Summary: Championships are won when the stands are empty. We make daily choices that may not be glamorous but are foundational to our faith. Only in difficult times are the foundations tested.

25 Pentecost A Matthew 25:1-13 10 November 2002

Rev. Roger Haugen

There is a slogan written on the walls of a football locker room somewhere that says, “Championships are won when the stands are empty”. When you think about it you know it is true. If it were not for hard work at many practices when no one is watching, a team would never get to the championship game. It is those muscle bruising days in the cold and the wet when repetitious drills threaten to bore the athletes to death, that make the difference between a champion and an also ran.

I heard Clayton Gerein speak at a local school this month. He grew up in North Battleford, played hockey and the usual things. When he was a young man, he was thrown from a horse, landed on his head and was paralyzed and destined to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. He spoke of his rehabilitation through swimming and how this led to racing and finally how he was introduced to wheelchair sports. He could have given up hope after his accident, but he didn’t. He is now a world class athlete traveling the world racing his wheelchair. He would be the first to admit that life has not been easy. He spends endless hours training for those few minutes when others see him race.

He chose not to give up on life. He chose to put the hours into training and practice. The result is a life that is full, one with significant achievements – Olympic medals, world championships. He knows what it means “championships are won when the stands are empty.” His unbelievable accomplishments came from decisions made and worked at.

We have quite a number of funerals here at Zion. Many funerals are wonderful celebrations of the life of the deceased. They have lived faithful lives, knew the hope that came with faith in God. Their relationship with Jesus held them throughout life and carried them through the last stages of life. These people trusted the promises that once death had done its worst, God would do his best. Eternal life, that they experienced throughout their life as faithful followers of Jesus has come into its fullest expression.

Some funerals are very difficult. Some have never taken their spiritual life seriously. There was always something more important to occupy their time and priorities. They may have heard the promises of hope but chose not to claim them for themselves. Worship was never something they chose for themselves. Death was to be feared and here they came to the end of their lives and it is an empty fearful place. For the family it is a time of life-sucking emptiness. They look to me for hope, but I cannot give them my hope, all I can do is speak of the hope that I have, the hope that is shared by all the faithful. Hope that has not come easily or quickly. Hope that has ebbed and flowed, hope that has been dashed only to rise again. My hope that is nourished in worship, at the Lord’s Table, among God’s faithful people who lift me up when my hope is wanting.

Worship is a rehearsal of our death. We hear the words we need to hear, we sing the words that give us hope in tough times. Someone once said we should go to the Lord’s Supper as though we were going to our death so that one day we can go to our death as though we are going to the Lord’s Supper. Those are foundations that will not let us down.

In difficult funerals I am faced with people who have made choices throughout their lives which, when they are put to the ultimate test, are found to have been foolish choices – choices which do not stand up to the test when all of life is overturned. Good foundations had not been laid and life crumbles.

Most years we have about six weddings here at Zion. Each couple that comes in gets my marriage speech. I tell them that I get to work with a lot of great marriages and some that are in trouble. It opens with a quiz.

What is the survival rate of marriages these days? About 50%. What is the survival rate of marriages of people who show up at church on Easter and Christmas? About 50%.

What is the survival rate of marriages where people worship together regularly, more weeks than not? 94%. There are still some that don’t make it but most do.

We then talk about why that might be. When we worship we are with other people who care for us. We practice confession and forgiveness most every week. If we can speak words of confession at worship and hear that we are forgiven, we can more easily speak those words in our marriage and share the joy of knowing we are forgiven. In worship we come to understand that the world does not rest completely upon our shoulders, that God is greater anything that can confront us in life.

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