Hitting the Wall

(Sermon Preached on June 6, 2010)


 Today, I begin this message with a bit of a disclaimer. I imagine that out of all churches across this country, not many will share our topic. At Asbury, it has been our goal, to take our faith and these messages, and shake them up. We want our messages to be out of the box, yet I still chuckle at the all to frequent need to begin so many of them with a disclaimer. In the end, it is what it is.

First things, first; a bit of back story for you. This past week, I officially reached the half way point of my Marathon training plan. My running mileage has increased exponentially, I am getting faster, and I am on the verge of overcoming the mental block associated with the increased mileage. For me, it seems like the mental block has been my single greatest challenge.

The theory goes that there is several points in a long distance run where your body starts to temporarily shut down. For some, that first block is at 10 or 15 miles, the second usually hits at about 20. Its very real, and all too often it stops you dead in your tracks. Its called “hitting the wall”.

That wall is there, thanks to a specific chemical in your body, called Glycogen. Glycogen, in a nutshell, is the energy that your body uses to power your leg muscles. Glycogen is your body’s long term storage of energy. When your muscles fire, glycogen burns; plain and simple.

Unfortunately for the long distance runner, science has shown that the average person only has about 10-12 miles worth of glycogen reserves in their body. Sadly, the equation is simple. When you run out, your legs shut down. When this happens, its like your legs don’t belong to you anymore. They don’t work and they hurt. You have to mentally think about each individual movement, moving a few feet at a time.

The whole idea behind marathon training is to build your personal base of miles run so that, among other things, you can trick your body into increasing its reserves, and in the end, increase your body’s ability to store more and more glycogen. Simply put, effective training means continually flirting at right about this zero level. This is the challenge that comes with the training.

When you hit that point, you start going through not only physical issues, but some severe mental ones too. You start to doubt yourself. You start to want, with every ounce of your being, to give up and find the nearest couch, and replace your running shoes for slippers.

That little voice in your head, without fail, starts yelling some pretty basic questions. “What, in the name of all that’s holy, are you doing?” “What what are you thinking?” “Is this really a good idea?” All of these questions get fired around as the voice of doubt in your head. For my entire adult life, I have fought with listening to that little voice in my head, and with running it’s no different.

So, in order to help me move beyond this point, I have turned to every resource possible. I have scoured the internet, Borders, and running magazines. If it has to do with running, I devour it.

In the end, most come up with the same advice. Eat a specific diet, and refuel mid runs. Refuel during running means that I need to eat while running!

When I first heard that little piece of advice I found myself excited beyond belief! I love eating! I scanned my fanny pack and estimated if a tub of Ben and Jerry’s would fit snugly. I tried to visualize running with a bowl of ice cream and spoon. Maybe I could run with a pizza box in one hand, and a slice in the other. I had finally discovered the advice that would allow me to merge my two greatest passions.

After a few more resources were consulted, I was a little less excited. Sadly, it’s about eating the right foods mid run. I am not to eat Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, but chemically engineered little chomps of food made to fire up energy.

So with a bit of disappointment, I began my search for what would work. Two weeks ago, I ran the 15 miles from my house to the church, and about halfway, I chomped on a high sugar, jelly bean type of things, that cost $8.00 for four at Dick’s. Although it still hurt to run the distance, I was up for three days.

So as I searched for cheaper and less shocking alternatives, I found an article which says that there is a miracle food that you can buy, that will make all the difference. When I read the article, I was convinced it truly was a gift from God. It not only provides you with the needed energy to move you to the next level, it’s also one of my “favoritest” foods ever. What is God’s gift to runners, you may ask? It’s the pastel colored, sugared miracle called the Peep!

As you know, part of my personal goals for 2010, was to recommit to the instructions of 1 Corinthians 6, which calls on us to view and to treat our bodies as temples. I have focused my devotional time, and my personal reading in the development of a personal theology of fitness. In the last year, it has become a passion, and for me, one of the ways I feel closest to God. This new style of living has lead me to not only greater levels of attention to fitness, but careful attention to what I eat. As a result of this commitment, I wasn’t going to take this advice without a bit of scrutiny.

