Bible Passages 1 Corinthians 9:19-27 John 18:33-38a
Last Tuesday morning around 6:30 I rode my bike around the corner between Emmanual and Union and turned onto Upland road heading towards the Esplanade. As I cycled towards Kings College a torrent of young men in grey and blue poured out of the gate of Kings. A torrent of sinew and muscle. A torrent filled with hope and expectation. Leading the group of freshers were some of the RAs and exec. Then running alongside the freshers and bringing up the rear the same. A community of young men subjecting your bodies to a fitness regime: per chance death PT.
As I thought about what to say this evening that imagery of you off for your morning run played on my mind and I was drawn to a letter written by Paul to a small community of Christians in Corinth not quite 2000 years ago. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one wins the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.”
Many of you here are already excellent athletes and you understand the rigours of training and you understand that being an athlete is as much about your mind and your spirit as it is about your body. The self-control that is needed and the discipline required engages all of who you are if you are going to excel and win the race.
The race of which Paul was writing is not simply a print but is a distance event. He is referring to the race of life itself. And towards the end of the passage he asserts, “I do not run aimlessly” - he has a purpose and a direction that he is going. The fundamental question this raises for each one of us here is, “What kind of race are you running through life?”
Do you know where you are headed? Can you see the markers along the way? When you get towards the end of your life will you look back and see a life well-lived? Do you even know who has set the course you are on? What does it mean for you to be a man? And what does it mean for you to be a king’s man?
Paul clearly understands that his life is about sharing the good news of Jesus. He indicates that he is willing to become something that he is not in order that others might know about who Jesus is and what God has done through Jesus. For Paul it is the message of Jesus and the sense of the call to follow Jesus that defines his life. Jesus is the one who forgives, who draws us into God’s life, who shows us what sacrifice means. Jesus is a teacher and a guide to be followed.
The idea of putting something of oneself aside for of the sake of others has a personal implication for me standing here tonight among this community at Kings. When I came to UQ I stayed at Cromwell College but when I come to Kings and I join with you I feel that I have been accepted and become part of your community.
I desire to be one with you so that you might know the one whom I identify as the true king. The one whom I think sets the true standard for what it means to be a king’s man, when we understand Jesus to be king.
In the reading from John that we heard Jesus is standing before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. He has been accused of claiming that he is the king of the Jews.
The conversation that flows indicates that Jesus understands that his kingdom is not of this world. This world in which live now is shaped by the sanctification of the free market and the buying and selling of goods. That is the race that the world is inviting to run. A race focussed on consumption and individualism.
Even within the broader academic and scientific community the sanctification of the free market is under scrutiny.
The philosopher Zygmunt Bauman asks the question in the title his book “Does ethics have a chance in a world of consumers?” Is there a desire for the common good in this environment? I dare say that the answer is no.
For Jesus the kingdom of God, the rule of God in his life was not subject to the Roman rule but came from beyond this world. It came from God. It is a kingdom which we are invited to be part of, a race we are invited to run. It sets a different standard for what it means to live.
The exchange between Jesus and Pilate ends with a powerful question that all of us must grapple with: “What is truth?” What is the truth of my life? What is the truth of your life? What is the truth of this world and this universe? Here again is the question of the purpose and meaning of life. It is the same question that we asked before: “What race are you running through life?” “What is the truth that is shaping that race?”
These are deeply held spiritual questions. I am going to confess I do not have all of the answers. Rather, what I have is faith that accompanies my uncertainty and doubt. A faith that points me in a direction towards Jesus, just as Paul was heading that way. For me this is not about certainty but hope.
One of the books I am currently reading is called “This Will Make You Smarter” – I am hoping it does. There is a section written by scientists that promotes the importance of uncertainty – good science they argue is more about not being certain and being curious. I would argue the same is true of spirituality and God.
The motto of Kings is “The truth shall set you free”. The truth that you buy in to, whether you do so consciously or not, sets the course of the race that you will run. It is my conviction that the race that Paul ran is worthy of your time and effort as well. To have the curiosity uncertainty and doubt that is accompanied by a willingness to trust and follow. To follow Jesus and to listen to him in your race through life.
The Master Greg speaks of seeking to achieve at the highest level here at King’s – to become elite but not elitist! I would encourage you to contemplate not simply the physical and mental side of the race you will run but the spiritual as well. I would concur with Greg that in this place you should seek after excellence but to do so with humility, it is one of the core values of the community. To remember that Kings was founded by followers of Jesus and the race that you are invited to run is a race which not conditioned to this world but one which has higher aspirations, the kingdom of God.
So run the race, run with purpose, run towards Jesus, seek his truth - find hope and purpose in life and may God bless you all this year.