The only people I know who are more interested in weight than runners are runners who are actually trying to lose weight. I’m not at that place anymore, but at one time I was. But the thing about runners is that they worry about weight differently than a majority of the public. Instead of body weight, they worry about the weight of their shoes, water bottles, race nutrition, and even clothes. If you a non-runner how important a few ounces on a pair of shoes, the answer would probably be a blank stare or perhaps an eye roll. Ask a runner, and you may need to find a place to sit while they explain their personal shoe weight theories or philosophies.
Today, I did a 16 mile run, as per my training plan. I did so with a hydration backpack, which I have never done before (don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll bore you later with my personal hydration philosophies relatively soon). As soon as I strapped on that backpack and cinched it up, I realized that I couldn’t ignore that weight as I ran. I changed the way felt I should run. My legs strained under the newly added 2 liters of water, which affected the way I felt, especially at the end of the run. As I messed with straps on the move, I began to ask myself this question:
If this weight needs such constant tending to in order to keep it from slipping, chafing, and getting in the way, in general, why don’t I do that with the weight I carry in my normal, daily life?
We all carry weight, a burden of responsibility or shame or guilt or fear. However, if you’re like me, we can easily pick up too much and try to run with it. At what point do we put something down? At what point to we have to take off the backpack and rearrange the contents? My guess is that we all carry a little too much and refuse to tend to the task of carrying it. Even a life with time to spare, like a backpack with room still in it, needs to be adjusted, tightened, and lived with. In our culture of bootstraps and carrying on, we can try to ignore the load. But here’s the kicker, many of us are carrying too much. We aren’t meant for that to be our burden. So, without carrying on (yes, that’s a pun) too long on this subject, I ask you the same question I asked myself:
What are you carrying and are you tending to your load, or ignoring it and letting it take control of you?
This is me, shortly after finishing my first marathon. A year before this, I was 60 pounds heavier and could not have dreamed that I could have done this or would have wanted to. Yet, I made a commitment to run for an organization called Charity:Water and I was determined to follow through with it. I finished at 4:00:07, 7 seconds slower than I wanted to be.
That was a year ago and now I can’t imagine my life without running. I’m not sure I would consider myself a “runner”, but ask my wife and she’ll tell you I am. For me, running is about something more than putting one foot in front of the other, making myself healthy, breaking PRs, or even habit. It’s about making time, forcing time, for me to shut out the noise of the everyday world and focus on that still, small voice that reminds me who I am, that challenges me to live according to who I am, and to do the same for others.
So, what am I? A child of God, a prisoner of hope, a husband, father, songwriter, seminarian, and, I suppose, a runner. This blog won’t be solely about running and the related fields of reviews, race recaps, and the like. It will be how that ties together with spiritual well-being. Also, I’ll probably post some music, useless trivia, and bad puns. These things, like running, are all simply a part of who I am and what I’m meant to be.
I do work at a church and am in seminary, so I’d also like to use this blog as a way to post my sermon’s for people to read as well. They aren’t too long and you don’t have to read them if you aren’t inclined, but I know some who are. Here is a sermon I wrote 2 weeks ago and I figured I’ll just share it here.
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”
“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Grace to you and peace in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
What an appropriate parable Jesus uses for us today! Obviously, everybody who has ever eaten anything has benefited from the process of growth from seed to plant to be eaten by us and, for those omnivores among us, by animals which will also become food to nourish our bodies. Bacon doesn’t just happen by itself! It all comes from seed, sown into the plain yet extraordinary dirt of the earth. Even more than simply the fact that everybody must eat, there is a constant reminder that we live in an area where agriculture is quite prevalent. You only need to drive 10 minutes or so in any direction and you will be in the midst of fields, farm equipment, and men and women getting their hands dirty so that the rest of the world may find sustenance.
This is spiritual work! Very spiritual work! We can pretty easily see from our readings for today that God is in the business of growth. It displays God’s glory, love, and power to all the world. This growth is reflected in creation, like the Psalm states, and in the living word of God, as it says in our Isaiah text. God’s word does not come back empty, void, or useless. Whether spoken through the Bible, the liturgy, or any one of us, the word of God is powerful and it makes things happen. We can easily see how water, sunlight, and the proper care can help a field to produce a great harvest. The word of God is one of the essential elements that helps us mature and lead to spiritual fruit. One of my seminary professors, Dr. Winston Persaud, was the first to say something that really got my attention. He said, “God’s word creates the reality it declares.” Let me say that again, “God’s word creates the reality it declares.” So, for instance, if God says, “Let there be light,” light becomes a reality. If God says, “You are loved,” or “You are important,” then that becomes reality. God doesn’t waste words. All of them come back bearing fruit.
