Saturday, April 09, 2011

Run the Race

I can’t actually believe that I had the audacity to preach a sermon last year based on the runners of previous day’s Grand National. It came to mind this morning as I was thinking about which horse would carry my hopes of winning not a huge sum of money but something.

Hebrew 12:1 was my starting point - “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”

For the uninitiated the Grand National Day is one of the few times of the year when the nation digs into their pockets to put a bet on. Sometimes it can be an office sweepstake where you hand over your £1 and put your hand into the hat and pull out a name. There are 40 horses charging around the course jumping over thirty fences of differing sizes and shapes and there is always a lot of controversy, a lot of action and so on. Animal Rights campaigners get very agitated with the race because they think it is animal cruelty with the length of the course, the conditions under which the race is run, the kind of jumps and the likelihood of horses being injured or killed. But as my sister says - if the horses don’t like the look of the fences they won’t jump them and any good trainer will not send out a horse onto the course if it is not adequately trained.

I found my notes - here are snippets from the sermon, posted because it's Grand National Day, and because it was a good sermon! The truths, you might say, are straight from the horse’s mouth.

King Johns Castle –It was a warm day yesterday and a number of jockeys once they had reached the starting line got off their horses to give them a break from carrying them before the race began. As all the horses gathered for the start of the race, they climbed back on and lined up – except for King John’s Castle. It took a few minutes to get the jockey remounted. The horses were all away except for King John’s Castle. He stood stock still. He didn’t want to race.

What do you think the trainer is going to do with the horse when they get back to the stable? The horse is not going to be destroyed and made into burgers! King John’s Castle came second in the Grand National in 2008. Yesterday he had an off day. It happens.

We have off days. We have times in our lives when we just don’t seem to be moving anywhere. We don’t seem to take up the opportunities that come our way and perhaps we are inclined to beat ourselves up about it. We are not judged by God on the basis of one race moment and we shouldn’t judge ourselves on that either.

God has an eternal perspective on things.

Joe Lively - About half of the races in Britain each year are handicaps. In a handicap race the better horses in the race are given the extra weights to carry. It gives the not so good horses a chance to run against the better ones. Joe was one of those better horses carrying heavier weights.

Only the best horses get to carry the weights – if this applied in a spiritual application that only the best Christians get to carry weights, you might find some comfort in that if you felt specially burdened – but it doesn’t apply. Everyone at some time in their life has burdens to carry. How heavy the burden isn’t really the issue – but how we carry, or how we cast that burden. God does put burdens upon us, but carries them anyway because He carries us.

“Throwing off everything that hinders” – what might be some of those things that hinder?

Joe Lively was a finisher – he came tenth.

Big Fella Thanks – Things didn’t quite go as expected. Ruby Walsh, the jockey, broke his arm in the previous race. It wasn’t planned. It was one of those things that life throws up. It’s not ideal, it’s not what the trainer wanted – but how do some people cope with unexpected changes?

The horse didn’t get put back in the trailer and driven home because the jockey broke his arm. The trainer found another jockey – not just any other jockey, but someone who was familiar with the horse. He swapped around the riders on his other horses, he got creative, switched about. Changes might surprise us…but they don’t surprise God.

Big Fella Thanks finished the race and came fourth.

Black Apalachi ran the race last year and fell at one of the fences the second circuit, the previous year he also fell at the second fence – not a great track record, perhaps.

How much do we allow past failure to dictate our future success?

Driving down to see my family involves a ten or eleven hour drive. The last drive back from Warwickshire had involved a tyre blow-out on the M6. The AA had come to the rescue and when I got home the tyres were replaced – BUT there was something inside that couldn’t be fixed as easily as the tryes – my imagination. Suddenly all long car journeys carried with them the possibility of a tyre blow out. I would have been happier if I could have hired a newer, more reliable car for the journey – but in the end Joe, the Daeoo and I made it.

Black Apalachi led for much of the race, didn’t fall over, battled for a while with the eventual winner and finished the race and came second.

Dont Push It – this is not so much about the horse this time around, but the jockey. “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The dictionary defines perseverence as “Steady persistence in adhering to a course of action, a belief, or a purpose; steadfastness.” A P McCoy had up until yesterday rode in some 3,000 races, broken arms and legs numerous times, rode in the national fourteen times before and never won – but yesterday he did it. He said in an interview afterwards, "If you get enough goes at something and you keep going, once you're in there you've always got a chance.”

Comparing the “race” that scripture talks about with the Grand National has its limits. In the world of horse racing it is not part of the race to stop your horse, dismount, go over to a fallen jockey, get him back onto his feet, give him a leg up back on to his horse, encourage him on his way, before remounting and getting on with the race. In the world of the Christtian race – it is compulsory. We should not be riding on when someone else has taken a tumble.

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