Toward the end of my senior year of college (7 years ago now), I gave this sermon during one of our Sunday morning worship services. Every year about this time, I am reminded of this sermon and the words I spoke – I find these words ring more and more true for me with each passing year. This year for Easter, I’d like to share my senior sermon with a new audience. I hope it resonates with you.
“Here I am, Lord”
I love this line: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
When I was a sophomore in high school, my friend Misty and I ran track together. Misty was a senior, and before each meet, she would make a kind of “note of encouragement” for me. On a regular sheet of notebook paper, she would write inspirational phrases or attach short, funny stories that she cut out of the newspaper. The phrases and newspaper clippings changed from track meet to track meet, but one phrase remained the same. Down at the bottom of the paper, she would write, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
I don’t remember now why Misty gave me these notes. She and I didn’t go to church together, and we really only saw each other at track practice. I really have no idea how the notes started, but I do remember how much I looked forward to them.
I was usually really nervous on the day of a race, and her notes helped calm me down. I would get out onto the track for the start of my race, and her note would be in my head. Now I want to explain the way a race starts. You have three commands: “ready” means you crouch down, slide your feet onto the starting blocks, and wait in anticipation. Then you hear “set” and “go!” I’d be standing at the starting line, the coach would shout “ready” and we’d get down into our starting blocks. In that moment between the “ready” and the “set… go!” I would stare at the white line in front of me, my heart pounding a mile a minute, and I would repeat to myself, “I can do this. I can do this. I can do all things through Christ who strengths me. I can do this.” Sometimes I placed well, and sometimes I didn’t. But I never felt ready to run without saying to myself, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Misty graduated that year, and the next two years of track were a little different without her notes. But I never changed my routine. The line she gave me before every race kept playing in my head between the “ready” and the “set… go” at the starting line.
It may seem like such a small matter to ask for strength before a race, but as I have grown to discover, that act of asking for strength is so important at so many times in our lives, and it can also be one of the toughest requests we make.
I think sometimes in life we can feel like we’re stuck at the starting line, and we don’t know quite what to do or where to turn. We can’t move from the “ready” to the “set… go.” Sometimes we can’t even get to the “ready.”
We feel far from God, or we think that no one – not even God – hears us. We pray, but we don’t see the answers to our prayers, or maybe we’re afraid to pray because we don’t know what the answers will be.
Four years after Misty shared this scripture with me, I encountered one of the hardest moments in my life and in my faith. During February of my sophomore year of college, my grandmother entered the hospital. She was supposed to be there for a quick operation, but after the operation, there were complications and she just kept getting worse. I was angry because I didn’t understand what was wrong. I was angry because I prayed for her to get better and she kept getting worse. I was angry because I wasn’t sure what to pray for any more. I was just really angry.
Over spring break that year, I was home with my family, and my uncle called us from the hospital to say that my grandma had taken a real turn for the worse. She might only have hours left. My dad left me at home while he went to pick my mother up from work and my sister up from the high school. We were going to drive the two hours from my house to my grandparents’ home.
While my dad drove to get my sister and my mom, I sat in the house. I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to do. I felt like I was floating and I wanted to attach myself to something. Finally, I sat down at the piano and I pulled out the sheet music to “Here I am, Lord.” I had saved the song from our previous Sunday worship here on campus. I don’t know how to play the piano, but I managed to pluck out the main melody with my right hand. I sat there and played the song over and over and over. Sometimes I sang, and sometimes I just played the music. “Here I am, Lord. I will go, Lord, if you lead me.” I kept playing it again and again and again until my family arrived home and we headed for the hospital.
My grandmother died a few days later, and it took me a long while to realize that it wasn’t God’s job to make my grandmother better. God couldn’t just make her healthy again because I prayed for her to get better. That’s not quite how prayer works. I don’t really know how it works, but I do know that when I needed the strength to face the hospital that day, I found it through that song.
As my sister read for us, “When I was really hurting, I prayed to the Lord. He answered my prayer, and took my worries away.” The thing that I had to learn and that I’m still learning actually is that God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we expect, but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t listening and hurting and caring right along with us. God will make us strong even in our pain.
God didn’t make my grandma better, but God did make me better able to deal with the difficult times. It’s the same lesson that I found on the track in high school. Even though I prayed at the starting line of every race, I didn’t come in first every time. I didn’t come in second, third, fourth or fifth a lot of times, but that was okay because I still finished every race.
It takes a lot of courage to pray and to say, “Here I am, Lord” because we don’t always know the answers that we will find. But it’s also comforting to know that we have someone always looking out for us and always giving us strength. When we’re ready to ask for help or to just check in with that greater power, God will always be ready for us.
Our pastor once told me that God doesn’t move. We’re the ones who keep moving and changing. If we feel far from God, we need to examine our own lives and try to understand what’s going on. God didn’t go anywhere, but we did.
I think somewhere between the “ready” and the “set… go” God will be there to help us through. We don’t always know how, and we can’t always understand the answers that we find. But if we have faith, God won’t let us down. God will give us the strength to tackle whatever comes.
As a senior, I find myself right back at another starting line. I’ve gotten the command “ready” and I’m waiting for the “set… go.” I don’t know what to expect in the future. I can’t pray to God, “Dear God, please find me a job where I can make lots of money.” I won’t find my answer that way. But I can say, “Dear God, please help me to find the strength for whatever comes my way.”
As my mother read for us at the beginning of worship, “Help us to know you, [oh Lord,] to feel you, to hear you, help us to accept you as you accept each one of us, so that you may live in us just as we have our life in you.”
We can’t get off the starting line without God. We have to have the courage to ask for help. God will always provide the strength.
So I say, here I am, Lord. I can do it. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Ready! Set and go! Amen.