Last Thursday night I watched the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Carolina Panthers handily. I’m a football fan, and I especially enjoyed the performance of Steelers running back James Conner, whose personal story is about as compelling as they come. As a junior in college, while rehabilitating a torn ACL, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a potentially deadly form of cancer. Long story made short, he beat both the injury and the cancer. He has now suddenly emerged as an incredibly powerful and sometimes unstoppable offensive weapon for the Steelers. It was a comment by one of his teammates that caught my attention: “He runs like he has faced death.”
To be brutally honest, we live in an incredibly shallow world in which we seem to be attracted to every shining object, and where the pursuit of the perfect “selfie” often appears to be the primary goal in life. We allow our passion to be dissipated by cynicism or apathy or the political-fight-of-the-moment. We flounder in our attempts to plumb the depths or to make meaningful contributions to the grander cause of humanity. Every once in a while we need a James Conner to remind us that football is just a game, and that life calls us to higher causes and greater passions.
This past week tragedy struck in our church. We have found ourselves facing the sudden loss of a 58-year-old father whose personal leadership and charisma and joy have been so compelling that even in a large church there is now a gaping hole. He touched hundreds, if not thousand of lives. One moment he was here, the next he was gone. It is a clarifying moment for us as we consider the things that he stood for, the things that really matter. Near the top of his list was the church, to which he devoted so much of his life, and in which he invested so much of his time and energy and gifts.
I think this is what Mike would say to us today: The power of the church lies in our proclamation that we are not afraid. We might be sad, but we are not afraid. We follow the One who met death, looked it squarely in the face from the lateral beam of a cross, and conquered it. Following the witness of St. Paul, he would tell us to run the course of life fearlessly, as if we have faced death and defeated it. Use our time well. Invest our treasure in things that last. Pursue with passion the creation of the beloved community that holds together when everything else might be falling apart. He would remind us that the final word is not death. It is love, undefeated and unstoppable.
Rev. Don Underwood