Running a holy (and sweaty) race

This week, I began a Couch to 5k training program organized by a member of my congregation.

I'm not a new runner (but I'm a very slow runner), and this is not the first 5k I've trained for. But I have friends who are doing this program, and I thought it would be fun to run in community instead of simply by myself.

My goal (and subsequent training plan) is to improve my speed and stamina, which means pushing myself in workouts. Where other folks in the group do walk/run intervals, I am set up to do jog/run intervals. Let me tell you, I know that it will be good for me, and I will feel great if I am able to improve my pace and my skill as a runner. But I am also a little scared, and a little resistant.

Because here's the thing. In life, I know what I am good at. And I know what I am bad at. I tend to organize my time around the things that come easily to me, as I'm sure most of us do. And I generally avoid things for which I don't have natural aptitude.

Running falls squarely in the middle of these things. I'm not good, if we're talking winning races or running marathons. But I'm not bad, if we're talking about the basic desire and ability to get out and get moving.

Most of me would be entirely happy doing the basic training plan, which would be comfortable, and far less sweaty, and take far less work to do. While I feel a little excited about the possibility of self-improvement, I also wish that I could just run at my own comfortable, mediocre level, and not be required to push myself to get better.

It's always so easy to gravitate toward what is comfortable. And it is so easy to resist self-improvement, because that takes work.

And it gets even more complicated in the life of faith. I'm a good Lutheran, which means that "saved by grace through faith and not by works" is the bread and butter of my theology. It's what I preach and what I believe. That God loves me and loves you by his grace alone, and not by merit. I don't have to become a better person before God will love and accept me.

But there is danger in this sort of theology. Danger because it is easy to cheapen this grace, and to use it as an excuse to stay stagnant in whatever mediocre levels of compassion, love, and holiness we are comfortable with.

The thing about God's grace, though, is that it is like that trainer standing on the side of the track. She cheers you on, and loves and praises you for the effort that you have mustered up in that very moment...but she also pushes you to grow and to become better.

In the Bible, we hear God say things like "Be holy, as I the Lord your God am holy," and "Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect."

This is the challenge of the grace that God has shown us. Grace doesn't let us stand still. God certainly takes us for who we are, and loves us in this very moment, and forgives us independent of our merit. But he also stands on the side of the track and pushes us, because he knows our great capacity for love and compassion. He knows that the grace we have been shown can and should overflow as we live lives that increasingly show grace and mercy to others.

So let's re-imagine holiness today. Let's remember that God is in the business of transformation. And so the grace that we know is the grace that changes us, that pushes us, that transforms us into God's holy people for the sake of the world. It's not easy. It takes work. It is uncomfortable. But it is a blessing, and a joy, and it is the beauty of our creative God, working in us and through us.

Remind me of this good news when I finish next week's workout, all sweaty and red-faced, okay?