A while back, I had the opportunity to be in Oklahoma City for their annual half marathon and friends, I was SORE afterwards! Oh, I didn’t run it.1 But I cheered like it was my job. For five hours I shouted and danced and pumped my fists. I played “The Eye of the Tiger” for a few hours, then switched to “I Would Walk 500 Miles” when the walkers got there. My friends’ house was around the 12-mile mark, so when people passed us they were in need of a little encouragement. And I gave it to them. (My friend Anamaria wrote about it here.)
You can do it! You’re just like Rocky only better looking!
You are amazing! Your mom is proud of you and your wife is proud of you and your friends are proud of you and JESUS is proud of you!2
Do you realize you’ve done more this morning than I’ll do all month? You are awesome! And you’re almost there! You’re going to get to take a nap and NOBODY can you say you don’t deserve it because YOU RAN A HALF MARATHON TODAY!
You only have a mile and a half left and then you get to have a brownie. You know what? You can have all the brownies you want for the rest of your life because you are RUNNING A HALF MARATHON!
It was amazing the number of people who were walking and started running again (maybe to get away from the glitter and rainbows I was spewing at them) and the number who actually turned to thank me for the encouragement. I met a runner the next day and asked her if she remembered me.
“Did you have a baby with you?” she asked.
“That was me!”
“Yeah! You said, ‘He can’t run but you can. Do it for the baby!’ That was awesome.”
Seriously, guys, I am amazing at this. If you could be a professional half-marathon cheerer, I would do it. And I had a blast! I’ve already put next year’s OKC half in my calendar.
The people I was with, God bless them, were more impressed than put off by my intensity. They seemed to think it was a great favor I was doing the runners. And it got me thinking.
I’m good at yelling. I’m good at encouragement. I’m good at making a fool of myself. But I can’t run. I could never run a half marathon. I would quite literally die.3 And a half marathon can’t happen without runners.
That’s obvious. But it can’t happen without police, either. Or paper-pushers or fundraisers or web gurus or volunteers to hand out that sticky sludge they keep shoving down your throat. It can’t happen without organizers or city councils or urban planners or people sitting in front of their houses handing out Twinkies.4 The OKC marathon particularly can’t happen without people who still remember the terror of the bombing and others who want to honor their loss. A marathon is not just about runners.
The Church is the same way. I’ve got gifts that are particularly Churchy. I like attention and enthusiasm and telling people what to do, so I make a pretty good speaker. I also really like reading and being a know-it-all, so I manage some content in my talks. And because my natural gifts are showy, people think I’m a big deal and they’re not. Like the Church needs me but you’re just along for the ride.
Lie. Big, fat, ugly lie. It’s a lie if you believe you’re not good enough and it’s a lie if you’re just letting yourself off the hook. I hate to break it to you, friends, but this Church needs you. As much as it needs anyone (and obviously, God can do whatever he wants without any pathetic little sinners), it needs you.
Maybe you don’t have any Churchy talents. Maybe you make children cry when you try to sing and you can’t read in front of a group without quivering in terror. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable talking about your faith, so you feel like leading a Bible study is out. When you take out all the artsy, feely stuff, what do you really have to offer?
You have yourself to offer. Not just because Jesus desires that you give him your whole self but because the Church is the poorer because you haven’t stepped up yet. See, there’s only so many hobos a Church can sustain. We just don’t need that many missionaries. We need more than we have, that’s for sure. And we’re all missionaries in our own ways. But you don’t have to be a streetcorner preacher to serve the Church. If everybody did that, who’d plan the potlucks and update the databases?
I don’t mean that flippantly. We need that. We need good administrators and financial minds in our parishes–desperately. A loving parish secretary will impact more souls than I will. Maybe you’re only good at sports: coach a CYO team. Maybe you’re just a worker bee: ask the DRE what help she needs. Maybe you’re good at crafts: make Saint dolls and give them to children in your parish.
See, God gave you particular gifts. And while your ability to keep paperwork organized might seem rather mundane to you, I can bet your youth minister would kill for that skill. The talents you have–even things like being friendly or trimming bushes–have been given to you for the good of the Church. If you can get to a Called and Gifted Seminar,5 all the better. But until then, just sit down and ask: what am I good at? What do I love doing? And how can that serve the Church? Because I guarantee it can.
If you’ve been baptized (and especially if you’ve been confirmed), the Holy Spirit has moved in you–is moving in you. Not only did God create you with natural gifts, but grace has built on nature and you’re now a storehouse of divine power. It may not manifest itself in obvious ways, but God has been preparing you all your life to be a great gift to the Church and the world if only you’ll let him use you. And since it’s still Pentecost on the West Coast, I’m going to challenge you during this Octave of Pentecost6 to sit with the Lord and ask him how he wants to use you. I’ll even give you a bunch of ideas later this week–I know how you people love lists. Then spend Ordinary Time getting used to giving your time and talents in service to the Church as well as your treasure. We need you. We can’t all be epic half-marathon-cheerers, but if we don’t embrace the role God’s given us, the whole thing starts to fall apart.7
- Those who know me are far less confused now. [↩]
- Because it’s Oklahoma so you can mention Jesus. [↩]
- And no, by “literally” I do not mean “figuratively.” I mean that I would die of an asthma attack or be rolled off the course on a stretcher. [↩]
- Okay, maybe the Twinkies are unnecessary. And gross, particularly while running. But I bet some of those runners would notice if the Twinkie people disappeared. [↩]
- Disclaimer: I’ve never actually been, but I’ve heard great things and read some of the materials and it all looks good to me. [↩]
- Well, it used to be an octave. [↩]
- I mean, not the Church. “The gates of hell will not prevail against it” and all that. But our little churches can run into some serious trouble. [↩]