There shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth
My brother puts on one of the most insane races I have ever seen (the Swamp Buggy races in Naples come to mind). The Cohutta 100 is the first in a series (I find that incomprehensible!) of mountain bike races sponsored by the UER. To this race come some 500 people to race their mountain bikes for 100 miles. That anybody would want to ride 100 straight miles of mountain bike boggles my mind enough, never mind that there are 500 people ready to do so, AND that they would want to do it in multiple venues over the course of a year. Crazy!
Crazy enough for me to travel to Tennessee (no, not to ride) to volunteer in the race. I wanted to see it for myself, and to help my brother out, as having 500 people in the woods for (as I will elaborate on later) 15 hours is a little more complicated than you might think.
Friday I helped people register. Saturday I watched the start of the race, which reminded me of the running of the bulls in Pomplona – it’s a little crazy while they sort things out a little. But then Charles put my up at the last of the aid stations in the woods.
Here we greeted bikers as they came up a hill, and offered them water for their water bottles, bananas (lots of bananas), Oreo cookies, trail mix, some drink called HEED, and as the race rolled on, even conversation for those that needed to stop and catch their breath.
At 8 p.m. he came up with his truck, and had us take everything down the mountain (we were already up on the Ocoee river – maybe you’ve been there) to pack up. He rode his bicycle the last 7 miles of the race, to "sweep" the course – that is, to make sure everybody was done and off the course.
We made it down with the truck, and started accumulating all kinds of stuff to pack up. By the time we had everything all in one spot, Charles rode in, and we packed the trailers and trucks.
In that process Charles told us that everyone, except for one guy, had been accounted for. One older guy (by their standards, he turned out to be not that much older then me) had told him at the beginning of the race to not wait for him, that one way or the other, come hell or high water, be it the next day, he was going to finish that race. And well, he hadn’t been seen in the sweeps of the course, and now, at nearly 10:00 p.m., there was no telling where he was.
We still had a couple of things to load, but I could tell that Charles was really uneasy. How could he pack up and go with somebody still out on the trail? Even if the guy had said to let him go, Charles just wasn’t sure about leaving without knowing the "old" man was OK.
And then, as I put the last two bikes on the back of my car, a cry came from down the now VERY dark lane. "I made it!" "I made it" yelled an unseen man. When we turned to look, there was a very bright light wobbling in the dark, shinning from the top of this guy’s helmet.
And when Charles heard him, he dropped everything, and ran out into the dark to meet him, screaming at the top of his lungs "you made it!" you made it!" You would have thought this was the professional rider that made first place. You would have thought Charles won the lottery, you would have thought many things, but not that the last wheezer, I mean geezer, finally showed up 15 hours after he started.
Charles could have left him out there. Charles could have taken the guy at his word that it didn’t matter what happened, and just let him be. He was over 2 hours behind the cutoff of the end of the race. The time keeper had left already. Charles didn’t owe him anything.
But Charles cared about the guy. His welfare mattered to him. And out of 500 crazy people that rode that day, that one last guy exacted the greatest joy from my brother. Kind of like the lone lost sheep that Jesus talked about in Luke 15.
Why would the heavens rejoice so much over just one that was lost? Well, because God wants EVERYBODY drawn to Him. God wants ALL of us in His fold. And it’s that last one that makes the count complete, or incomplete without it. There’s great comfort for me to know that God will fret about me like Charles did about the old man if I should falter. But it gives me pause when I think about how unsettled (or not) I am over people I know who are not in the fold. God wants that person too! Do I? Do you? What are we doing about it?
God cares for you, and me, deeply. We must do the same to others.
I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:7