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Training for the Prize

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Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Notes of Introduction

It’s been my personal goal to preach through the gospels starting with last year and Matthew, this year is Mark, and next year is Luke. As I was doing my preliminary reading of the texts, my thoughts kept going back to the epistle from St. Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthian church, which is a brief break from our journey through Mark. You’ll understand why in a bit.

Introduction part 2

Many of you if not most of you know that I am not a fan of winter, the long cold,dark winter days affect me. I’m thinking its more the darkness, but yet when the calendar turns to February, my mind begins to ease, you begin to see the first signs of spring. February although can be long, is still an exciting time for some.
Over the next ten days several exciting things are happening when it comes to training for a prize. First off in chronological order, today you could almost consider to be a national holiday. The Philadelphia Eagles to the chagrin of most of you are facing off against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52, a mere 4 1/2 hours from here. Today is the day that NFL Players are playing for, whether you are the Browns or the Patriots. You are training for this day…training to raise the Lombardi trophy at the end of the game. On Thursday of this week, athletes from across the globe will come into South Korea and compete in the Winter Olympics, training for the gold medal prize…training to be the best in the world in their own individual sport.
And in just ten days, the most wonderful time of the year begins…and in this case I’m not talking Lent or my Ninth Wedding Anniversary…I’m talking the return of Baseball, fans of the Brewers have high hopes this year for what could be our year. Spring Training begins, the training of hoping to play baseball well into October. Oh and there’s more…The Amazing Race, teams from all over the country, racing around the world to take home the million dollar prize. No doubt these teams train for all sorts of grueling physical and mental tasks. Oh and don’t forget March Madness is right around the corner! All these things for me bring a glimmer of hope that Spring is yes right around the corner, along with warmer days and new life appearing.
Yet, all of them, all these athletes, are training for a prize that will someday perish. The Lombardi Trophy, the Gold Medals, the World Series Trophy, and even the million dollars will one day perish. You see, these prizes, won’t go with you for eternity. Our text for today calls us to be in training, training for a different prize. A prize that is imperishable!

Training - Discipline

What are you training for? How long have you been in training for this imperishable prize? Some of you for decades, others for years, still others for months or shorter. Training involves a certain sense of discipline. Think about how athletes train…they need to be disciplined. They keep a regimen. Some of them even to what they eat, when they sleep, how much cardio work out, weight training, and still more. Athletes are training for a prize
And so are you:

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

An athlete is called to practice self-control. Perhaps in the days of the Ismthian Games, the games in Paul’s day like the Olympics, athletes would train for pride and the perishable wreath. Today athletes, many of them, do not seem to have much self-control. Many seem to be in it for money, fame, popularity, status, etc. Self-control seems to be going out the window when it comes to athletes, especially the professional ones.
Yet, Paul writes, every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath. But we an imperishable. What is St. Paul doing here? We heard him say that he becomes all things to all people…but now, he is comparing us to an athlete. And yes, it makes perfect sense. Our Christian race involves training and self-control. Do you practice self-control in all things? I know I don’t. And the chief part of our body that doesn’t exercise self-control is our tongues. Many times your tongue and mine gets us into trouble because we do not practice self-control.
St. Paul says that he does not run aimlessly, he does not box as one beating the air. He disciplines his body to keep it under control.
In this word discipline, the word disciple comes out of it. To be a disciple is to be disciplined in our practice. In order to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, one needs to be in self-control, one cannot be running aimlessly or just beating the air.
How do we falter in our self-control? How do we run aimlessly? How do we just beat the air? Your listening the words of the world. Your church attendance is wavering, it’s not consistent. Your time in God’s Word and prayer may be non-existent. Perhaps you are apathetic. Perhaps all you do is think about your gain, what you want. Maybe all you want is what you think is best for you and not for your fellow Christian.
Discipline in the Christian Life, in our Christian witness is not practiced as it ought to be. Whether it’s in our vocations as family members, students, workers, or yes as Church Members, members of the body of Christ.
So my question this morning for you is this? Do Athletes train in the same way as they did years ago? In some ways yes…they did cardio, they lifted weights, they watched what they put into their bodies.
And yes, even in training for the imperishable wreath, the tools needed are the same…God’s Word, Prayer, Baptism, Lord’s Supper. All of these things help keep your body under control. They all keep it in the right training regimen.
Yet, today, athletes run the race, play the game differently as it was. For example in the NFL they didn’t wear face-masks on their helmets, today they do. Times changes, the way the game is played is different.
This is true also for the church, many of the ways we train are the same. Being lifelong learners of the faith is part of our training, and that hasn’t changed. Being in the Word of God, being constant in prayer, coming to the Lord’s house, receiving His gifts, practicing confession and forgiveness hasn’t changed. Our doctrine does not change…but our way carrying out the Gospel message does.
And in this process, churches can lose focus. They can be caught up running aimlessly. The purpose of the Church is share God’s Word, to give people Jesus, to offer hope amidst a world that offers no hope. The purpose of the Church is not to be social club. It’s not to be a place where the only purpose is to keep the lights on. We are to love God and love others. Serve God and serve others. Not just focusing merely on ourselves, but also serving the community that we have around us…and around you in your daily vocations. The charge was simple yet complex…Go into the World and make disciples.

