Running this Race Called “Life”

running-group

Running is such a great metaphor for life.

It began as an ordinary Saturday morning run with the Greenville Running Group.  We were running our regular Starbucks’ route from Greenville Boulevard to the Town Commons and the Greenway. I effortlessly covered the distance of the first two miles before I even realized it. Into the third mile, I was confidently running down Charles, past Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, as I had many times in the past. I had this. Life was good. I was all smiles, on cruise control.

Then without warning, early into mile three, I really stepped into it. Without seeing it, I managed to step into a metal hoop that was in the road, about 18 inches in diameter. My right heel caught the back of the hoop and stood it up. My left foot joined my right foot inside the hoop and down I went. Before I knew exactly what happened, I was laying in the gutter of Charles Boulevard. Muddy and bloody, my knees took the brunt of the fall.

Three of my running friends rushed to my aid, empathetically asked me if I was okay, then reached down and helped pick me up out of the gutter. They did not judge me for not looking where I was planting my feet, nor did they express any disappointment that I had interrupted their run. They only expressed compassion for me.

They led me to the Duck-Thru convenience store at the corner on 14th Street where they found a spigot to wash my wounds. One of my friends came out of the store with a first aid kit. Another friend, with her own hands, took some gauze from the kit and made sure my abrasions were clean.

Willing to sacrifice their run, they offered to walk back with me to my car. However, their compassion was more than I needed to encourage me to press on and finish the run. Ten miles later, I completed one of the best runs ever.

The scriptures say: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1). Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).

May God forgive us for arrogantly thinking that we can do this thing called “life” alone. And may God give us the grace to love one another, to link up with one another in mutual care and compassion, to feel responsibility for one another, and to run this race together.

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How God Always Responds to Death

Sermon Excerpt from Death at a Funeral

Luke 7:11-15

840-casket-before-burial

This is how I believe our God always responds to death: God does not will death. God does not ordain death. God is not sitting on a throne pushing buttons calling people home. Luke teaches us that when someone dies, God is moved very deeply.  It is a visceral reaction.  God is flooded with compassion for both the deceased and the living. God does not ignore death or accept death as a natural part of life, but on the contrary, God confronts death, recognizes the harsh reality of it, the sheer evil of it, and God is moved from the very depths of who God is.

Therefore, it is very inaccurate to ever say that in death: “God takes people home.” I have said many times that God is a giver not a taker. It is the very nature of who our loving God is. It is far more accurate to say that when any death occurs, no matter the age, no matter the circumstance, God confronts it. God is moved with compassion. And God doesn’t take, but gives God’s self completely, fully and finally to the one who dies and his or her grieving family.

God does not ignore death, or demean death, or simplify death saying, “This is all part of my purpose driven plan.”  Through Jesus, God does not let any death at a funeral simply pass by like it is somehow meant to be.  Through Christ, God is moved with compassion and sees death as a force contrary to God’s will and acts to overcome it. God always acts to transform death at a funeral into life at a funeral.