Back in 1992, the Olympics were in Barcelona. The athletes had put their lives on hold to train to compete, as this year, over that two week or so period. The training takes months and months and demands much of the athletes.
This was the case for Derek Redmond, then one of our top 400 meter runners. In the semi-final, Redmond started well, but in the back straight about 250 metres from the finish, his hamstring snapped. He hobbled to a halt, and then fell to the ground in pain. He said later, that he thought for a moment that he’d been shot.
Stretcher bearers made their way over to him, but Redmond decided he wanted to finish the race. He’d given up so much and trained so hard. He began to hobble along the track - his faced creased with determination and agony. Then, from somewhere behind him, a comotion. Someone was fighting their way past the security guards to get on to the track. Derek tried to push the person away as they put their arm around him and bore his weight. The person spoke - you don’t have to finish this. Yes I do replied the belegered athlete. Let’s do it together said the person now taking his son’s weight - it was his father, Jim. Jim and Derek completed the lap of the track together, with Derek leaning on his father's shoulder for support. As they crossed the finish line, the crowd of 65,000 spectators rose to give Derek a standing ovation.
Jesus does not prepare for His public ministry through the right diet and hours in the gym or on the track, but we do hear this morning of his preparation for the race that lay before Him in His journey through life to the cross.
The first part of Jesus’ preparation was His Baptism. Jesus leaves Gallillee and heads to the Jordan to be baptised by John. Jesus doesn’t need to be baptised, but by doing so, He identifies Himself with John, with John’s call to live lives aligned to God’s way, but also with those who have been affected by his ministry. Jesus is simply drawing alongside people in their need, along side people like us - he needs no repentance or forgiveness - he comes into our world as it is, ready to accept the affects of our sin and self-destruction. As Jesus comes up out of the water, heaven is torn apart and God affirms Jesus as His Son, His beloved. Just as wherever we are we take those whom we love with us in our hearts and minds and lives - there is nowhere that Jesus is, that God will not be also. The Holy Spirit descends like a dove and confirms the power of God at work in Him. God cannot draw alongside Jesus any closer than this - God commits to running the way ahead together with His Son.
The second part of Jesus’ preparation is scant in Mark’s account. The Spirit literally throws Jesus out into the wilderness where he is tempted by Satan. The Spirit of God does not spare Jesus the difficulty of everyday human existence and experience. For Jesus to speak, teach, minister and act in the world as it is - shot through with evil and temptations - He needs to be prepared to face head on the lust for power and control, the insatiable desire to have what we want and have it now, and the very selfish belief that our lives can be run best focussing away from the One who created them that we all still wrestle with deep down. Yet in the midst of those wilderness experiences, Jesus finds comfort and support from the heavens in the presence of angels, but also support from the earth in the very particular presence of the wild beasts. His will be a ministry that is not so heavenly minded as to be no earthly use but will take seriously our longing for heaven but well aware of our place within the whole created order.
The wilderness is not the desert. It is an arid, dusty, broken place but there is some life. The stoniness of the ground will make walking and sleeping challenging for Jesus over these 40 days - even with the companionship that he has. Yet from the dusty road of wilderness temptations arises shouts of praise that the Kingdom of God has come near.
The bad news that our struggles with doubt, fear, vying for control, selfishness and greed will continue to be sometimes a daily reality for us. The persistent good news though is that God has not abandoned the world to it’s own devices - the Kingdom of God is amongst us and His kingdom is in our midst and this Jesus - He gets what it is to wrestle, really wrestle with the reality of the challenge that is many of our lives.
As we make our way through Lent, we remember the journey that each of make through life - for some of us sometimes it is shot through with affirmations of the presence and power of God, for others in it we see glimpses and the living hope of the all transforming presence of God’s coming Kingdom. For all of us it can be a hard, stony, dusty broken road which is arduous to walk, fraught with temptations and testing, with no direction and little hope.
In those times we have a God in Jesus who affirms us as beloved by Him, who walks with us so close alongside us taking our weight, and who who found Himself crucified by the same daily struggles. And yet out of the brokenness of the wilderness road to Golgotha, arises shouts of Resurrection praise that the Kingdom of God comes near.
As you came into church this morning you were given a stone. A stone that is like the ones that we use to build our lives with making houses and shops and schools and roads. This stone is also like the ones under our feet especially in the wilderness’ of life. Hold the stone and think about the things that you struggle with every day and remember that those same struggles ultimately crucified Him, yet the deepest darkness of of those times was ultimately transformed into resurrection light and glory. When you are ready, come and place your stone on the Way to the Cross and long for Christ’s transforming Resurrection and the coming Kingdom of God.
your Son battled with the powers of darkness,
and grew closer to you in the desert:
help us to use these days to grow in wisdom and prayer
that we may witness to your saving love
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen