Help From the Crowd

Easter 5A

May 10, 2020

Trinity Mennonite Church

Norma Duerksen

 

 

Help From The Crowd

I Peter 2:2-10

 

We are entering the stages of reopening of society.  One system in question is the sports field.  When will they be able to resume their competitions.  The word this week is that car races are going to begin racing…without an audience.  Basketball and baseball games are beginning to be played…without a crowd watching.

 

What they organizers are forgetting is The Bislett Effect.

The Bislett Effect is a phenomenon that has implications for us all, whether we are practicing our running or practicing our religion.

The name comes from the Bislett Stadium in Oslo, Norway, a place where 62 track-and-field records have been broken over the years. We’re not talking about one broken record. Or two. Or 10. Or even 20. But a full 62 records. No other track can boast of such a record for record-breaking achievements.

According to an article in Runner’s World (November 2003), the British runner Sebastian Coe set several records at Bislett, including a series of stunning miles. Another fine British miler, Steve Cram, who shattered Coe’s record for the mile, said, “If you can’t run well at Bislett, you can’t run well anywhere.”

But what’s the secret of Bislett?

In a word, it’s the crowd. The track is narrow, with only six lanes, and the grandstand is so steep that the fans are practically on top of you. “The sound of 21,000 screaming maniacs rakes your reflexes,” writes Kenny Moore, “forcing you to keep your rhythm, the crowd’s rhythm, for one more stretch, one more turn. The frenzied fans keep you going.”

That’s why 62 records have been broken at Bislett. We run faster in front of great crowds because we are inspired by community — we run not only for ourselves but for the team, the family, the congregation, the tribe, the party, the nation. “Our deepest nature,” concludes Moore, “is that we are at our most majestic when we do for others.”

The apostle Peter, unlike his colleague, Paul, never used the race-track, race-running metaphor. Instead, Peter uses a construction metaphor in these words to the Christians who were scattered across five provinces in Asia Minor: “like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

Yet the point is similar. There’s nothing individualistic about the Christian faith, according to Peter — nothing that gives credence to an isolated, one-on-one relationship with Jesus Christ.  Being Christian means being Christ’s structure, a community.  Peter calls us to be a part of a “house,”  a spiritual and organic structure.  We are built into a community created for the worship and service of God.  

The apostle knows that inspiration comes from the crowd. The Bislett Effect. The Living Stone Syndrome.

Whatever. It’s critical to the health of the ChristBody, as well as to our mission in the world, to see ourselves as a community that empowers and enables each other thereby allowing us to set all sorts of records. That is, enabling us to do much more than we had ever dreamed possible.

 

We are called to imitate Jesus as living stones.  We are living witnesses to the Resurrection.  We are to allow ourselves to be built into a spiritual house with breathing walls.  We are called to be the dwelling itself and we are the priests within the dwelling.  We receive God’s presence, Christ’s mercy, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance and we offer it as a gift to each other.  There are no towering walls to keep people out, only moving walls to let people in.  There are no solid walls to keep the light out, but only porous walls to le the marvelous light of God shine in.

This is not to say, however, that the church is merely a gathering of frenzied fans. No, as living stones we are cemented to the cornerstone that is “chosen and precious,” according to Peter (2:6). Our faith is the mortar that connects us to Jesus, and our belief in him is what keeps us anchored, strong and secure. Without a good cornerstone in Jesus Christ, we cannot remain standing as a solid spiritual house.

In fact, if we don’t keep our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, we’re going to end up flat on our faces. Peter tells us that for those who do not believe, Jesus becomes a “stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall” (v. 8). That’s an awful position to be in when we’re trying to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

So we need to stay connected to Jesus. It’s all about Jesus.  For how to run this race, to live our lives connected to Jesus we must go back to v. 1:  Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind.  So that you don’t become a stumbling block to others but rather a group of chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.

Yet, the crowd is crucial. We’re living stones in the building, or fans in the stands.

