My meager early Sunday morning exercise was done and coffee in hand when a sleepy-eyed crowd began gathering on Market Street in downtown Chattanooga on Aug. 8. Out of love and obligation these friends and family would soon welcome triathletes to the finish line.

The scene was typical of weekend road races with roped-off traffic lanes, corporate sponsors under small tents and goodies for the finishers. In addition to cool water and potassium-boosting bananas, there were Little Debbie muffins produced in the nearby Seventh-Day Adventist community of Collegedale.

As I hurried back to my hotel to ready for Sunday services at Chattanooga’s First Baptist Church, my mind wandered to a column earlier this year in Christian Century magazine. Publisher John Buchanan, a Presbyterian minister in Chicago, had written about his recent discovery of how much competition churches now face on Sunday mornings.

Having returned from vacation a day earlier, he had no pastoral obligations one Sunday. Seeing families playing along the lakefront or enjoying the many other activities in the city was a real eye-opener, he confessed.

Long-running debates continue about which day should be observed as the Sabbath or what activities should be practiced. But there is more clarity about the literally meaning of Sabbath: a day of rest.

Rest, however, can take on different forms for different persons. A day of recreation may indeed re-create someone better than attending two services, a Sunday school class and an afternoon committee meeting at church.

Yet most people of faith know that physical restoration and spiritual renewal both deserve devoted attention. The benefits of corporate worship and community-building are not easily replaced.

Sometimes our Sunday (or Sabbath) schedules get impacted by the multiple planned activities inside and outside the church. And sometimes our conflict with Sabbath comes from within ourselves.

I wondered if the crowd gathering on Market Street felt any of that inner tension as the blaring sound system offered up — not the theme from “Rocky” — but an instrumental version of “The Old Rugged Cross.”

It will take a few more miles of contemplation to figure that one out.

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