With gusto, I started my research. In the end, the Peep truly is something incredible. The Peep has almost this cult like following across the country. The Peep is almost an institution in this country. Beyond their impact on the runner’s ability to refuel, there is a whole flood of information on this candy available as you start searching.

Here is some of what I have learned: The company that manufactures the Peep, purchased the rights for the candy in 1953. At that point each one was made by hand, and took an amazing 27 hours to make each one. Just Born, the company who bought the rights, automated the process and today it takes just over 6 minutes.

The eyes on your average peep, used to be hand applied, pain stakingly one by one. Today, the factory in Pennsylvania can put 3500 eyes on per minute. According to an article on NPR’s web site, there are over 1 billion peeps produced each year. That’s four million per day.

Yet, when you see them, there is this odd feeling that something just isn’t kosher with them. Food shouldn’t be fluorescent. Apparently, I was the only one concerned about this.

Faced with the fact that candy is this odd consistency and color, a class of senior chemists at Emory University conducted some experiments on the Peep. They decided to test the peep against things such as intense heat, chemicals, water, and so on. Their results were eye opening.

Ultimately it was the eyes on the Peeps that provided the most interesting results. The chemists virtually proved them to be indestructible. They will not dissolve in anything. They employed acetone, water, sulfuric acid, sodium hydroxide, and another dozen chemicals, in an attempt to dissolve them. All of them, had no success. Once made those eyes are indestructible.

Peeps are slowly becoming the most popular candy on the market. Its second to only chocolate bunnies for the Easter Holiday. Although the yellow Easter chick is still the most popular, the company has expanded to Halloween Cats, Christmas Joy Peeps, Blue Star peeps for the fourth of July, and Red hearts for valentine’s day. They even have dark chocolate covered peeps, that were just released in the last year or so.

What makes them great for runners is that each Peep is only 28 calories. That’s about the same calories one gets from a bite or two from of an apple. They are also fat free. Yet despite this, and a sign of our society’s chemical and confectionary prowess; a single serving of peeps provides over 36 grams of sugar.

These things are virtually low calorie, high sugar treats. If you have ever seen an 8 year old eat one, you know the sugar boost is real and uncontrollable. It’s the perfect thing for runners that hit the wall. Wash it down with some Gatorade, and you are not sleeping until August.

Certainly their success is not due solely to obsessed runners trying to find a quick fix to their dead legs. There must be more behind the success of something so simple as the sugar chicken. The Reverend Laurie Haller, the District Superintendent from the Grand Rapids Michigan District of the UMC, has written very compellingly of the Peep, its history, and the lessons you and I and the church can learn from them if we take a moment to contemplate and celebrate the Peep. For this message, I have and will borrow extensively from those writings.

So, you are probably asking…What possibly could be the faith lessons available to us,…here at Asbury Church,…from this little bundle of sugar. What could be so profound as to warrant this extensive history lesson of the Peep and the Just Born Marshmallow Company? Luckily, I am going to tell you.

First, Just Born, knows who they are, and what they are about. The Mars Candy company makes 20 completely different candies. Hershey makes over 50. Just Born makes one; the Peep. They refuse to lose sight of their core vision.

When you think of our faith journeys and our church, what are we getting distracted from? As a church, are we trying to be everything for everybody? Are we seeing ourselves as something less than we are, because we aren’t like the mega church down the road? A we waiting until we find ourselves on par with the church that runs 30 small group ministries, 50 outreach and social ministries and employees 3 ministers and a staff of 12? Is our vision built upon what we see them doing, or what we are capable of doing.

We can’t be about comparing ourselves to anyone but Asbury Church. This morning, I remind you that, here, you are participating in something greater. This faith community has been here for more than two hundred years. This is the oldest Methodist congregations in NH, and one of the oldest in New England. This community is listed as a Methodist Heritage location. Francis Asbury, Jesse Lee, and Philip Embury all preached here. This church has been here, almost as long as Chesterfield has been in Chesterfield. Simply put, this is this community’s church.

