Third Sunday in Lent- Fr. Chris Duncan- March 4, 2018

March 4, 2018

After hearing an escaped convict from nearby Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary only made it 8 miles into the surrounding dense mountainous forest after 55 hours on the lam…Gary Cantrell, a.k.a. Lazarus Lake, couldn’t help but mock the man’s lack of stamina. He said to himself “I could do at least 100 miles” and thus, the Barkley Marathon was born. You might have heard about his unusual race through a recent Netflix’s documentary, but for those that haven’t, the race is named after Lazarus’ longtime neighbor Barry Barkley and is limited to only 40 runners each year. At an unannounced time each year, the registration opens with each applicant having to complete an essay on “Why I Should be Allowed to Run in the Barkley” and also pay the application fee of $1.60.There are also other random requirements subject to change each year. If accepted, each entrant receives a letter of condolence. Once the race day arrives, each participant is given their first number with the #1 reserved for the person Lazarus believes to be the least likely to finish even one 20-mile lap. Lazarus calls this person “the sacrifice.”

The course itself is five laps of a roughly 20-mile unmarked loop through the mountainous woods of Tennessee. I say roughly 20-miles because it changes annually and therefore estimates put the loops anywhere from 20 to 26 miles depending on the year. Each racer has 60 hours to complete the course… Remember, this is Lazarus being generous since he believed he could have covered the 100 miles in 55 hours. Once all the runners are present on the appointed day, the race can start anytime between midnight and noon. No one knows when it will start as Lazarus gives the signal randomly when he feels like it. To ensure the racers actually complete each loop, nine to 11 books are hidden along the unmarked course and each racer must find the random book and rip out the page corresponding to their race number with the race numbers changing each lap.

As I am sure you can imagine… This is a difficult race. In fact, it is considered by many to be the most difficult race in the world. This is made evident by the fact that out of over 800 starts in the 20 plus year history of the race, there has only been 18 finishes by 15 different people. That is only a 2% finish rate. Truly this is a preposterous journey, but one that tries the human spirit and will…

The journey of Lent also seems preposterous to many from the outside looking in. And yet, we know that what seems absurd to others is in fact pious preparation to more fully appreciate and celebrate the resurrection. Therefore, the Lenten journey does indeed try the human spirit and will. That makes sense, since the whole idea is based off the gospel lesson we heard three weeks ago when goes into the wilderness for 40 days to fast and be tempted after his baptism. And here we are on the third Sunday in Lent, the equivalent of being somewhere on lap 3 in the Barkley Marathon, and the journey is beginning to drag. The liturgy or worship mood is somber, a lot of the music is in minor keys, and the exuberance of Epiphany, much less Christmas, has long since faded. There aren’t even flowers behind the altar. Yes, even the zeal we once had for our pious practices or acts of fasting is diminishing. As we cross this threshold, our journey raises the question, “When will we leave this wilderness?” or better yet “What have I signed myself up for?”

It is fitting therefore, that in today’s Old Testament lesson, it is at this metaphorical 3rd lap of the Barkley Marathon that we pick-up with the Israelites in their journey across the wilderness to the Promise Land. The Israelites have had plenty of excitement to start off their trip. There was the Passover, the showdown at the Red Sea, manna from heaven, and water from rocks. But now, they find themselves beginning to ask, “When will we leave this wilderness journey?” “What have I signed myself up for?”

However, throughout scripture, it is in the wilderness, on the journey, that the Israelites truly encounter God and learn that they are dependent on their Creator. This is where the Ten Commandments and the Jewish Law come into the journey. Sure, they can feel like such a burden at times. After all, even many prominent, powerful, and faithful people have broken these commandments including Moses himself, King David, the prophets, and the apostles. The Ten Commandments along with the many other laws of Moses are in fact not a burden but rather a gift. They are an opportunity to deepen our relationships with one another and more importantly, an opportunity to deepen our relationship with God. On any strenuous journey, it is easy to feel like it is dragging, but there is real beauty that would be missed if you forgot to look around. Likewise, the Law given to Moses shares a beautiful vision of the covenant between God and Israel. It points to what the relationship could be in its finest capacity.

Along the Israelites’ journey, God has continually shown his love by providing food, water, protection, and guidance. Now, after years of slavery, the Israelites face two daunting tasks. The first is simply this: how are they going to structure their common life together out of Egypt? And the second task before them is to discover how they are going to live as God’s chosen people through whom God will reveal his love and mercy to the world. Truly these are daunting tasks!

When looking at the Ten Commandments, we find that there is a natural order. There are two tablets or sections. The first tablet attends to God. This is where we hear things like “You shall have no other gods before me…” These commands center on God and our interactions with the Divine. They speak to us about how to live in right relationship with the God who created us, saves us, and loves us. The second tablet attends to our neighbors. These commandments help us to be in right relationship with every person no matter who they are. This second tablet gives parameters that guide our communal life together. Without them, we face the danger of falling into chaos and hate.

On one hand we attend to God and on the other we attend to neighbor. You might remember Jesus’ summary of the law. In short, he said, Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. In Jesus’ words, he summarizes the first and second tablets of the Ten Commandments: duty to and love for God and neighbor. God and neighbor. These are our priorities. And as we discover how to live in a way that is respectful of both God and our neighbor, we learn that the two are inexplicably intertwined.

In our Lenten journey that is beginning to stretch out like the Barkley Marathon we are reminded that we still have a ways to go. We are also reminded that we are not perfect and yet still loved by God… We have the summary of the Law to help direct us when we are lost or when we fall: Love the Lord and our neighbors. And through that commandment we come to both know and share the love and grace of our savior… A love and grace that will be made evident from the cross to the grave and from the grave to the resurrection.

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Sunday Services
8:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist, Rite I
9:15 a.m. Christian Formation
10:30 a.m. Holy Eucharist, Rite II

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Wednesday 12:00 p.m. Holy Eucharist

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