The picture is of me and my friend Robert Gee running a recent 8K race for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA). It was actually called an “Undie Run” which means you are supposed to wear some piece of underwear as outerwear. Well, it ends up being people dressed up in various kind of costumes. There are a lot of folks dressed up like Santa and others running in their pajamas and then there are folks dressed like Robert – not necessarily a theme, but quite entertaining. As for me, since there was six inches of snow for us to run through, with the temperature being about 20 degrees and a cold north wind blowing, I simply dressed to stay warm.
I run this race every year, and my wife volunteers at it, because our daughter, Michele, has Crohn’s Disease. I won’t take time to explain this illness, if you are interested you can google it. It has complicated our lives in some very real ways and Michele will have this illness and need treatment for it her entire life. There is no cure at this point, but medicines can keep the illness in remission. So we support the CCFA to help further research for a possible cure. This year Robert, one of several runners and cyclists in our congregation, ran with me. Robert and I have run and ridden a lot together over the past five years and I appreciate the relationship we have and the support we offer each other.
If you were to be present in our congregation any Sunday it would not be uncommon for you to find a circle of people talking about an upcoming run or ride that they are planning to do, often together. It has become part of our life as church. It has helped to foster the building of community amongst ourselves and helped us to reach out beyond ourselves as we run or ride for various causes. Even those who for different reasons can’t or don’t run or ride give encouragement to those of us who do, by offering prayers and often financial support as we look for sponsors for our many causes.
As a pastor, this has become one way I have deepened relationships in my congregation. In fact, it has become one way I have sought to provide pastoral care. A few years back, a young girl in our fellowship was diagnosed with leukemia. Many people in the church wanted to offer help to this young family and the family, in turn, was very appreciative of all the care that was shown to them. But as they said, “There really isn’t much anyone can do for us.” Knowing the congregation wanted to express its care in a concrete way and knowing the family was open to such care, I decided I would try and run a marathon in support of this family and invite people from the church to sponsor this run through a gift to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The family agreed to this and we hoped to raise $2,620 or $100 per mile. When it was announced to the congregation that this was what was going to happen, two other people from the church decided to run as well. All three of us would be first-time marathoners. In addition, another three people, including the little girl’s grandmother, decided to do the ½ marathon which was also run on that day. And our congregation sponsored us all in an amount exceeding $10,000. Vera, the little girl we ran for, loves Totino’s Pizza Rolls and so we called ourselves “Team Pizza Roll.” Below is a picture of Vera and her mom, Jill, meeting the first of our team members to cross the finish line. The runner, Jessica, describes this is as one of the “holiest and most meaningful moments in her life.”
That marathon was over three years ago now. Vera is doing well and is “paying-it-forward.” Her family recently set up a lemonade stand on “National Lemonade Stand Day” and she and her brother Nolan made $150 to buy school supplies for children of the Congo. And our congregation has moved on to supporting runners and riders for Habitat, the YMCA Invest in Youth Program which provides scholarships for families in need of financial assistance, Crohn’s and Colitis, etc.,
In these endeavors, I have also been able to foster relationship with folks outside of the church who might not normally talk about matters of the spirit. But when I am with them at the Y or we are together on a run or a ride for some reason those matters just happen to come up. Some of those folks have found their way into a pew on Sunday mornings. Others have started reading [D]mergent. All of which has helped me to understand that there is a close connection between the physical and the spiritual. In fact, I think they are inseparable.
As Christians, this time of year is when we remember the profound mystery of God incarnate, God with us in the flesh, in the person of Jesus. It does not matter to me how you understand this mystery. Its fullest explanation is beyond our realm of understanding. That is why it is a mystery. What I have come to believe about the incarnation is this, it is in this material world, in my own body, that I indeed experience the Holy. It is in the relationships that I have with others that the Sacredness of life becomes clear to me. It is when I have used by body or brain for something greater than myself, that I feel I touch the real purpose and meaning of life. God with us in the flesh happened in a unique way with Jesus, but I don’t believe it was an isolated event. I believe that God can be found in the material world, among us in the flesh, in many ways. This is why we refer to the church as the Living Body of Christ in the world.
I encourage you in this season, and in all seasons, to look for the Sacred and the Holy all around you. For me, and many in the congregation I serve, we have found that Divine Presence in running and riding, in working and sweating, in breathing hard and struggling, being with one another every step of the way and learning that God is indeed with us too.