Seven years ago the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, Alabama was a yearly inconvenience. But in recent years this event has become a powerful way for South Highland Presbyterian Church to connect with their neighbors. This year, South Highland got involved with what God is already doing in their community and showed the love of Christ to their neighbors in some amazing ways.
One new way they connected with their running neighbors was through a “couch to 5K” group led by Angie Smith. Yes, members of the group got in better shape and experienced personal transformations, but more important (and fun!) was the experience of getting to know their neighbors. Two Sundays prior to the race, the couch to 5K group joined some pre-runs sponsored by the Mercedes marathon. So…they skipped church and formed friendships with other people in the community who were also persevering through their first “couch to 5k” program. One of the church members said, “I never knew how valuable our water stop outreach was until this year. Runners have a powerful community and are some of the most encouraging people I know. The water stop is a way of blessing what God is doing among runners.”
Exactly. God is on mission in the world. The Spirit is active and working. South Highland has simply discovered what God is doing “out there” and joined in so they can point to Jesus.
South Highland Presbyterian Church is having regular conversations about other ways in which they can participate in God’s mission in the world. They recognize that God gives people things they love – whether it’s running, knitting, tutoring children, going to concerts, playing golf, going to children’s sporting events – in order for them to enjoy life in God’s creation. But disciples of Jesus often recognize a greater purpose in these things. God gives disciples of Jesus Christ something to love so they can be with others who love that same thing, so that they can be a testimony to a greater love. Seeing this reality in fresh new ways, South Highland is encouraging people to use their interests, hobbies, and professions to point to the love that is most meaningfully experienced in Jesus Christ.
The story of Jesus feeding of the 5000 in gospel of John is a clear example of this principle of thinking differently about our neighbors. The disciples have nothing to offer the crowd; as a matter of fact the crowd is a nuisance! The disciples want to send the crowd away so they can have some quiet time with Jesus. But Jesus says “you give them something to eat.” The disciples find a boy with five barley loaves and two small fish. They have NOTHING to offer – the gifts are actually found OUTSIDE of the circle of disciples. The disciples bring the community’s gifts to Jesus and then give those gifts back in a way that demonstrates God’s power, blessing, and love.
South Highland’s Associate Pastor For Discipleship, Rev. Dr. Jim Truesdell, sums it up perfectly, “More and more I believe we ought to find where God is at work in the world, bring those gifts to Jesus and give them back in a way that demonstrates God’s power, blessing and love. If we genuinely love and care about our neighbor, then we will see how God is already at work in their life. Jesus was a friend of sinners because he enjoyed being with them. In the same way, we love being with our neighbors so we can bring their gifts to Jesus. Jesus will bless them in ways beyond what they can imagine. Disciples of Jesus are merely a pass-through for God’s grace and goodness in the world.”