Winning the Human Race

By Barbara Balkus (4/15/12)


Hear an audio recording of this Sunday's reflection:

Sermon
(format: mp3 audio)


Read today's message:

Do you consider yourself independent? Dependent? Co-dependent is a term with baggage.

I have always considered myself to be fairly independent. As a retired navy wife I couldn’t wait for Michael to get home to fix stuff. If the washer broke, I had to see that it got fixed. If the car tire was flat, I needed to get it repaired. It fell to me to keep the house and family running smoothly.

I prided myself on being an independent navy wife, but the reality is I need others.

I’m an office manager with a mechanical engineering degree who lives on a small plat of land in a covenanted neighborhood. When I’m hungry, neither my skill set nor my yard can provide the food I need to live, not to mention that Michael does most of the cooking. And though I can knit and sew, my homeowner’s association doesn't allow domesticated farm animals so — even if I knew how — I wouldn’t be able to raise and sheer sheep to make the yarn and fabric to keep me warm.

I wouldn’t last very long without my fellow humans. I need you, all of you.

In one of the creation stories in Genesis, God created Eve because God did not want Adam to be alone. Humans are basically a pack-dwelling animal. Early tribes and clans learned that it was to their benefit to pool their talents to see to the needs of the entire village. Mammoth-hunters and whale-hunters would work as a team to kill their prey; and they would thank the beast for giving its life so they and their village could eat.

Early settlers worked together — neighbor helping neighbor with barn raisings, sharing a plow and sometimes the team that pulled it, harvesting a crop. Neighbors would be there with food to welcome new folks, celebrate a birth, or mourn a loss. There was synergy that held the community together. An interdependence.

Our community has gotten larger. The village no longer ends at the town’s border. A financial crisis in Greece or Italy affects the goat herder in Nepal. Droughts, Earthquakes, Floods, Insurrections, Wars have global implications that affect us all. Our world is connected and interdependent. We need each other; we depend on each other.

I believe the core of Jesus' ministry focused on this interdependence. The UCC motto quotes Jesus' prayer “that they may all be one.” This is not a prayer asking that we all be identical, but instead that we may be united in purpose, one with the Creator and therefore one with each other.

As many of you may know, I am a Penn State alumnus. I come from a family of Penn Staters and it is there where I met Michael.

In January we lost our beloved coach to lung cancer, and I caught bits and pieces of his memorial service. I was most touched by words his son Jay who served as a defense coach under his Dad offered. When the world leaders would start their jockeying for supremacy, JoePa would say, "If only I could get them in the locker room for a huddle."

Jay then went on to explain a bit about that huddle: after each game, win or lose, the team would gather in the locker room, hold hands, and join in the Lord’s Prayer. When Jay asked his Dad why, JoePa said, "It’s the words. Look at the words."

And so I did. I looked at the words and envisioned my team in their nameless, unadorned blue and white uniforms joined as one — no heroes, no goats. One cohesive group working for the same goal.

The words that Jesus taught the disciples never mention Barbara or Aiya or Sally or Ed. They simply state "Give Us," "Forgive Us," "Lead Us," "Deliver Us."

JoePa’s players did not sport skull and crossbones on their helmets — signifying their individual achievements — for each man on the field had a job to do, a role to play, and only as a team working together could they win the game.

I believe the same is true of the Human Race.

Each of us is created uniquely. God did not make duplicates, nor did God make junk. We are individual parts of the body. To believe that anyone of us is greater or lesser than the next one is, in my opinion, a sin of arrogance. We need each other. We each have a job to do, a role to play and only as a team working together can we win the Human Race.

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, speaks of this race. In my teen and young adult years I took exception to much of Paul’s writings, considering them among other things, sexist and bent on keeping me in my place. As I read them through varying lenses of life, I was better able to reconcile with them.

This particular one about winning the race is no exception. In this day of corporate greed and elitism, one could conclude that these folks have created a game plan and are winning the race. It’s Biblical.

But if you step back and slowly turn the lens with which you read and understand scripture, a new image comes into focus. As Paul states, our focus should be on winning but if we hold to Jesus' teaching of unity and the last being first, no one can win unless we do it together — which makes the Paulean scripture about focusing on winning shift not to individualized victories but the victory of the whole. The victory of the entire human race.

In other words for me to focus on winning, I have to focus on you and empower you to run the race and be victorious with me.

I am sure most of you have heard the story of the Special Olympics race. I know I’ve received several emails with it being shared:

A few years ago, at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash. At the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with relish to run the race to the finish and win.

All that is, except one little boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry.

The other eight heard the boy cry.

They slowed down and looked back. Then they all turned around and went back… every one of them.

One girl with Down’s Syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, “This will make it better.”

Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line.

I did some checking and the story is mostly true. It actually took place in 1976 in Spokane and only a few of the contestants stopped, but there obviously is something in this story that touches us.

The ending lines in the email version of the story are: “Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for several minutes. People who were there are still telling the story.”

Why?

Because deep down we know this one thing: What truly matters in this life — more than winning for ourselves — is helping others win, even if it means slowing down and changing our course.

In life, it doesn't matter who gets to the finish line first. If we are to win the human race we need to cross the line together. Joined as the one body we were created to be.

Contemplation/Lord’s Prayer

Now if you’d all humor me and if those of you who can would please stand. Take the hand of the person on either side of you. Span the aisles. If you are at the end of a row reach behind or in front of you.

Feel the energy passing from one hand to the next.

Consider the person to your left. How have they affected your life? How have you affected theirs?

And the person on your right. What gifts have they offered you? What gifts have you shared with them?

Feel the rest of the fellowship gathered here. What laughter and tears, joys and sorrows have you shared?

Think of those who are no longer here and the foundations they have laid for us.

And think of those yet to come whose visions will be far greater than we can ever imagine.

Now reach beyond this space to our world, a place filled with differences in belief and ideas, ethnicity and language; feel the pulse that beats from each heart. You are connected to the human race in a symbiotic relationship — interdependent and blessed by the Divine.

Keeping the chain unbroken I invite you to bring all of those folks with you and join in the timeless prayer Jesus taught the disciples, but I ask you to consider the words, the words of oneness — maybe even put a little more emphasis on them.

OUR Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give US this day OUR daily bread. And forgive US OUR debts as WE forgive OUR debtors. And lead US not into temptation but deliver US from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever.

Amen.




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