Great Ends of the Church-Kingdom of Heaven

This sermon was preached on June 23, 2013 at First Presbyterian Church. The sermon text is Galatians 3:23-29. It is the final in a sermon series on the Great Ends of the Church.

This week concludes our sermon series of the Great Ends of the Church. Can you name them?…I’m serious this time

I hope you have learned something, I know I have. I find sometimes looking back on our history helps us to move forward in our future. A future together where we do exactly what we are talking about today; the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the World.

Before we move forward on our final end, let’s review the Great Ends of the Church, that were adopted by the our denomination in 1910. They are…
·      the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind;
·      the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;
·      the maintenance of divine worship;
·      the preservation of the truth;
·      the promotion of social righteousness; and
·      the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

Before we talk about the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world, we need to talk about what the Kingdom of Heaven is, at least as we understand it.

Every week we say “our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, they kingdom come they will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” We glimpse the kingdom of heaven every time we respond to the greatest commandment to love the lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. We also glimpse the kingdom of heaven every time we realize and live into the words of the apostle Paul in our scripture reading today, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”

I have said this before and I’ll keep saying it the community that convenes around races, both large and small, is a glimpse into heaven, a moment where you can tangibly feel the support from total strangers who are there and cheer because you are there. They don’t seem to care, why you’re there only that you are. It can even be seen by the people that finish before you, which for me is a significant number, they stand around and cheer you on, “You got this, looking great, keep going!” as they walk to their cars, shiny medal around their neck and finisher’s t-shirt draped over their shoulder.

As I ran the Portland marathon in 2011, I began to see it as a metaphor for life, an exhibition of the kingdom of heaven to the world. When you begin the race there is a lot of excitement and energy. For me, I have to try and pace myself or I will run out of energy before I run out of race. As you get into a rhythm in the race, or in life, the spectators, the energy, the support gets less and less, until, at least at the Portland Marathon miles 14-18, you are by yourself on the course, just you and your thoughts. Your brain and body are yelling at you, “WHAT THE HECK WHERE YOU THINKING!!! SHOULD HAVE TRAINED MORE!!! THERE IS NO WAY YOU’RE GOING TO FINISH THIS!!! JUST QUIT!!!”

Then you reach “Check-Point Charlie” and you head up the hill to cross the St. John’s Bridge, at the top of the hill is a band playing music and there are people dancing and you think, “I can do this!” You cross the bridge and there are literally a hundred people standing there cheering for someone. They have signs, they have cowbells, they are smiling. Now I know they are there for someone in particular but that doesn’t stop them from cheering everyone else on.

This is when the race gets serious, or at least it did for me. Miles 17-20 were a gut check and when I got to mile 20, I was checked out. I had a blister, my IT band was screaming at me, my blood sugar was dropping, my hips were sore and all the Body-Glide I had used at the beginning of the race had either washed off from sweat and rain or been rubbed off by shear pounding. Let’s just say I was hurting.

That’s when my wife, showed up! She had a banana some granola bars and she walked with me for about 10 minutes. If it hadn’t been for her I don’t know how much longer I could go.

After I left her, it didn’t get much better, but every time I felt like I was done, there was someone thanking me for raising money for Alzheimers, someone with an orange wedge (reminding me of AYSO soccer), some pretzels or a sign that said, “Hey Stranger, You’re Awesome!”

It’s like that in life sometimes, when you feel like you can’t go on and you’re ready to quit there is one person or thing that gives you just enough energy to get to the next thing, they support you just enough until you can reach a point where you can go on yourself.

For me that point was mile 23. At mile 23, I said to myself, “it’s only a 5K”. 5K=3.1 Miles. Now I know I needed to run 3.2 miles but after 23 miles, 0.1 isn’t a big deal. Every time I wanted to stop I said, “5K, 5K, 5K”. At one point, my IT band hurt so much I wanted to cry and as I was walking a woman, probably in her sixties, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Your shirt made me cry.” Which is weird but it gave me a little oomph that I needed to keep going. Then at about half way between mile 24 and 25 you turn on to Naito Parkway, which is a wide road that runs down the Columbia river, and the noise begins, the number of spectators, the bands, energy increases and I was able to push on to the finish.

All along that road I heard people cheering “Go Greg Go”, “You can do it!”, “Almost there!” and it gave me energy. I saw a man up ahead of me, who had passed me at about mile 23, and I decided I was going to beat him. I caught him at mile 26 and then passed two more women before the finish. I sprinted, with everything I had left, to the finish as they announced, “Greg Bolt from Redmond, Oregon!”

I crossed the finish line and was greeted with a space blanket, and a woman in a tuxedo, who placed a medal around my neck and said, “Congratulations!” I was handed a rose, someone took my picture, I went around the corner and there was a smorgasbord of food, then I got my t-shirt, then I saw my wife and I lost it. I sobbed while she held me and I realized that I had run the race, I had done what I had set out to do and I had finished.

For me, the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world is living in support of others and allowing others to support you. Let us be the person at mile 1 saying I believe in you as in the case of baptism, let us be the one at mile 13 saying, you can do this, let us be the one when it’s dark and lonely ready with an orange wedge or some pretzels. Let us be the one at mile 23 saying Hey Stranger, You’re Awesome! And let us be that woman in a tuxedo meeting people at the finish saying, Congratulations and let us fall into the arms of God realizing that we have finished the race.

 It might not be as fast as we wanted, it might not be as pretty as we wanted but none of that matters. It doesn’t matter because it’s not that you win the race it’s that you run it.

So remember as you run your race there are people around you saying, “Hey Stranger, You’re Awesome!” Let us be those runners, and let us hold those signs.

May it be so!