The Boston Marathon recently took place and was won by an Ethiopian named Lelisa Desisa. This year a sense of normalcy returned to the marathon after the tragic bombing that took place two years ago. I would like to share a story that came out of the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Laura Wellington, a runner in the Boston Marathon, was half a mile from the finish line when the explosion went off.
In shock near the finish line, she was comforted by a man who gave her his medal for finishing the race - a gesture she said reassured her that "even though such a terrible thing had happened, everything was going to be OK." She posted her story to Facebook in hopes of finding him.
Now, that Good Samaritan has been identified by the Toronto Star as 46-year-old Brent Cunningham, of Sitka, Alaska.
Cunningham didn't know that anyone was looking for him when he and his wife Karin were interviewed by Alaska radio station KCAW.
He told the station that he finished the race about 30 minutes before the bombing. When someone told him what had happened, he initially thought they were joking. Afterwards, as he walked away with his family, he started passing runners who'd been stopped near the end of the race.
"There were all these thousands of runners with their running bibs but none of them were wearing medals because they never finished," Cunningham said in the KCAW interview.
"Many of them were at mile 25, 26 when all of a sudden they couldn't run anymore because of what had happened. We were with a gal who was crying. She didn't finish the race, and I just felt so much compassion. I'm embarrassed to tell you this, I mean, I don't want any attention for it, but I just gave her my medal, my race medal. Because I finished and got my medal, and she didn't finish, and she deserved a medal. And so, I just gave her my medal, because, I had to. It was like, I cannot not give it to you, you deserve it. And she just started bawling."
Earlier, Wellington told outlets including Huffington Post her side of the story, and how much that small act of kindness meant:
"At that moment, a couple walking by stopped. The woman took the space tent off her husband, who had finished the marathon, and wrapped it around me. She asked me if I was okay, if I knew where my family was. I reassured her I knew where they were and I would be ok. The man then asked me if I finished, to which I nodded "no." He then proceeded to take the medal off from around his neck and placed it around mine. He told me, "You are a finisher in my eyes." I was barely able to choke out a "thank you" between my tears. Odds are I will never see this couple again, but I'm reaching out with the slim chance that I will be able to express to them just what this gesture meant to me."
Have you ever felt a tug at your heart to do something you may not normally do? Have you ever felt like Brent Cunningham described, that you just couldn’t not do it? Have you ever fought the urge and felt guilty afterwards, wondering if maybe you should have followed that tug? I think we have probably all had these experiences at some point in our life. There may be different reasons why we feel that tug, perhaps something stirs our memory about an event earlier in our lives, or perhaps our memory is stirred about a special person in our lives. Regardless what is stirred within us, chances are pretty good that it is the Holy Spirit doing the stirring.
We read this morning about Philip and how the Holy Spirit told him to go to the chariot of an Ethiopian eunuch. For a Jew, this would not be natural, for the Jews considered the Ethiopians and eunuchs inferior. But Philip went.
This Ethiopian was a court official for the queen of the Ethiopians and was either high enough or wealthy enough to have a chariot. He was reading from Isaiah but did not understand the passage. Philip interpreted the passage for him as talking about Jesus. As they traveled they came to a place with water and Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch.
The Holy Spirit led Philip to do something he would not have normally done. In our story, Mr. Cunningham does something that doesn’t come natural for very many people. He gave his medal for finishing the Boston Marathon away, to a stranger who couldn’t finish because of the violence at the marathon two years ago. He had earned that medal, he ran the race, but he gave up his medal to a stranger. What an incredible act of selflessness. The Holy Spirit will lead us to do some awesome things in our lives if we are willing to be led.
Mr. Cunningham is the regional director of Alaska Young Life, a Christian outreach ministry for teens. This was his first Boston Marathon and could be his last. This could have been his only chance to earn that coveted medal. He had dreamed of running the marathon for years and spent two years trying to qualify. His time when he ran the marathon was not good enough to qualify for the 2014 race.
In an interview, he said with everything that is happening in our world, people are looking for hope. His whole life is about loving God and loving others.
Jesus calls us to do the same, for our lives to be about loving God and loving others. But that is not an easy calling to answer. With everything going on in our world, it’s hard to know what to think sometimes.
This past week we heard a lot about the unrest in Baltimore. Some of my friends went there to help bring peace to the area. Most of us could not go there ourselves, but were there in prayer.
It’s hard to know who to believe in cases like this. It’s hard to know whom to support. Those of us who were not there do not and may never know the truth. Did the police cause or contribute to Freddy Gray’s death? Did he cause it himself? Was he injured during the arrest or during the time he was in the van? Why did he run? Why was he arrested for merely having a knife in his possession? These are all questions that we can’t answer.
What we do know is a young man died and regardless of the circumstances, that is a tragedy. What we do know is violence erupted and more people were injured and a lot of property was destroyed, that is also a tragedy. We know that Mr. Gray was not the first young African American man to die at the hands of the police, that seems to be a recurring theme. We know we live in a broken world. We know everyone is not treated equally or fairly. We also know rioting and hurting more people is not the solution.
We as Christians are called to stand with the oppressed and to help true justice prevail. We are also called to love our neighbors. That is perhaps what makes things like this so difficult. We are called to love the Freddy Grays in the world, to love the people demonstrating peacefully to bring about change, to love the people rioting and causing damage, and to love the police who are trying to protect innocent people and people’s property. We are not called to judge the people involved and unless we have lived their lives, walked in their shoes, we really can’t judge them, not fairly. We are not called to agree with them or their methods, we are not called to condone their actions, but we are called to love them.
Like I said earlier, this is not easy, and we cannot do it on our own. Fortunately, we don’t have to.
In our reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus is talking to his disciples. It is near the time when Jesus will be crucified. Jesus knows the struggles and challenges his disciples will face in the coming days, weeks, and months. He is giving advice and comfort at the same time. He knows human nature is to try and be self-sufficient. Jesus also knows being self-sufficient doesn’t work. He is telling his disciples to abide in him, to live in him, to stay in him. This is good advice for all of us.
John uses the metaphor of a vine to describe our relationship with Jesus. Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. Unless we stay on the vine, we will not get the nourishment we need to produce fruit, for the nourishment comes from the roots and travels through the vine to the branches. If we are not attached to the vine, we will loose our source of nourishment. But this goes beyond producing fruit or good works. This is significant for every facet of our lives.
When we abide, or stay with Jesus, we experience the fullness of God’s presence in our life. We feel the love of God, the comfort of God, the guidance of God, the inner peace of God, and the fellowship of God. When we stray away from Jesus, we separate ourselves from the vine and the source of all that God offers. We were not intended to be self sufficient, but were instead intended to live as community. None of us can face the challenges our world hands us each day by ourselves. We need Jesus in our lives. We need to abide in Jesus as Jesus abides in us. Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches. Separated from Jesus, we can do nothing. When we abide in Jesus and are pruned, we can accomplish much, especially working together in community. Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. Those who abide in Jesus and Jesus in them bear much fruit. This brings glory to God, that we bear much fruit and become Jesus’ disciples.
 Edwards-Levy, Ariel. Good Samaritan Who Gave Hs Medal To Runner Laura Wellington Identified As Alaska Native Brent Cunningham. The Huffington Post. April 17, 2013. Web.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!