Sermon: Not Running in Vain

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

God’s grace, mercy and peace are yours from him our Heavenly Father and from our lord and savior Jesus. Amen.

Saint Paul is writing to the Corinthian congregation that is dealing with divisions and struggles. They were a new congregation started by Paul and Paul is counseling them, answering questions and encouraging them to continue doing what God had called them to do. Their answer wasn’t found in themselves, but in the message of Christ. The preaching of the gospel of Jesus was all the strength they needed.
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It wasn’t only the preaching of the Gospel that was to be the focus though, it was also the living in the Gospel. Scripture often talks about “walking in the way of the Lord.” the terminology of walk within scripture is not foreign to us. It’s healthy for Christians to ask one another, “How’s your walk?” It’s a question that may very well cause you to go on the defensive, but I encourage you to be ready to answer it and take a leap of familial affection and ask someone this week, “How’s your walk?” Anyway, this walk talk is not exactly what Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 9, he ramps it up a bit and talks about the “Run.” He encourages the Corinthian Christians to run that they may obtain the prize. “So, how’s your run?” Might be the question to ask.

Paul speaks extensively in this lesson of sacrificial living. We are delivered from sin and delivered to serve. This is our walk. This is how we run. Often though, we forget why we are running, we forget how we are running and we forget who we are, running. Our running cannot be a non-stop race on our own. In fact, running on our own is running in vain. We do not have the strength or endurance to do it on our own.

Our Old Testament lesson speaks clearly of our limitations in this Christian running we do. Isaiah 40:3 tells us, Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted. On our own we falter. Isaiah is not talking about physical faint and weariness that we experience in this world. That is certainly something we are all readily willing to admit to. The size of the medical industry alone testifies to our human willingness to admit our physical failings, but our spiritual lives are more important for our eternal standing and are just as in need of healing and help. You don’t see an industry on par with the medical field surrounding our churches. There’s hardly ever a waiting list for the pastor’s office. No matter how strong you are spiritually. You may be a pillar of this congregation; you may be a every-Sunday-attender and an every-Bible-study-you-can-make-it-to person; you may be a scripture-every-moment-of-every-day-of-your-life person. The strength of your faith and your love for the lord may be indescribably massive. No matter where you are in the faith walk/faith run, if you’re the source of the strength of your faith, you’re not going to make it.

If you base your faith in the Lord on your understanding of scripture, doctrine, theology and Christian living, you’re going to be faint and weary. If you have confidence in your faith because it just seems reasonable to you and you have figured it’s makes the most sense, you’re going to be faint and weary. If you are on fire for the Lord because your life experience has shown it to be helpful for your living and relationships, you’re going to be faint and weary. If you are passionate about your faith because of the position God has placed you in — in life and you are giving him praise and thanks for the blessings in your life, you are going to be faint and weary. If you not Jesus, you are going to be faint and weary.

If you are running the race to heaven and you are not faint and weary, you are lying to yourself and you are misplacing your confidence. We fall into this thinking of “we got it made in the shade” and we forget we answer to the maker of the shade. Isaiah asks us some good questions, (well technically Isaiah is asking the Israelites around 2700 years ago, but there’s nothing new under the sun and our standing is in many ways the same as theirs) He asks, Why do you say, O Jacob, why do you speak, O Israel and say: “My way is hidden from the Lord and my right is disregarded by my God.” Isaiah 40:27 Their faith was misplaced and so is ours. Like the Israelites, we fall into the trap of believing two things. Our run has two ditches waiting for us to fall into.

On the one side we have the confidence in ourselves. We got it figured out and our failings to live as God’s children are not significant enough to detract from our standing before God. Our sins aren’t that bad. We are really genuinely good enough and will make it to heaven to day. We run and run and run the risk of blissfully lying our way into hell as we serve ourselves before God. And the thing is we may be really nice people as we do it. We may have all the comforts in the world on the way to hell. The road to hell is paved with good intentions right? Well we are called to race with more than just intentions. We have a savior who saves us from our sintentions. This ditch of confidence in our living makes us into god and leads us away from God.

On the other side of the race we run there’s the ditch of believing that God is not there for us. He is too busy for us or just doesn’t care about us. We become convinced that our situation of suck in the world is because God hasn’t cared enough to deliver us from the pain we are in. If God was really good and loving, would x, y, and Z! take place? No. Of course not, if God cared about me and was really good and loving, a, b and C! would take place! Aha! We figure it out and we turn from what God is showing us to what we know and we live in the other ditch. This is the ditch of believing God is not caring or even able to care for us once again puts us in the place of God as we know exactly what God would do as if God were not capable of hanging the stars in the sky.

