Our Place in the Race

I sat in a room full of church staff as we mourned the loss of a young person to gun violence. One of the women present expressed that she found relief in the fact that through our ministry programs, we had led this young man to make a profession of faith in Jesus before he was shot. She spoke of her gratitude for the opportunity to “get this done” for all the kids in the neighborhood who might face trouble like the deceased.

In the following days, I mulled over the implication of this woman’s words and the staff who agreed with her sentiment. Was this all we’d come to do? Was our primary mission to get some troubled kids to express faith in Jesus and then to hold our collective breath, hoping they’d dodged the literal and metaphorical bullets of their existence?

Isn’t the promise of new life in Jesus more than this?

I confess that I understood where our fellow staffer was coming from. In the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges like racial injustice, poverty, and violence, it’s easier to think of our call in Jesus as one of relief rather than transformation. The work of getting people across the perceived finish line of salvation was at least measurable, compared to the never-ending, often invisible task of nurturing the presence of the kingdom of God. But the new life Jesus offers is far from a simple finish line determining our eternal destiny; it’s an invitation to take our place in the race.

 

The resurrection tells us that our work is about
much more than getting folks across a finish line.

 

 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews gives us an image of believers, past and present, participating in a great race. Prior to painting this grand word picture, the writer notes at the end of the chapter 11 that these faithful believers from every age “would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.” We have not been invited to a finish line of faith, and we’re not here just to get folks across the finish line. New life in Jesus calls each of us to take our place in a great relay race, to run our leg with perseverance.

This spring, believers around the world will unite in the declaration that Jesus is risen from the grave. The sparseness of our Lenten fasts and Holy Week observances will give way to the exuberance of celebrating that “great gettin’ up morning.” It’s the celebration of the new beginning or, rather, renewed beginning as Jesus the Messiah is seen alive after a public, gruesome, and certain death. The resurrection is the wild, amazing, and frankly, impossible story at the center of our faith.

Living in the shadow of this impossible story led the original followers of Jesus to confront the empires of their day with a new truth. They declared that the status quo of oppression and injustice would yield to the new reality ushered in by Jesus. Those original followers spread the good news, despite the threat of death. They knew that if death was conquered, then justice, mercy, and grace would indeed be the center of a new kingdom rooted in the life of a newly risen King.

The resurrection tells us that our work, as members of Christ’s kingdom, is about much more than getting folks across a finish line. The resurrection calls us to the serious work of renewal in both our personal lives and the communities in which we live. Like those original followers of Jesus, we’ve been given the message and the work of the good news. We aren’t going to defeat every evil or wipe out every injustice we see, but our call is to run our part of the relay with perseverance, “fixing our eyes” on the one with the power to make each of our lives, and our neighborhoods, new. 

About the Author

Leeann Younger is the founding co-pastor of Cityview Covenant Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She’s been asking hard questions since she was a teen and sees no reason to stop now.

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