If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding%nd the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
My mother was an athlete in her school days. There were stories that are now part of family folk lore of how fast she was. The best that I managed was in 8th Standard , I came 4th among 6 runners and felt very proud about it. Once in our school there was a selection for long distance running and I now knew this was my chance. God has a purpose for my life. The date was set and we had to run 10 rounds of the ground. All the friends interested started to train accordingly. I started doing sit ups one day and gave up. After a week or so the day arrived. I prayed and said “I am going to try.” We were all at the starting line. Ten rounds. That’s all. Once I cross the line, I too would be a legend. On your marks. Get set. Whistleeeeeee. And I went for the dash. I was coming first as I started with great speed. At the end of the first round, all the other athletes were far behind. Second round starts and suddenly I just can’t breathe. My leg is too stubborn. I tried harder to convince it. But it was just that. I was trying. Half way through the second round, I just could not take another step. As this was not a race but just a qualifying round, half way through, the gate that led us outside the ground came and I silently faded out. With that faded my every illusion of dreaming of having any career in athletics.
But I realized that trying was just not enough. One needs to train wisely not only in athletics but also in matters of faith. In the passage above set before us for meditation, Paul uses the image of Athletics when he says in vs 7-8 “Train yourself in Godliness. For, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Paul’s audiences were very familiar to Athletics as Corinth was the site of Isthmanian games, second only to Olympics in Ancient Greece. To enter these games one had to undergo 10 months of intensive training failing which one could be disqualified. Keeping this in mind Paul says “discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” 1 Cor 9: 27.
One of the crudest comment I got as a youth was when one of my friend said “You are Eloquent in your sermon.” I was beaming already till he completed his statement. “But it is just words.” It just shook me up. It still shakes me. Are my sermons just words? Or am I training to be transformed by Christ? The right beginning is to believe that merely by ones will power one cannot start being the faith that one preaches. The first thing that Alcoholics are taught in their self help group Alcoholics Anonymous is that one cannot become sober just by wishing to be so. For that One needs to follow the 12 steps principle of Alcoholic Anonymous. I have adapted these 12 principles for our journey in faith.
a)“Knowing our powerlessness to implement our faith in a world full of distractions.”
b) Believing that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to discipleship.
c) Making a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we have come to understand Him.
d) To make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
e) Admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
f) Being entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
g) Humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings.
h) To make a list of all persons we have harmed, and therfore willing to make amends to them all.
i) To make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
j) Continue to take personal inventory, and when we are wrong to promptly admit it.
k) Seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
l) Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we would carry this message to our fellow travelers in faith and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
It is indeed a sobering fact to use the techniques of Alcoholics in the journey of faith. But I guess the struggle to practice our faith is as tough or even tougher than the struggle of an alcoholic to remain sober. Last Saturday as I was preparing for the Holy Communion, I started to read a 17th Century Book called “The Practice of the Presence of God” written by a Cook in a monastery who was known as Brother Lawrence. This book was compiled after the death of brother Lawrence who wrote letters to his friend about his spiritual training and discipline. “I have radically practiced the Presence of God in the most mundane affairs of my life. I do not like to cook but I pray ‘Lord, let this be pleasing to You and You alone. ’ After cooking again I pray thanking God. Every waking minute I live just to please my Master and therefore very waking moment in my life is now a prayer. It took me 10 years of sufferings to reach here but my deep sense of communion and love of God has deepened. I live only to please Him.” These verse touched a cord deep within. I was visibly moved. Have I trained myself to feel the presence of my Lord in every waking minute of my life? Do I strive to please God or I long for the approval of the people around? Is my life a prayer? Why do I get so irritated after I preach about patience? Why do I become judgmental after preaching about Love or hearing a sermon on it? Why do I fall into temptation soon after I have resolved to lead a virtuous life? Well these questions work as an inventory to know where I stand as a disciple.
In U.S after the 2nd World War, At Madison’s square, New York, Chuck, Bill and Chris were the three youths who brought the Gospel of comfort to a nation bruised with war and the after effects of Depression. It is said Chuck Templeton had a deep captivating baritone voice. His narration of the sermon kept the audience spell bound. His Conventions were well attended and his voice was the talk of the town. In 1950s Radio became a huge business. Chuck was offered a post as a News Broadcaster for his enviable voice. Initially he rejected it to concentrate on his ministry but later accepted the offer. He soon became a celebrity News Reader. He started to ignore his ministry and later on in an interview he professed “Lack of Conviction about his Christian faith which has forced me to discontinue my ministry.”
Chris Broff had unbelievable humor. People were glued to their seats once he started to speak. It is said his sermons never had a dull moment. And then he fell in love with a girl. He was rejected time after time. He started drinking. Became an alcoholic and died at a very young age. A man of promise and conviction lost the plot.
The Third man was Billy Graham. I admire Graham more for his tenacity and focus in ministry. He was a man f spiritual discipline who lived and preached his faith. Three young promising stars started ministry in difficult times. But only one completed the race. It is not how well you start, but how tenaciously you run with discipline and finish the race.
As people of faith, we need to focus on training to be Disciples of Jesus. We have tried enough. We need to be effective witnesses of Jesus. Or else the words of Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan will ring true. “Christians are ordinary people with extraordinary claims.” Let us dedicate ourselves in the training of Godliness and faith. May God give us the grace. Amen.
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrain Church