These ditches are the places of our weakness and fainting and these fainting and weaknesses are places where God comes to us. He dregs the depths of the ditches to find those in need of breaking and those broken in need of His saving love.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. Isaiah 40:28 We may think God is not concerned about our sins or caring about our plight. But he knows us better than we know ourselves. This is frightening. He knows we put ourselves in his place. He knows how we sin against Him and against one another. He knows we lie, cheat and steal our way whenever it’s convenient. He knows our lusts and our lazinesses. He knows our sinful desires and sinful actions. He even knows our pious behaviors that make us feel comfortable in our salvation apart from Him. He knows what we do! He knows what we are capable of and He does something about it.

So where is your strength? Is it in your self, or is it in “God the Father almighty” whom you believe in? It is Him that we confess in this place and in Him dear brothers and sisters, we have strength. In Him the race is run and in the midst of our fainting weaknesses, our race is won.

He did it by sending His Son and it’s because of your fainting wearinesses that He sent His Son. Its because of your filth that He became filth. It’s ok to be weak. It’s ok to be faint. When you are weak, He is strong. When you are faint, He is your wings. God has a love for you that will not quit. You are not running in vain when you are running with the Lord.

  • “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9)
  • Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Mt 11:28)
  • Luther “The word of God is the word of strength, righteousness, power, etc. Therefore it can reign nowhere but over those who are lying under sin and weakness. Therefore let us learn to console ourselves when we are afflicted and say, “What I do not have and what I cannot do, that Christ has and can do.”
    (Suggested references from: Lessing, R. Reed, 2011, Isaiah 40-55.)

I read recently the story of a 10-year-old boy who decided to study judo despite the fact that he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident.

The boy began lessons with an old Japanese judo master. The boy was doing well, so he couldn’t understand why, after three months of training, the master had taught him only one move.

“Sensei,” the boy finally said, “Shouldn’t I be learning more moves?”

“This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you’ll ever need to know,” the sensei replied. Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training.

Several months later, the sensei took the boy to his first tournament. Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly used his one move to win the match.

Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the finals. This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced. For a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the sensei intervened. “No,” the sensei insisted, “Let him continue.”

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Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard. Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him. The boy had won the match and the tournament. He was the champion.

On the way home, the boy and the sensei reviewed every move in each and every match. Then the boy summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind: “Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?”

“You won for two reasons,” the sensei answered. “First, you’ve almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm.”

The boy’s biggest weakness had become his biggest strength. (Story found online)

Our weaknesses will not win our salvation and secure our place in heaven, but Christ’s weakness has done that for us. He took our fainting weariness to the cross and wearily wore our shame in our place and those weaknesses were taken from us and can no longer be used against us. God has a love for us that will not quit and it is demonstrated in Christ’s work on the cross for us. As the spirit is in us, we continue to move and run in Him. Our run is happening, even as we wait on the Lord. God is there for those who wait (Is 40:31)

Waiting is not just marking time. Waiting on the Lord is living in expectant confidence of his action on our behalf. It is knowing what has been done for us. It is hearing this work of salvation. Waiting on the Lord is receiving the new life Christ gives you in the waters of baptism, the forgiveness of sins and in His flesh, His body, the bread for your life. Waiting on The Lord is living this new life that Christ has given us by His resurrection. Waiting on the Lord is the opposite of self help. Waiting is a disciplined reliance on God through faith. It is God or nothing. Waiting on the Lord is not running in vain. It is running through pain. It is running through shame. It is running through the taunts and lies and ditches that would seek to devour us. Waiting on the Lord is running with God given and God strengthened discipline.

So, brothers, sisters, “Hows your walk?” “How’s your run?” I’ll tell you what, it’s pretty good. Best it can be, Today as God’s redeemed and forgiven children, the recipients of heaven and the gift of eternal life, your walk looks mighty fine. It looks like one coming out of an empty tomb. It looks like a walk with fueled with the divine strength from on high. It looks like a walk that is flying high on wings of eagles. It looks like one where weariness and faintness are a forgiven and forgotten past. You are God’s new creation. You are His child. You have His strength. May God continue to strengthen you in your weaknesses as we wait, not running in vain.

Now may His peace which passes all understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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