We can’t lose sight of the wonderful miracle that our presence testifies to. This church has survived. It has gone through its up times and its down. This church has, is, and will continue to be the center of faith and ministry to this community for a very long time. We are a church that is financially and spiritually healthy and growing, in an age when churches are become anything but, at a dizzying pace. The miracle is we have done this despite having 270 less worshippers on any given Sunday. We have done this through focus.

On a personal level, is your faith as focused as Just Born? Or instead are you finding yourself lost in everything else? Our faith has a simple premise; As followers of that radical carpenter from Galilee, of focus should simply be to do all that we can, with all that we have, to grow in communion with him. We need to ask ourselves, are we serving, sacrificing, giving, and worshipping with that in mind. Or are there just too many distractions getting in our way?

Second, Just Born, has capitalized on and survived off of effective marketing. They are a company that realizes that they have one vision and one mission, and they need to market and push it better than anything else. Consider these steps that Just Born has taken to market their product:

  • They have had Macy’s Day Balloon Peeps, they consistently update their website, and they embrace innovation.
  • Just Born was one of the first companies to fully embrace the web.
  • They have partnered with the New York Times to sponsor an annual contest, where the best diorama is awarded cash, as long as they adhere to a simple rule: all people in it must be portrayed by Peeps.
  • A candy store owner I spoke to, informed me that they hold conventions all over the country for Peep Lovers. They are called “Peep Shows”.

We as a church and as people of faith, also have a singular message and vision. Officially, the UMC put it this way: As receipts of the Love of Jesus Christ, we are to make disciples for the transformation of this world. In other words, we have been loved so incredibly, we are called to express that Love to the world, by inviting others to share in it. In the end we change the world. If this is our vision and our mission, how effectively are we marketing and communicating it as a church and as a Christian?

Is the life changing Good News of Jesus Christ visible in ALL we do in this place? How effectively are we communicating this as a church? Does are message and our mission speak as loudly as the billboard on the highway, the radio or television ad, MTV, Paris Hilton, or the countless other ways that other messages and other priorities are broadcast and spread? Are we effective at making our voice louder and our message clearer?

We can’t be afraid to ask; is this mission seen in our walks with faith? When our neighbors, our coworkers, our spouses, and our families see us, do they see the love that was shown to us, expressed outwardly? Is our walk enough to convince others that there is something to this thing called faith? Is our life a testimony? Ask yourself these questions. If your answer is no, then together we need to figure out why. Our story needs to be enough.

Lastly, the simple truth to all of Just Born’s success, is a simple one. As Rev. Haller writes, the success is found in the Peep itself. It’s a simple candy. The Peep is sweet. The Peep is indestructible. There is a quote from Lee Iacocca that says: “The perfect product sells itself”. The Peep is the perfect candy.

Let me all remind you of one thing…. We, here, have the perfect product. We have something simple. We have something sweet. We have something indestructible.

Haller asks the question, as do I:

Do we as a church, and as people of faith, stand on that simple, sweet, and indestructibly solid rock of Jesus Christ, the grace of God, and the life changing comfort of the Holy Spirit?”

Do we as a church, and as people of faith, stand on the grace of God that provides steadiness and direction in all parts of our life? Do we stand on the realization that there is no crisis too big, no problem to great, and no night to dark, for God to handle?

Do we as a church, and as people of faith, stand on the assurance that church is more than you and I. This is more than filling our pews on Sunday. This is more than just making sure our budget is balanced. This is more than figuring out ways to coerce more people out of bed and into this place on Sunday morning.

Like Just Born, we have the perfect product…and we need to stand behind it; The life changing hope, joy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

Like Just Born, we know our vision….and we need to do everything we can to insure that our vision, our message, and our mission is realized.

Lastly, Just like Just Born, we need to make sure we keep the focus. We need to be people who know who we are, what our purpose is, and the path we need to take to get there.

Just Born rises or falls on the Peep.

You and I, and this Church….Stands on the promises.

Thanks be to God, Amen.

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