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Summary: To glean spiritual lessons from the most taxing athletic event-the Marathon-at a time Olympic Fever is in the air.

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THE R.A.C.E

“…I have finished THE RACE…” – Apostle Paul (2 Tim 4:7)

Action: Display of a picture of a Marathon winner breasting the tape with arms raised

Hey, its Olympics time!!! There are several athletic events which would capture the imagination of Sports aficionados’ but one which is guaranteed to stir one’s soul is the Marathon race. Period. There are races and then there is Marathon in a pedestal of its own. There is no other race which places so much demand on a runner’s stamina and perseverance as this 26 miler does. The race that Apostle Paul is alluding to here in his dying declaration (very soon, he would die a martyr for Christ, beheaded by half-insane Roman Emperor Nero) is not your typical 100 metres sprint (I agree, it has its own appeal) but the marathon race of his spiritual life. Nine times out of ten, Christian life is more of a marathon than a Sprint. One is bound to come across more of Paul like testimonies, rather than accounts resembling that of repentant thief on a cross (his road to Paradise was a bit like a Bolt’s sprint race). Let’s hit the loop line and peep into the history of Marathon race…

Brief history of the Marathon race…

The modern Marathon commemorates the 25 km run of the soldier Pheidippides from a battlefield at the site of the town of Marathon, Greece, to Athens in 490 B.C. bringing news of a Greek victory over the Persians. Legend has it that Pheidippides delivered the momentous message "Niki!" ("victory"), then collapsed and died, thereby setting a precedent for dramatic conclusions to the marathon.

Action: a) Display of picture of Pheidippides running

b) Display of the picture of a map showing the route Pheidippides followed running from

Marathon to Athens

In 1908 the race’s length was extended from about 25 miles to 26.2 miles (42km) so that it finished in front of the Royal Box. This distance is still used today. Very much in line with the Biblical principle that the “BEST IS RESERVED FOR THE LAST” (John 2:10), the Men’s Marathon race (“BEST” athletic event) is invariably held on the last day of every Olympics games.

Onto main track again…

So what are the lessons we can glean from Apostle Paul’s life in the backdrop of a Marathon race? By the way how about weaving a sermon around the acronym RACE itself for easier understanding…using mostly the Pauline writings found in the Blessed Scripture…

R-REPENTANCE

Action: Display of picture of Saul of Tarsus blinded by a heavenly light on the Road to Damascus

While the life-changing experience of every Born-again Christian may not be as melodramatic as that of Apostle Saul (then Saul of Tarsus – Acts 9:1-16), no Christian can begin THE RACE OF HIS LIFE (life in tow with the Almighty) without REPENTANCE which is all about setting right the relationship with the Creator. This relationship was impaired by the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). The crafty Enemy of God –the Satan- and our souls did them (our first parents) in. Satan incidentally was one of the archangels in Heaven, before “the evil desire to sit in God’s throne entered him, resulting in his abysmal fall” (Isa 14:12-15).

All of us are sinners by birth enslaved to Satan proclaims the Bible (Romans 3:23/5:12). The Wise would concur. Think it through…after we are born and are growing…does anyone (our parents or our School teachers) teach us how to lie, how to become jealous etc…does it not come ALL (these sinful traits) VERY NATURALLY to us. Mama tells us a kid not to eat cookies, now no prizes for guessing that soon she would hear a sound of someone opening the box of cookies in a kitchen. That’s how the cookie has crumbled for mankind, as it were. Talk of Genetics and transmission of characteristic from a parent to a child…we all inherit the fallen Adamic nature...no wonder the Saviour launched His Earthly preaching ministry with these immortal words “REPENT for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17). Ah, how’s that for prioritizing …putting horse before the cart…

I would never forget my childhood and early teenage age, which I spent wandering aimlessly in life, seeking pleasure from several Worldly enjoyments but having found no real, lasting joy I desperately went to Church one day (October 16th, 1983) in deep depression. There I heard a sermon on “Born-again experience” (John 3:3) and invited Jesus into my life. In retrospect, it seems that the Saviour was waiting there (St Georges Church, Abids, Hyderabad) for me with open arms…

The point to be noted here is EVERYONE ONE OF US IS A SINNER (including those with no police record/good social standing) NEEDING A SAVIOUR. Mind you, the good Lord was addressing a respectable religious Jewish Leader of his times namely Nicodemus when he spoke these words

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