This brings us to this parable of Jesus. In it, he paints a picture of what a typical planting season would have be like for a Middle Eastern farmer about 2000 years ago. No fancy machinery. No air conditioned tractors. No weekly weather forecast. No insurance on the potential value of a lost crop. Simply a basket of seed, a field of somewhat ambiguous size, and the farmers’ hands and feet. I imagine Jesus, as he’s telling this parable, has seen this act of hand casting the seed recently, maybe even earlier in the day that he told this story. Possibly even as he spoke to those who listened, he was watching a diligent farmer pull handfuls of seeds from his bag, throwing it to the ground in all directions, hoping that the seed would be enough to support his family. I did some research about farming practices of this time and found out that, as Jesus describes it, the farmer would sow seed in all directions and would actually plow after that in order to bury the seeds. He did all this in hopes that it would grow to maturity and be able to harvest it in a few months. Sowing generously in order to harvest generously. This is his life and a life quite familiar to all who heard it. He might as well have said, to our modern ears, that one day, in spring, a farmer drove out to his fields, planter in tow, planted his fields, and went home. Some seeds grew pretty well, others didn’t and here’s why, listing poor soil, water, pest, or weed problems as reason. It seems pretty obvious and, if we’re honest, mundane, right? But this is how Jesus chooses to speak, pointing out God in the ordinary, everyday occurrences of life. God is there, in the ordinary and the mundane, in traffic and the office, in a brief greeting to a friend between tasks. And it confuses us, sometimes. How could God, the infinite creator of the universe, of all that is seen and unseen be in the finite little details of life? It certainly confused the disciples, too.
Luckily for us, Jesus tells us what it means so that we, unlike the first disciples, do not have to puzzle over Jesus’ words for very long. We are fortunate enough that Jesus does not force us to rely on our own interpretation of his words, intelligence, or interaction with these words. We come to find out that this seed is not wheat, but the word of God. The rocky ground, the thorns, the birds all have meaning. If you’ve grown up in church, you’ve probably heard this parable more times than you can count. It’s comfortable. It has a clear meaning, thanks to Jesus’ explanation. It fits our lifestyle pretty well, being a farming analogy and all. Yet, there is a danger in this reaction. Yes, danger. And the danger is assuming that we know what ground we are.
You see, it’s common to assume we are the firm, good, healthy soil, but still, 75% of the seeds in this parable are not brought to maturity. We rarely see the thorns and weeds creeping up to our feet. We can miss the shadows thrown to the earth and the beating of wings by the birds soaring overhead. We assume our soil is good for our roots and our roots are healthy, strong, and deep. When I think of this process, take this analogy out of this book and put into everyday life, I can easily see how the word of God has been choked out of me at times. I see how the weeds have sometimes grown up around my ankles and kept me from following God the way I ought. I can see how the birds have plucked me up at times as I’ve been swept away in silly little things that took up so much time or money or energy that I didn’t have time to hear that life giving word of God. I imagine I’m not alone in that. We all can share in that experience of finding that our once good soil has stopped giving us life, but instead brings us sorrow, heartache, stagnation, anger, and bitterness. We can be good soil, yes, but not always. Perhaps it’s best not to segregate soils, but to see ourselves as the whole field. At times, good soil and, at other times, not.
If this makes you uncomfortable, it’s okay. It’s good, actually, because you are aware that, as Luther taught, that we are always at the same time sinner and saint. The word of God, the seed, has been cast and sometimes it finds us good soil and other times it finds us filled with thorns. But, please know that the seed is not cast just once but over and over and over. That is great news. The seed is not planted just once. God does not operate on seasonal schedule as we must do in agriculture. For God, planting season is now. Planting season is always now. Planting season started when time began, when the Spirit of God hovered over the waters and the Word of God spoke creation into being. Planting season is every moment that the word of God speaks, either through the written Bible, the practiced worship, or the spoken love and truth of God by ourselves or those around us. Planting season is every moment of everyday. It has never ceased and never will. God, like that farmer hand casting seed to cover all the soil, is generous in his planting.
God is not leaving you alone to make yourself grow. You are not responsible for planting yourself. You are not responsible for cultivating your own soil. Can you imagine trying to do it on your own? With all the good intentions in the world, we could never grow ourselves. God does the planting and God does the harvesting. And all we have to do is enjoy the feast of that harvest. The table has been set and the meal prepared by the grace and love of God. God is the farmer, sowing the seed, making it grow, and harvesting the fruit.
Isaiah said, and I echo, that God’s word does not come back empty and when we seek that word, embrace that word, and let that word nourish us, we don’t either. Regardless of the setting, time, or circumstance, God’s word creates the reality it declares. And, through that word, we are fed and bring forth a harvest. The fruits of that harvest are gifts from God and, like a great meal, are meant to be shared. That fruit can take many forms. It comes in the everyday events of our lives. It can sound like silence amid the traffic lights. It feels like a handshake, a slap on the back, a hug, and the wiping away of tears. It tastes like food prepared out of love for another. It comes in the breaking of bread and drinking of wine. And just like a head of wheat or the core of an apple carry more seeds, the fruit that God brings about in us is meant to spread, to reproduce. The fruit of God’s word is as generous as the one who plants it and thanks be to God that the seed of God’s word just keeps coming. Amen.