A few years ago I was coaching Cross Country. We were doing one of those workouts that required my athletes to work hard the entire workout. To those of you not trained in distance running, most workouts require runner’s to start slow and build up. But this wasn’t one of them. I wanted them to work hard the whole time. And they knew it.
Yet they were dogging it. We were doing repeats and their times were not anywhere near what they were supposed to be.
Then the last repeat came and, because they knew it was the last one, finally ran faster than I had even wanted them too. They crossed the line with these big grins on their faces as if they had done something special by running so fast for 1 repeat.
I was irate. They knew they were supposed to be running that hard the whole workout and yet they lounged around and waited for the last one to suddenly run. YET THEY WERE PROUD OF THEMSELVES?!?!?!
So I let them have it. To this day I am not sure if I should have or not but that doesn’t change the fact I did.
I preached one of my best, most passionate sermons. I explained to them that they had set great goals for the year. I clarified over and over that I believed in their goals. I emphasized that I wanted nothing more than to see them succeed. Then I let them know that lazy workouts would destroy all of that. There was no reason to dog the repeats until the last one other than apathy and apathy has no place in sports! I came close to repeating the Apostle Paul in Corinthians, “And you are proud?! Should you not be ashamed?!”
They rolled their eyes at me and then half jogged, half walked a cool down back to the school.
All but one of them. My hardest worker, a young, energetic and goofy kid aptly named “Timmy” ran next to me the whole way back.
“I am sorry, coach!” he said over and over. “I didn’t mean to slack off. I really try so hard to do what you say. I hope you are not too mad and I promise that I will do better next time.”
His sincerity was both admirable and humorous. Timmy’s workout had been incredible that day. He had nothing to be sorry about. I was proud of him almost always and super proud of him that day. He had worked hard while the upperclassmen slacked off and that is not easy to do.
Don’t miss the irony: My lecture had gone completely ignored except by the one person who hadn’t even needed to hear it.
That is an irony I face almost every Sunday. After a few songs, an offering and some announcements, I get up for 20 to 30 minutes and, borrowing from Moses in Deuteronomy 30:19 “Set before them life and death, blessings and curses.” Then I urge my small congregation to, “Now choose life! That you may live.”
Then the people who have all ready chosen life long ago and have walked a better holiness than I yet have, tell me, “You know Pastor, you are right. I need to do better.”
And those who I am the most unsure about, whose lives spew forth the darkness, roll their eyes and say, “Yeah, whatever,” and look back down at their phones.
And I am not complaining about this. I have learned that these types of ironies keep me incredibly humble. Here I am setting the table of life and death as carefully as I know how. Then I present it to the people and no matter how hard I try, those all ready alive look at it and feel guilty. Then the dead look at it and feel nothing, shrugging their shoulders.
But I’m just the waiter, discharging the duty ascribed to me by the master chef. If I was the chef I might be a bit more offended but I am not. I am just the humble servant who, to be honest, hopes more Sundays than not my sermon will be completely forgotten by Tuesday. I would rather they forget my paltry words and live a life worthy of the gospel than the other way around.
So I have set the table. I have scattered the word and that is what God requires and what God will reward.
I think Jesus even told a parable about this. A farmer went out to sow his seeds. . .