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A Crowded Race by Angie Fuller

As a high school track athlete, I proved to be mediocre and gullible. I was a 100-meter hurdler – though I never mastered the stride necessary for speed – and was usually assigned to a couple of 400-meter events. Somehow, one of those events was always the 400-meter hurdles, a brutal quarter-mile “sprint” around the track interrupted ten times by horizontal obstacles (again… gullible).

The final event of each track meet was the 4x400-meter relay. It often started after 9:30 PM, when most competitors were packing their bags and trudging toward waiting school buses. My 400 split didn’t earn the fastest “anchor” position, so I ran the second or third leg of the relay. By the time I got to the backstretch of the track, all I could hear were my panting breaths and the spikes of my shoes in the asphalt. I felt weary and alone. But then I’d hear my friend Kari. Her field events were long over, but she faithfully positioned herself inside the track on that backstretch, yelling my name and cheering me toward the final curve. Once I rounded it, I caught sight of the green and white jersey of my teammate – her arm outstretched for our baton exchange.

Hebrews 12 opens with a well-known race metaphor: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us … run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer, and perfecter of faith … Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” We take comfort in this imagery of a cheering crowd, a well-marked lane, eyes focused on the finish line, and infinite stamina. In reality, though, we stumble in following Christ’s example. Sometimes our courage and trust are mediocre. We are gullible when faced with temptation. The course God has marked out for us becomes difficult to see. Unexpected curves and hurdles appear in our lane.

But on this All Saints’ Day, I am reminded that this race is not an individual event. It’s a relay. The list of specific witnesses commended for their faith begins in Hebrews 11:3 with “we.” In God’s eyes all of us … the “holy catholic church, the communion of saints…” are runners on a universal relay team. We run with saints such as Moses, Mary, and Paul. Saints like Martin Luther, Harriet Tubman, Desmond Tutu, Corrie ten Boom, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Saints like Nettie, my 4-H mentor and high school Sunday School teacher. And even saints among current and future generations whose contributions to this relay are yet unknown.

When we grow weary, we look not only to Christ but also at those who have already run. They stumbled, too. But they relied on God’s strength to persevere. We are encouraged by their examples and humbly seek to stay the course, holding fast to the baton of God’s Word. When this relay is finally over, there will be no Hall of Fame – no framed jerseys or polished plaques. There will simply be a HUGE crowd of witnesses and that baton of God’s Word covered with their fingerprints. During my leg of this race, I will cling to that baton and listen for the voices of my teammates as I follow their footsteps.

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