This past weekend was homecoming at Wake Forest University.
I didn’t attend Wake Forest. I was there this weekend by virtue of marriage. I’m an alum-in-law, if there can be such a thing. I walked the campus with my wife and kids, met some people she hadn’t seen in a long time, listened to things she remembered about how the place was back in her day and how this or that has been changed or renovated or removed altogether.
As we walked the campus I also listened to my son talk about what he would be doing when he goes there (my daughter is holding out for UNC). That won’t be until the fall of 2016 but the very prospect of it is enough to wake me screaming in the night.
The memories there were not mine. I didn’t know anyone we saw on campus – but I have a sense of connection to that place that’s hard to define.
My Dad is a graduate of Wake Forest. He attended the school when it was actually located in the town of Wake Forest. The campus re-located to Winston-Salem and my Dad did his senior year at the new location. In the meantime the “old” campus became a Baptist seminary, so after graduating from WFU in Winston-Salem my dad went back to his college campus to attend seminary.
Walking the campus this weekend, I felt like the story of my life is somehow connected to that place. I never took a single credit hour there, but the institution played a role in shaping me. The school was established in 1834 to train preachers for Baptist churches in North Carolina. One of the Baptist preachers they ended up training was my father.
The New Testament is fond of athletic metaphors for the Christian life. Among them, “the race” enjoys favored status.
Paul uses the image one of his letters to Timothy and in his letter to the Galatians. The metaphor is used as Paul addresses the elders in Ephesus in the book of Acts, and the writer to the Hebrews makes use of it also.
To live life as a follower of Jesus is to run a race – and Paul told the Corinthians to run hard, to “run in such a way as to get the prize.” But how do we do that? How do we win this race?
One answer surely has to do with receiving the eternal “well done” when this life is finished. We live faithfully and do what we’re given to do here to the best of our ability. We use our gifts in the service of the God who gave them to us – and then when we cross the finish line of earthly life we are rewarded with the Master’s commendation and eternity in the Master’s presence.
But maybe there’s more to the race than that. Perhaps the race is much bigger than my own little piece of the course. I may be reading things into Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9, but I’m certain this has to be true.
Our task is to run well while we’re here – and make sure that when we’ve finished the course set out for us there are others behind us with fresh strength to keep running. I think that’s what I sensed on the campus of a college I never attended. I felt my feet walking a piece of the course that wasn’t mine to run, but which nevertheless belongs to a race that I’m competing in. Together, we make up an enormous relay team.
I want to run well – so that someday in 2016, if and when my son walks the campus of WFU, he won’t simply be going to college. He’ll be running a race that his Mom and his grandfather ran on that very course. And hopefully he’ll sense me running with him too.
Give us strength to run our course well today, O God. And make us aware that there are others yet to run behind us. Use our lives now to shape the race that they will run then, to the glory of your name and the building up of your rule among us. Amen.