October 30, 2022
Earlier today, I had the honor of delivering the sermon as the guest preacher at Grace United Methodist Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey.
I am always humbled when I have the opportunity to write and deliver a sermon at church.
Next week, I’ll share a version of this message at the Interfaith Service before the New York City Marathon.
The following is my sermon beginning with a video of the service (my sermon comes at about the 36-minute mark). The text of the sermon follows.
Run In God’s Name
When I taught Sunday School here at Grace, many years ago, I had the senior high kids for a few years. I developed my own lessons, the best of which was a little game I invented called “Disciple Uno.”
I don’t quite remember all the rules any longer, but each of the disciples, the followers of Christ, were assigned the various card numbers in the order in which Jesus chose them. John and Andrew, the first two disciples, were represented by the numbers 1 and 2, as I recall. Simon Peter was 3. Judas Iscariot was the DRAW 4 card, the worst card to play against someone. Jesus was the WILD card because he can change everything if we let him.
It all made sense at the time. Through that game, we learned the stories of the disciples and the students never forgot some of the least-known disciples like Bartholomew and Simon the Zealot.
I felt it was important for the students to know the names of Jesus’ disciples.
We tend to know the names of the most important or the most notable followers of Jesus, the saints, the great church leaders, the world leaders at the time, and the like.
We learn about them and study them in church, in Bible worship, and in other places as well…
- St. Paul
- St. Francis of Assisi
- Joan of Arc
- Martin Luther
- Johann Sebastian Bach
- Johnathan Wesley
- Mother Teresa
- Rev. Martin Luther King
- Billy Graham
- Norman Vincent Peale
There are many others, one of whom I would like us to remember and learn from today. Some of you may already know the name, but for others, his name, his ministry, and his example has been lost to the ages… even though an Academy Award Winning movie was once made, and not that long ago, primarily about him.
Yes, there was a time when Hollywood made movies about good Christians.
Again, it wasn’t that long ago.
What’s interesting about that movie is that although many here may not have seen it, if I were to ask Kevin to play the theme song from the movie’s opening, you’d all know the title – immediately.
But, let’s save that for a bit…
Instead, let’s begin with two quotes from the movie…
“You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It’s hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape – especially if you’ve got a bet on it. But how long does that last? You go home. Maybe your dinner’s burnt. Maybe you haven’t got a job. So who am I to say, “Believe, have faith,” in the face of life’s realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.” If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.”
He also said,
“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”
Should we have a brief interlude now to hear a few bars from the song’s opening music?
The movie I am referring to is the classic Chariots of Fire and I’d like today, for our sermon, to talk about that character from the movie, the runner, the Olympic champion, Eric Liddell.
For, he was more than a runner, he was a servant of Jesus, in every way.
And while most people know that he won an Olympic race, they don’t know even half of his story – a story we can all be inspired by and learn from.
But, let’s start, first, let’s begin with just that second quote because in just those few words there is a big lesson, one that we can all take from here, today, with us, a quote to carry in our pockets to inspire us, greatly, as something we can all do, today, and every day, going forward to honor Christ, to consider the Lord, and to live our best lives.
“I believe God made me for a purpose…”
We all have talents and abilities. We have strengths and gifts. God made all of us for a purpose. He might not have made us all fast, or strong, or wise, or kind, but he made us something. We have all been made in His image.
And when he made us, he gave us gifts.
Some of the gifts we can see with our eyes in others, but other strengths, like having great patience, or great faith, and even intelligence or wisdom… those gifts are not as always as readily seen.
But still he gave them to us.
And some of us still have to find those gifts, or we realize that we have gifts we never recognized before but eventually find them. We find them through self-reflection, by studying God’s word…or through prayer.
And God wants us to use those strengths. Sometimes they are selfish, like the ability to run fast, and other times they are not, but we need to know that when we use the strengths God has provided us, we are serving him and if we listen to our hearts closely enough, when we do these things, as Eric Liddell did, we do feel His pleasure.
God is good.
And God is great.
And when we use and hone and work on and strengthen the gifts he gave us, in our own ways, we, too, can be good and great – especially when we use our gifts to serve others – in any number of ways.
Eric Liddell said,
“Every Christian should live a God-guided life.”
