I heard a sermon by Earl Palmer,the former senior pastor of University Presbyterian Church in Seattle years ago. I have since used parts of this sermon in several presentations, including a presentation to a group of young Christian Palestinians, Messianic believers and Norwegian Christians agreeing to meet and socialize together in order to better understand each other.
I will begin todays post by a question: if you call yourself a follower of Jesus do you realize you have been called to a race? And it is not just any kind of race. You have been invited to participate in a relay race.
Several aspects of a relay race are helpful to our understanding of who we are.
Palmer points out that in a relay race the time and place are established and set by someone else. The starting blocks and the times of the race are determined by someone other than the runners. And so it begins that way with each of us. None of us had a say as to when or where or to whom we would be born to. Feeling guilty that I was born in the West during the 20th century and not in some desperately poor country is a useless waste of emotional energy as is feeling resentful for the circumstances outside my control that I wish were different.
So what happens when someone realizes that God determines the place and time of their existence? If there is trust in the goodness of God and His love, a lot can happen that is healing and purposeful. Something spiritually powerful can begin to take root that belies historical distrusts and hurts. The Holy Spirit shows up and begins to speak forgiveness and hope into the most recalcitrant personal or culturally loaded grievance. As a follower of Christ understanding takes root that someone of holy splendor, power and love is ruler of you, me and of everything. And He is at work which includes determining our time and place of existence to do a foreordained job. So, what is that job? The relay race metaphor can help with this. It is not just the time and place of the race that has been given to us but also the baton. No one brings their own baton to a relay race. But if there is no baton then there is no relay race to run.
The baton? Well, it is the gospel of Christ. It did not originate with us but was handed to us to do what with? Well, to pass it on, of course. Would it not be a ridiculous race if one of the athletes after having the baton passed to her, ran off the course, yelling, “I got it, I got it- I win!” We in the crowd would be perplexed and distressed that the race had been corrupted, ruined or at least misunderstood and pointless. The gospel is good news to who? You, certainly but not only to you or me. To everyone it is good news whether it’s accepted and appropriated or not. But just like in a relay race, the baton doesn’t just float along like some low flying UFO. It is person handled –held on to with care, seriousness and determination to make sure it reaches its next destination-the next runner who grabs it to begin her part of the race – This is God’s race of bringing His rule to fruition.
Now, what do we bring to the race? What is it that is not assigned to a runner? The running shoes are unique to each of the runners in much the same way that each of us bring our unique gifts, talents and experiences to the race of God’s time sensitive growing rule of truth, love and justice. The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) that Jesus told his audience made it crystal clear that God has expectations of us being invested in His kingdom growth investment plan. we are to do something with our uniqueness and that something presupposes that God’s purposes are good and worth whatever the cost. “Thy will be done on earth as it in heaven”. Are we all equally gifted to perform in the same way? Not from the way I read the Jesus parable. Maybe some of us will come to the race with designer athletic shoes, others’ with off brand knock-offs and others might come to the race with worn down, worn out thrift shop specials. The question in the parable is not how snazzy your shoes are but whether you believe the race is well worth the demands. So, how can we all do this race thing with winning success?
“Running the race with perseverance keeping our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 13:1-3) is our cheer, our call and our finish line. Is it really that hard if it doesn’t depend on the level of our abilities? Yes, it is! It’s really very hard. After all, it comes with training, sacrifice, pushing against all kinds of resistance and even occasional booing from watchers of the race. But is it worth it to participate in the race? To quote the disciple, Peter, after Jesus asked him whether he was going to leave him like other disciples had left him, “Where else would I go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Look around! Is there or has there ever been anyone else like Jesus? Are there any heroes out there like Jesus Christ? Don’t even try to look for a hero within the Christian faith. There is none but Christ and that is why he is the only goal and prize well worth the call and cost of the race.