Easter 6: Murph

This sermon was originally preached on Memorial Day weekend at Our Savior’s.
Pastor Anna’s just come back from vacation and is catching up! 

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John 14:23-29

The joke goes like this: how do you know if someone is a vegan or a CrossFitter?

Answer: They’ll tell you.

So yeah actually as of the last few months I do CrossFit. 

There’s a Memorial Day tradition in the CrossFit community. As with most related things, that tradition includes a really hard workout. But for Memorial Day, it’s special.

The workout is perhaps the most famous in the CrossFit community. It’s called Murph, and it includes, in order: a one mile run, 100 pull ups, 200 push ups, 300 air squats, and another mile run, all for time. Those who “really” do Murph do all of that while wearing a 20 lb vest or body armor.  

It’s called Murph, and done on Memorial Day, to honor Lieutenant Michael Murphy from Long Island, a Navy SEAL, killed in action in Afghanistan in 2005. He was 29. 

Before he died, and before it bore his name, the workout was one of his favorites.

The workout is so famous that I knew about it long before I started doing CrossFit myself. But of course, being me, once I get interested in something, I research it. I wanted to know Murph’s story.

When Murph was in high school, they called him “the Protector.” The only time the school ever had to inform his parents of a disciplinary issue was in 8th grade, when a child with special needs was being shoved into a locker by a group of boys. It ended with Murph physically pulling the attackers away from the other kid. Another time, Murph came upon a man who was homeless being attacked while collecting cans. He didn’t just chase away the attackers; he also helped the man pick up his cans.

After graduating from Penn State, he could have gone to law school. There were certainly plenty of ways for Murph to continue protecting people as a lawyer. He chose instead, however, to join the Navy and become a SEAL.

While serving in Afghanistan in June 2005, his team of four came under fire from between 30 to 40 militia fighters in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan. Unable to make contact with coalition forces in the rugged terrain, it was Murph who fought his way into more open terrain, where he knew he would get a better signal. In doing so, he knowingly exposed himself to direct fire to complete the call for help. At the end of the call, after being shot several times, he said, “Thank you.” 

After that, he continued to fight until he was killed in action. 

There is much more to the story, but the gist of the story is this: because Michael Murphy made the call, one of his fellow SEALs, the only survivor, was eventually rescued. For his heroic actions on that day, Murph was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. By August of 2005, the CrossFit workout had been named in his honor, and it continues to be a staple workout at every CrossFit gym in America and around the world. It’s through that workout that I’m grateful to know Murph’s story, and now, you do too.

Survival is inscribed into our DNA. We all made it here because countless generations in each of our bloodlines, through the millennia, fought to survive. Dying so that someone else can live isn’t natural, but it is heroic. That is the kind of person — the kind of person like Murph — that we honor this weekend. 

I should note however that Memorial Day, while important, is a government holiday, not a religious one.

Here in the church, it is still Easter, and the Gospel lessons are starting to look towards Pentecost. We’re looking towards the coming of the Holy Spirit and we’re getting ready for an art show, as we celebrate the Spirit’s gifts of creativity.

Of all the persons of the Trinity, the language we have to describe the Holy Spirit is the most interesting and diverse. Some of that is because the Holy Spirit is the most squishy. We have pretty concrete images for Jesus: a thirty-something Middle Eastern man. We even have depictions of the Creator everywhere, usually as a man with a long, white beard. It’s the Holy Spirit that allows us to play with the image a little bit. It’s the Holy Spirit that we’re most comfortable calling “he” or “she” or “they” or “it.” The Holy Spirit is more of a force than a person: wind, flame, dove. Someone who guides, pushes, challenges, comforts, and stirs things up.

We can, in large part, thank John’s Gospel for the diversity of images. And it hinges on a single word.

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

Advocate doesn’t even begin to cover it. I mean, it’s not wrong, but it isn’t all the Greek word means, either.

The word that gets translated “advocate” means a lot of things in Greek: advocate, counselor, helper, friend, comforter, protector. It comes from a word meaning “called to one’s side.”  The word itself is “paraclete.”

Fun fact: it was an alternate name for Diego before I got him, before Parker helpfully pointed out that “Paraclete” isn’t something you can casually yell across the dog park.

In John, Jesus shows us the love of God by teaching, healing, and then dying and rising. Then, Jesus passes that work on to his followers: the healing work of being the love of God made flesh. We get the Holy Spirit, the paraclete, to show us and remind us how it’s done. The paraclete is our friend, advocate, the one who is called to our side — our protector.

This is when it occurs to me that Michael Murphy was a paraclete to those he led: called to their side, a protector, an advocate, whatever the cost. That that is what we are called to be for one another. 

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” 

Peace the way the world gives — the most natural way of getting peace — is to survive. It’s to stay safe, whatever the cost. It entails sacrificing others for our own security and safety. Often, we sacrifice those we don’t understand to our own fear. 

Jesus offers a different kind of peace; the kind that advocates, protects, and stays by your side even when it isn’t safe. Maybe that’s why Jesus also calls us not to be afraid at the end of that. It’s because we are called to do that for one another, too. 

I won’t be able to be there tomorrow, but folks from my gym will be doing Murph’s workout tomorrow. I’m glad I know Murph’s story now, and I hope you gained a little something from hearing his story, too. It’s a good reminder, I think, not only of what courage looks like, but what it means to be a paraclete: a companion, a protector, an advocate. We have one in the Holy Spirit, and every now and then, the Holy Spirit prompts us to be that for each other, too.
Thank God. Amen.

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