Look to your gifts and use them to live a life with God and to serve as an inspiration to others by using your strengths for good and in God’s name.
Let us, as it says in Hebrews 12:1, “Run with perseverance, the race set before us.”
So who was Eric Liddell?
Eric Liddell was a Scotsman, only he wasn’t. His parents were Scottish, but he was born in China and saw himself, always, even though he spoke English, as a person from China.
Let’s unpack that for a moment.
Liddell was born in 1902 and came to prominence in the 1924 Olympics. Think of his world and the difference people saw in others because of the way they looked – their skin tone or the shapes of their eyes…
A Chinese person as an equal to an Englishman?
We still harbor similar prejudices, in many ways, in the world today.
Liddell didn’t see us all as different. He saw us all as God’s children. In fact, he once wrote:
“I believe it is God’s will that the whole world should be without any barriers of race, color, class, or anything else that breaks the spirit of fellowship.”
He was a hundred years ahead of his time.
And, as you know, he was a runner. Liddell was a gifted athlete who qualified for the 1924 Olympics in the 100 meters, only he didn’t run in that race because he felt that Sunday was the Lord’s day and the heats for the 100 were on a Sunday. He wouldn’t compromise on this conviction and he gave up the opportunity to be great in that event because he would not compete on a Sunday.
Instead, he competed in the 400 meters – a race no one gave him any chance of winning.
Except, he ran in God’s name… and he won.
Eric Liddell was one of the least likely Olympic Gold Medalists of all time.
He became a hero. He ran, and he spoke of God.
When Liddell would speak, church halls would fill. People were inspired by his words, they came to hear the champion athlete speak of God and his love for us. The came to hear of Jesus. His love. His blessings.
This, too, was remarkable, filling churches and halls, because when Liddell lived, especially in Great Brittan, it was not a time of strong religious conviction. This was in the immediate aftermath of World War I, a conflict that ravaged England, Europe, and the young male population of the time.
In many ways, maybe in every way, in those years, God seemed to be missing. He seemed not to be there.
Yet, people came, to listen and to hope and to gain faith… they were inspired by Eric Liddell’s gift of being able to run fast – and also by his other gift – the gift of faith, strong faith, undying faith in the Lord.
They called him the Flying Parson and said that he was God’s runner.
When we build up and praise and revere the Lord, he sends his blessings to us. As it reads in 1 Samuel 2:30 – “Those who honor me I will honor.”
All assumed this champion would compete again in the next Olympics, or head to the United States to participate in running contests to thrill the people, but instead, he returned to China where he served as a missionary. When World War II came, he was soon interred in a prison camp. In that camp, Liddell did everything. No job was too small. He ministered to the people. The people who lived there all spoke of his faith and his devotion and of his love.
In a time ripe for hate, Eric Liddell prayed for his captors. And he taught others to do the same.
There is no hate in God. It’s in God’s name that we love one another.
There is a story that his release was offered to him, but he gave that spot to a pregnant woman, even though his own wife and three daughters were not with him, Liddell remained to care for the people he felt God asked him to minister to.
It was in this camp that Liddell died. Overwork, malnutrition, and a brain tumor that, had he been in a different situation may have, even back then, been operable, took his life.
The people of the camp mourned. They lost the one person who made it all bearable for them.
We all might not be fast. We are not missionaries in lands thousands of miles from our friends and families.
We all might not even have the abilities or the strength to care for others the way Liddell did.
But we can all be inspired by his life and his strength.
We can all be inspired to run in God’s name… to pray for others, to care for everyone, to see us all as God’s people. And, of course, we don’t have to physically run. Whatever we do in love through God’s name is good, and great.
Eric Liddell was a champion athlete, but more, he was a champion as a follower of Jesus Christ. That is what should inspire us.
As Liddell once said,
The kingdom is where the King reigns. If He is reigning in my heart, then the Kingdom of Heaven has come to me.”
Let us all today, and always, commit ourselves to the love of Christ and run that straight race.
Let us all find our talents.
Let us all know that God made us, each of us, for a purpose.
Let us be sure that we can say as we reflect on our day and our days that “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
We have a purpose. And we can be inspired as we follow that purpose to honor God and Christ the way Eric Liddell did all those years ago.
Eric Liddell’s favorite hymn was “Be Still My Soul.”
Let us stand and sing that song together.