Last Saturday I did my second triathlon, the Ironman 70.3 on the Kohala coast of the Big Island. This triathlon consisted of a 1.2 mile swim at Hapuna, a 56 mile bike ride up to Hawi, followed by a 13.1 mile (half marathon) on the golf course of Mauna Lani. I have been training with friends since February of this year, and it was an amazing experience. About 2,000 athletes participated, and a lot of the race was simply electric. However, above everything else, the aspect which stood out the most for me were the amazing volunteers. The whole event could not happen without these dedicated helpers, and they worked really hard, just so that 2,000 athletes could test their limits in the harsh conditions of the Kohala coast.
Volunteers registered us, volunteers helped us with our transition gear, volunteers helped in the medical tents and the aid stations, and some volunteers even gave tired swimmers a little push to get them going on their bikes. None of them had to do any of these things, and yet they did it all by serving up smiles and good wishes. Just when you began to feel a little tired, there would be a smiling face ringing a cowbell and cheering you on. They would even call you by name, for our names were on our racing bibs. The Ironman races excel at doing many, many things; they have perfected the art of hospitality and welcome, and they really make people feel good about themselves. In the end, people and their accomplishments are celebrated, even if you screw up at different points during the race. Mistakes and mishaps are to be expected in an Ironman triathlon, but in the end none of that matters, for everyone gathers to celebrate the interesting people who commit to the process.
Sound like church? I hope so. Mistakes and mishaps occur all of the time during life - this is to be expected. As Christians we know that people can mess things up royally, but in the end, no one cares. After all, every little lamb is important to God our Father, and even if we are like the prodigal son, the Father is always ready to welcome us and even celebrate with us. Even more important, God needs you and me and everyone else at St. Mark's to be his volunteers. We are the ones to be at the aid stations of life, giving people a boost when they need it. We are to be the ones who show people their way through life's transitions when they are so exhausted they cannot see straight. We are to be the registrars, ready to show people how to become members of the Body of Christ at the font of baptism. We are to be the volunteers who celebrate people's victories at the great banquet on Sunday mornings. We are to be the volunteers who give people a little push, whether on their bikes or not, when someone needs encouragement to continue on with life's difficulties and journeys. Whether we call ourselves volunteers or disciples or members of a church, we are the ones to celebrate our God and his people in all of their messiness as well as glory. And hopefully, we can do all of this for each other as well.
When you complete the Ironman 70.3 they announce your name and your hometown for everyone to hear as you cross the finish line. It probably is not that different than the gates of heaven. When we cross over, our name is announced, and an incredible diversity is witnessed, and everyone rejoices. Whether people are entering into one of our churches, or they are entering into the gates of heaven, may the same phenomenon happen. A child of God enters, and everyone rejoices and celebrates their journey, and the whole community of saints and sinners continues the wonderful work of welcome and hospitality.
Father Paul Lillie+
Rector of St. Mark's