About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

When the Finish Line is Moved

2013-04-21 When the Finish Line is Moved


Ecclesiastes 9:7-12

7 Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do. 8 Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head.9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.
11 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. 12 For no one can anticipate the time of disaster. Like fish taken in a cruel net, and like birds caught in a snare, so mortals are snared at a time of calamity, when it suddenly falls upon them.


Deuteronomy 27:17

"Cursed be anyone who moves a neighbor's boundary marker." All the people shall say, "Amen!"


There's now a generation of us who will hear someone say, "Boston Marathon," and we'll think of last Monday's bombing. Instead of runners and glory, instead of the history and the good, we'll think of the tragedy. The news video. We'll remember the blast of white smoke. We'll think of the shock wave pounding into the runners just this close to the finish line.

I don't want to. I wish I could get the images out of my mind. I know I'm going to remember the older gentleman running in the center of the street. You know the man I'm talking about. The wave hits him. His legs go wobbly. His body twists as he falls.

Someone moved the finish line.


Deuteronomy 27:17 says, "Cursed be anyone who moves a neighbor's boundary marker." All the people shall say, "Amen!"

Back in Old Testament days, you marked the end of your property with a stone. It was a very grave offense for someone to come along and move that stone. It was a crime. Equal to murder, in Deuteronomy's list. The stone stayed put. You did not move it. You did not change it. It stood for a line you did not cross.

The boundary stone was about way more than property. It was about way more than what's mine and what's yours. Your boundaries defined your identity. You shaped the land and the land shaped you. For someone to come along and move that stone was more than disrespect; it was stealing a piece of your life.

But even more than property, even more than personal identity, the stone was a spiritual, sacred boundary. You knew that ultimately, the land wasn't yours. Ultimately, the land belonged to God. God in great goodness, in merciful love, had shared that land with you. A divine gift. This is why a law about a boundary stone is in the Bible. For someone to move that stone not only was disrespect, not only robbed a piece your self. For someone to move that stone rearranged your soul. It changed your connection to God. It was a capital offense.

You did not move that stone. This was a line you did not cross.

But sometimes, it WAS moved. Because that's what people do.


Some of you are runners. A few of you have competed in marathons. I know one of you has run the Boston Marathon. Some of you swim. Some row. Some do bike races. There is something special... we might even say spiritual... about The Finish Line.

You train. You work out. You practice until you become ill. On the day of the competition, you're focused like a laser on your goal. You want to cross The Finish Line. Maybe you're such a tuned athlete that all you can think of is crossing The Finish Line first. Maybe the victory for you is just crossing The Finish Line, at all. You don't care how fast or how well, you just want to be able to say you did it.

The Finish Line doesn't have to be sports. It can be passing the hardest class you've ever taken. To be the first in your family to graduate. To get the job you've worked your butt off for. (Is it OK to say "butt" in church? I guess I should say, "donkey.") Getting through chemo. Buying your first home. Those are Finish Lines, too.

Whether it's a mark on the ground or heartfelt, "I did it!" doesn't matter. The Finish Line is way more than a ribbon between two poles. It's a boundary between who you are and who you want to be. It's the line between who you used to be and who you are now. It's a sign of the grace of God. The Finish Line is a boundary stone.

For someone to move that stone steals a piece of your soul. For someone to move your finish line robs you, deep inside. It violates the sacred lines we do not cross.

In Boston, last Monday, someone moved the finish line.

And we all are feeling the shock waves.


Every time something like this happens, another line is crossed. Every time there's another human tragedy, committed by humans against other, innocent humans, a boundary stone is moved.

Maybe you're thinking the stones are getting closer and closer. The area of personal, spiritual safety is squeezed smaller every day. It takes a toll. It takes a toll on our emotions. We think, "What now?" It takes a toll on our nation. "Please, not again." We say we're not going to let the terrorists change us, but gun sales keep going up. We check for the exits in public places. We worry when we drop our kids off at school. We pull the stones of our boundaries closer, and closer.

I can't believe that's what God wants.

Right after verse 17 from Deuteronomy, in the middle of all these curses and laws, comes verse 18.

It says, "Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind person on the road." All the people shall say, "Amen!"

And then, verse 19:
"Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice." All the people shall say, "Amen!"

God knows the land is dangerous. God knows the boundaries will be moved. But God also knows WE can move them back. We can CHOOSE to expand our boundaries instead of constricting them. We can CHOOSE to restore the dignity of people whose lives have been unfinished by cruelty. We can expand our neighbors' boundaries. We can encircle them in our own. We can cross the lines of fear, we can erase the lines of hatred, we can put down the stones of violence. We can choose to restore hope.


There was something else on those videos Monday night. And I hope this is what we really remember. At the moment of shock and chaos, people ran IN. At the time of greatest danger, in the face of death, people ran TOWARDS the destruction. People went TO the injured. People raced as fast as their legs would take them INTO the smoke, INTO the debris, INTO the terror. They crossed the lines for good. Because that's what people do.

Patton Oswalt, a keen observer of humanity's best and worst, noticed this, too. And Tuesday morning, he wrote words that sound like they might have come from Ecclesiastes:

"This is a giant planet, and we're lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in a while, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they're pointed toward darkness.

"But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

"So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance, or fear, or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, "The good outnumber you, and we always will."

Cross the boundaries of fear. Cross the lines, for good.


On Tuesday morning, a lot of people were wondering about that older gentleman from the videos, the one who got knocked to the ground from the bomb blast.

His name is Bill Iffrig and he's from Lake Stevens, Washington. He's 78 years old. A retired mason worker. This was his third Boston Marathon.

After the blast, a race official helped Mr. Iffrig to his feet. He realized he was only about 10 feet from the finish line. So, he set his eyes on it, and walked across, and finished the race.

He said, "After you've run 26 miles, you're not going to stop there."

He finished second in his age group.

He then walked another half-mile back to his hotel and called his family to tell them he was OK.


"Cursed be anyone who moves a neighbor's boundary marker."

But blessed be anyone who restores a neighbor's wholeness. Blessed be anyone who lifts up a person's dignity. Blessed be anyone who helps to heal what is hurt, and rebuild that which is broken.

Fight the good fight. Finish the race. Keep the faith.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.


- James McTyre