The Savior’s Disciplined life

Dear people of God the task is given to you. Yet the training is hard work, ask any athlete if they are sore in the morning, if their muscles hurt. Training for and living out the Christian faith in your daily vocations is hard work. Many times it will hurt, physically, emotionally, and perhaps at points spiritually.
Dear people of God the task is given to you. Yet the training is hard work, ask any athlete if they are sore in the morning, if their muscles hurt. Training for and living out the Christian faith in your daily vocations is hard work. Many times it will hurt, physically, emotionally, and perhaps at points spiritually.
With any discipline process. With any training process, one needs an encourager, and for teams, they need a coach. We have one that is that for us.
In our Gospel reading, we hear the Savior of the World, in training...
Lutheran Service Book Three Year Lectionary Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.

He lived out the discipline process perfectly for you. He practiced self-control in everything He did, whether it was in his healing ministry, casting out demons, or in His preaching. He lived it for you.
His disciplined life was a lifetime process, just as your is. However, with our coach, more than coach, rather our Savior, was disciplined, kept his body and soul in self-control in thought, word, and deed, even while he was hated, spoken of evilly, and to the point of being killed by the hands of evil men. He was disciplined on the Cross. Instead of words of hate for his enemies he spoke words of love and forgiveness, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
He was humbling himself in discipline to the point of death and burial…and now God the Father has exalted Him. God the Father raised Him from the dead and Jesus Christ lives and reigns for you in all eternity. Jesus Christ lives for you and he promised that the encourager would come…the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost, He came in to the Gentiles and He came to you in your baptism and continues to be present with you in the Word and Sacraments. Jesus Christ promised and gave you the Holy Spirit as the one who you keeps you in the one true faith. He is the one that encourages you in your sanctified life. He is the one along with the Father and the Son who is constantly involved in making you Holy as you continue to train.
For yes, even while we run this race of the Christian life, our training is never over. It’s a life-long process of discipline and self-control. It’s not just the days or months that are leading up to a one time event…it’s life long, and its hard work. It takes time, dedication, and discipline to be a disciple and that time, dedication, and discipline is given to through the Triune God who loves you.
And yes, this race will be long. It will be hard to keep the pace, and keep the faith…if you try to do it on your own. You need Christ, you need the Holy Spirit, you need your brothers and sisters in Christ to encourage you. And yes, Christ has chosen you, he has broken you of our sins dread prison. He has brought you into the light. He has healed you of your greatest disease, and today He continues to guide you in your life of faith as you hear and receive His Word.
In Jesus Name. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds and keep them focused in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.
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