Last Thursday, a van load of us were driving from Langley to Edmonton for the Break Forth Conference when we stopped in Kamloops for some gas. I stopped at a gas station that I had never stopped at before in Kamloops and we noticed a whole bunch of RCMP vehicles around. At first I thought that there had been a break-in at the museum across the road. But when we asked the attendants at the gas station, they said that the Olympic Torch was going to be passing through, but they said that it wasn’t coming until 10 or 11 am. This was about 8 am and we weren’t going to wait that long to see the torch. We continued picking up some snacks when, all of a sudden, I noticed that both the attendants were staring out the window of the gas station in the same direction. I looked towards what they were looking at and what I saw was a runner carrying the Olympic Torch right up the street towards us. It was a surprise and a thrill to see it.
The modern-day Olympic Torch Relay first occurred in 1936 and it is a harkening back to the ancient Olympic games where runners travelled throughout the Greek peninsula, announcing the start of the games and, along with it, the beginning of a truce. The Olympic Torch has come to represent peace, brotherhood and enlightenment and it is a call to come and join the festivities. The 2010 Olympic Torch relay began in Olympia, Greece on October 22, 2009 when the flame was lit by heat from the sun. The flame arrived in Victoria on October 30 and over its 106 day journey it will travel more than 45,000 kms and be carried by over 12,000 people. It will be arriving in Langley tomorrow morning as it travels from Abbotsford to Surrey. And its journey will end on Friday in BC Place Stadium at the Opening Ceremonies as the Olympic Cauldron is lit.
And as one watches the Olympic Torch Relay one of things that make it special is when the Olympic flame passes from one torch to another. The two runners lean their torches towards one another, the second torch ignites and, after a congratulatory greeting, the second runner continues the relay with his or her flame glowing brightly.
There is something similar that happens when a person begins their journey of faith. The Christian Church is always just one generation away from extinction. People are not born Christians. Somehow, in ways that we do not fully understand, faith in Jesus Christ is passed from person to person. As they lean towards one another, this light from the Son jumps from one person to another and the relay race of faith continues on.
Reasons That Hold Us Back
- I have to change who I am to do this
- I have to force things to happen
- I am not able to do this
- Guilt because I don’t see any results
But, if you are like me, there seems to be something that is holding us back from participating in this all-important relay race. Many of us think that we have to change who we are to share our faith with others. Maybe we see someone like Billy Graham on TV and we think to ourselves, “I am not like that, I cannot do what he is doing, therefore I cannot share my faith with others.” Or maybe we feel uncomfortable because we hear stories of people being lit up with the gift of faith and we feel like we have to make that happen somehow, but we don’t know how to do that. Or maybe you feel inadequate for the task of sharing the faith. Maybe you feel like you do not have the gifts or abilities that are necessary. Or maybe like me, you feel guilty because you tried to share your faith and nothing happened. So we run around in circles, and we never share the light and warmth of our torch with others. We think that God has such high standards for people to be able to share their faith, so we end up with a low level of effectiveness in doing it.
Yet, in contrast to our ideas, God actually has no standards for people to be able to share their faith. It is the most natural thing in the world for us to share the Good News that we have experienced with others. Have you ever had something wonderful happen to you and then tried to keep it a secret? You can’t. It bubbles over inside of us and we simply must share our joy with others. Just as bees buzz and birds sing, it is the most natural thing in the world for a person to share wabout the joyous difference Jesus has made in their life.
An example of this would be Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. By no standard of the day was this person qualified to tell other people about God. First, there were matters that were beyond her control. She was a Samaritan, a resident of the area just to the north of Judea. The Jews despised the Samaritans for several reasons: they were a mixed race people who perverted worship of the true God by setting up idols and they had allied themselves with Judea’s enemy Syria. And she was a woman and women weren’t even considered credible witnesses in court, let alone credible witnesses for God.
And then there were some other matters in her life. We do not know the reasons, but this woman had been married five times, and the man she was presently with was not her husband. Perhaps it was out of shame that she came to the well at noon during the heat of the day, trying to avoid other people, who usually came in the cool of the morning or the evening to draw water. But God had a Divine Appointment with her that day. And even though Jesus had every human reason to turn his back on this woman and treat her with disdain, he reached out to her in love, striving to break through her shame and confusion. When she was ready, Jesus revealed himself to her as the Messiah, the chosen One of God who came to explain all things and make all things right in the world. The Contemporary English Version of the Bible records what happen next, starting at John, chapter 4, verse 25:
25The woman said, “I know that the Messiah will come. He is the one we call Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26“I am that one,” Jesus told her, “and I am speaking to you now.”
27The disciples returned about this time and were surprised to find Jesus talking with a woman. But none of them asked him what he wanted or why he was talking with her.
28The woman left her water jar and ran back into town. She said to the people, 29“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! Could he be the Messiah?” 30Everyone in town went out to see Jesus.
