is that stuff happens. Just ask Abbey D'Agostino. Sometimes the best among us stumble or fall. Sometimes they're disqualified on a technicality. Sometimes they never even get the opportunity to join the race. In some situations, this will feel mighty unfair - especially when we get the feeling that there are powers colluding to ensure that the most deserving are pushed aside. Other times, like with the tortoise and the hare, we might be glad that the cocky speedster gets upset. The race is not necessarily to the swift.
If this is true in life, it's doubly true when it comes to baptism. What we're celebrating last week and today is a ritual that sets us off on a particular path. Baptism marks a beginning point in a kind of race. Not the only beginning point, but an important one. It's a race that requires dedication and commitment, ongoing training and conditioning, and a whole lot of endurance over the long haul. We don't start out on this track lightly, because it's tough and demanding. It will turn us around and change our lives.
But as Ecclesiastes reminds us, this race is not to the swift. We don’t baptize only the fastest, the strongest, the wisest, the most intelligent or the most skillful. Baptism isn’t just for ‘Olympic’ grade Christians! The race that begins in these waters is not about the talents we bring to it. As Hebrews 12 puts it, we run this race looking to Jesus who is the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith. The race is not to the swift – it’s to those who look to Jesus.
Part of baptism is committing to run this particular race of Christian faithfulness with everything we've got. But it's just as much about discovering that there's someone who has run this race before us. Someone who emerged victorious not by speed or strength, but by love and compassion and trust in God even to the end. If Jesus is the one blazing the trail, it will indeed be a different set of qualities that mark those faithful to the path.
And this is good news for us, because as the writer of Ecclesiastes knew, stuff happens. We will stumble and we will fall. We will get discouraged. We will lose the path entirely, and sometimes give up. But in those moments we will still have the gift of baptism that set us on the way. A gift offered freely from the hand of God as blessing and encouragement. We emerge from these waters bound to the resurrection of Jesus, moving with him from death into life. These are waters of refreshment that continue to restore us throughout the journey. They mark us as the beloved of God. They speak to us of God's delight in us, of God's determination to hold us close in love over every pothole and every hurdle. These waters of baptism are pure grace. A reminder we can touch and feel that indeed, the race is not only to the swift.
Today we will welcome a few more friends on this path that has been set out before us. This race in which we are not competitors, but brothers and sisters on the journey. God has lined us up together, and whoops with joy as we step out onto the track. On your mark, get set, go!