And as such, we ourselves are runners, contestants, but in the “stands” we’re cheering on, helping, assisting, empowering, those who are on some particular track, some particular course, who are facing some particular challenge, obstacle, trial or test, and having been on the course, run the track, flown over those hurdles ourselves, we’re in a position to yell and scream and cheer and urge our sisters and brothers onward.

We know what it’s all about. We have to stay close to one another. If we’re going to have any chance of proclaiming the mighty acts of God to a hurting and hope-starved world, then we’re going to have to hang together as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (2:9). Franklin’s warning is apt: “We must all hang together,” he said, “or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” We are at our most majestic when we work for the good of the body, and when we do for others instead of ourselves.  If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is this:  we must work for the good of the body, and do for others instead of ourselves.

It’s October 10, 2004, the day of the Chicago Marathon. The early morning sun reflects off the Sears Tower and other skyscrapers, and a huge crowd of marathoners — 40,000 in all — converge on a park next to Lake Michigan.

Brinton, middle-aged but fit, wades into the crowd, and waits for the starting gun to go off. His warm-up garment is a T-shirt from an organization called “25:40” which provides assistance to the children of Africa who have been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. 25:40 is a reference to the passage in Matthew in which Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

The gun goes off, and Brinton moves slowly forward, breaking into a run at the starting line. The course is lined with frenzied fans, screaming encouragement to everyone in the race, and musical groups appear every few blocks, playing everything from hip-hop to salsa to “The Star Spangled Banner”. The enthusiasm of fans along the route is contagious — it’s a powerful expression of The Bislett Effect.

As the miles drop behind him, Brinton says he thought of the many pledges that church members had made to 25:40 in connection with his run. Their pledges of a dollar a mile, two dollars a mile, five dollars a mile all kept him going, because he knew that his steps would be translated into lifesaving assistance for the children of Africa. Sure, he’s working hard as he runs across the city, but not nearly as hard as the people who are fighting AIDS in Africa every single day.

By mile 16, he’s starting to feel some leg pain, and pops a couple of Tylenol. By mile 20, real fatigue was setting in, and this is where images of the children in Africa really began to help him. Whenever he feels like giving up, he thinks of their perseverance. Whenever he’s about to quit, he thinks of what they have to endure. In the end, he runs across the finish line at mile 26.2 ... thinking of the children.

No world records were broken by this middle-aged runner. In fact, he came in number 10,851 out of 33,125 finishers. His time of 4:01:00 was almost two hours after the top male finisher!

 

But still, it’s a significant effort, what the apostle Peter might consider one of the “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (2:5). This plodding pastor, supported by his congregation and a Chicago crowd, succeeded in raising $5,000 to help a struggling group of orphans in Africa. Together, they knew that whenever we help one of the least of our brothers and sisters, we are really helping Jesus, and they discovered that we are at our most majestic when we work for the good of the body — when we do for others instead of ourselves.

Brinton was a winner that day, because of the irresistible power of The Bislett Effect, or the Living Stone Syndrome.

He achieved what he did because he did not run alone — instead, he was part of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (2:9).

All of which should lead us to reflect on the times in our lives when we have been inspired to greatness by the support of the Christian community.

And, more importantly, we should think about what we can do today to be a source of encouragement to the people around us, especially those who are running tough races.

There’s an understanding in the marathon world that you only have to run 20 miles in a practice run in order to run 26.2 miles in the marathon itself.

While that may come as a surprise to you, the fact of the matter is that the extra 6.2 miles are given to the runner as a gift of the crowd. The cheers and music and support of the spectators are enough to push the marathoners beyond any distance they have ever run before.

And there’s another old adage, a prayer, actually. The prayer of the runner: “Lord, You lift em up, and I’ll put em down.”

The crowd — the church — and Jesus!  That’s enough help to get you through any race — however difficult — in record fashion!

Last Sunday's scripture was:

I Peter 2:2-10

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