39A lot of Samaritans in that town put their faith in Jesus because the woman had said, “This man told me everything I have ever done.” 40They came and asked him to stay in their town, and he stayed on for two days.
41Many more Samaritans put their faith in Jesus because of what they heard him say. 42They told the woman, “We no longer have faith in Jesus just because of what you told us. We have heard him ourselves, and we are certain that he is the Savior of the world!” (John 4:25-30, 39-42 CEV)
She may have been deemed unfit by the world to share the Good News of God, but in Jesus’ eyes, she was the perfect person for the task. The circumstances of her birth and gender, over which she had no control, were no detriment as far as Jesus was concerned. All the baggage she had acquired in her life to this point did not disqualify her from running the relay of faith. Jesus reached out to her and showed her God’s unconditional love and acceptance. Here was the Messiah, who knew everything about her, and yet he drank from her water jug and conversed with her. He had fellowship with her and fellowship in that culture was very important for it indicated that there was a close personal relationship. Jesus’ love was what lit the flame of faith in this woman and overjoyed she ran back to her village to tell everyone she knew about this special person she had met. In her haste, she even left behind her water jug which was a very important item in her home and the reason for her trip to the well in the first place. But now she had living waters flowing up inside of her and there was something more important that she felt compelled to do.
So what’s holding you back from running the relay of faith? Is it because you were born into the wrong family, or at the wrong place or time, or with the wrong gender? None of those things matter to Jesus and he loves you just the way you are. Is it because of guilt or shame over something you have done or failed to do? Jesus has taken all of your guilt and shame away from you. Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus ran the relay to the cross all by himself. On a hill outside Jerusalem he was lifted up for everyone to see. His life was extinguished, but that was not the end Jesus. On the third day that followed, Jesus rose from the dead and his light now shines brighter than ever before. He gives forgiveness and hope and life to everyone who trusts in him. And he invites us all to run in the relay of faith sharing the light he has given us with others.
At this point, I would like to say a word to parents. When you are a believer, it is heart-breaking to see your kids turn their backs on God and reject the Christian faith. And our natural reaction is to ask ourselves, “What could I have done better?” And we all find something because all of us could have done better as parents, so we tend to drown in an ocean of guilt over where our children are in their journey of faith. But behind this guilt is the lie, the false assumption that if we had just done everything right, our kids would have turned out all right, and that is not true. God was the perfect parent and look how his kids turned out. And it would be presumptuous of us to think that we can do a better job of parenting than God. With God’s help, we do the best we can, but in the end, our children are responsible for their own choices. So we love them and we pray for them, but as parents we can only do so much, and at some point we have to and we should commend them into God’s care.
Now, getting back to the relay of faith, all of us can run this relay, regardless of the circumstances of our birth, no matter what has happened in our lives up to this point, and whether we are young or old, poor or rich, healthy or infirmed, we can all play a part in the torch relay with eternal significance.
Imagine a triangle with 3 sides, and the foundation of the triangle is “Love.” Sharing our faith is all about love! It starts with God’s love for us, and it continues with our love for other people. The one side of the triangle is “Be Yourself.” The gifts, abilities and personality that God has given to you are just the right package for sharing in the circumstances he will place you in. And sharing will be much more natural when you are being yourself. The third side of the triangle is to watch and wait for those “Divine Appointments” that God will open up for you. You don’t have to force those situations to happen. God will arrange it all.
Then there are six levels in the triangle, and those levels represent the different tasks that we can do as we run the relay of faith. The bottom level is Pray. Everyone can pray. If we are flat on your back in a hospital bed, we can pray that others would have the flame of faith given to them. Next, we can serve, and serving someone else can build a relationship so that those spiritual conversations about Jesus can happen. The next level is to invite people to a special event where they can hear about Jesus. That part of what we are trying to do on Sunday morning: we want to worship God is such a way that you feel comfortable inviting your unchurched friends. That is what we are doing with our Olympic Hospitality efforts: create events to which you can invite your family, friends and neighbours. All of us have a story of how Jesus has impacted our lives, and we can practice our story so that when the invitation comes, we can share our faith story with others. As we go further up the triangle, not all of us have the gifts and abilities to do these things, but some of us do. Some are gifted with the ability to explain about Jesus in ways that resonate with others. And some of us have the ability to convey God’s message into other people’s lives so that it transforms them. The power isn’t in us, it is in God’s Word, but some seem to be able to say it in just the right way at just the right time.
And so I hope that you see yourself somewhere on this triangle. Jesus loves you and he has already given you everything you need to run the relay of faith.
People will be gathering to watch the Olympic torch pass through our community tomorrow. As you watch the torch in person or on the news, I invite you to look into the faces of the people watching and carrying the torch. Jesus loves every one of those people. And think what a joyous celebration it would be if we could celebrate with all of them the Good News that the true light that gives light to everyone has come into the world. (cf. John 1:9) Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on 7 February 2010.)