I may have admitted this before, but if not, I was terrible at PE. There, I’ve admitted it to the world; I was appalling. When teams were being chosen in a PE lesson I was always the last to be selected, it was like a constant re-run of those heart-rending scenes from Ken Loache’s film, ‘Kes’. So looking out from the Deanery every day, walking to and from the Cathedral, every day, I’m passed by so many runners, in their Lycra, putting themselves through their paces and I’m reminded of my physical inadequacies. Many of those runners at this time of the year will be getting themselves race-ready for the London Marathon. All credit to them.
In fact, however, I was happier doing a long distance run when I was at school than playing a team sport. The prescribed route took us from the playing fields at the rear of our school, across the railway bridge, along a length of the Grand Union Canal and then back through a housing estate to the school. I’ve always assumed that as we disappeared over the horizon the staff went and had a coffee and awaited our return. That was the premise I worked on which allowed me to walk the rest of the route until we were back in sight of the school. That was why I enjoyed it. So no Marathon for me!
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, however, is keen on running as a metaphor for the Christian life.
‘Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.’ (Hebrews 12.1-2)
and St Paul uses similar ideas in his First Letter to the Corinthians
‘Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.’ (1 Corinthians 9.24-17)
But with every race there’s a start and finishing line just as there is in the Christian life, something to which we look, a place from which we start, a leader who sets the pace. Which is what made the announcement by the Prime Minister on Tuesday such a surprise. We were all expecting an easing back into the parliamentary summer term as they, like our schools, returned after the Easter break. We were assuming that all energy and concentration would be on the urgent negotiations following the triggering of Article 50. And anyway, there was a Fixed Term Parliament Act in place so that politics could not be manoeuvred and engineered at the whim of a PM! We should never assume anything. So the starting pistol was fired (even before the debate the following day in the Commons) and the race was on towards the finishing line on 8 June.
Though Brenda from Bristol (the surprise star of social media since her honest and disbelieving response to the news of another election) may represent the views of many of us, in fact many people seeming to be saying ‘bring it on’. Politicians need to be able to respond with freedom to the events of the last two years in this country and we all need to register our feelings on a number of issues, not just Brexit.
Christians need to be there, in the race, standing for election and engaging with the issues. The care of the elderly, the NHS, prisons, the farming community, the rural and urban poor, the environment, overseas aid, defence, schools, immigration, you name it, people of faith have a view on it because God has a view on it. Mary makes that clear when she sings the Magnificat to her cousin Elizabeth; Jesus makes that clear when he reads Isaiah to his family and neighbours; Paul makes that clear when he tells the Council of Jerusalem that he’ll concentrate on the poor.
One of the heroes of the modern church and a saint of our time, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, got it exactly right when he said
‘I am puzzled by which Bible people are reading when they suggest that religion and politics don’t mix.’
And speaking about the Millennium Development Goals back in 2006 he said
‘I don’t preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn’t say, “Now is that political or social?” He said, “I feed you.” Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.’
Tutu is a marathon runner for Gospel justice. As Paul said to the Christians in Corinth, who knew all about the Games, ‘Run in such a way that you may win it.’ Witness to that in the race that is set before us – even I will be running and that’s saying something!
God of justice,
God of peace,
God of the poor
and of the rich,
empower and inspire us
in the race set before us
and keep our eye on the goal
of your kingdom.