“Please Take A Number”
Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35
What a difference a day makes. Last week critics were bemoaning the state of the Canadian Olympic team results at the Vancouver games. Too few medals were being won for the amount of money we put into the “Own the Podium” campaign. The campaign where the government pumps millions of dollars into preparing athletes for the games.
But about mid-week all that changed. Women brought four medals home on Wednesday. Our hockey teams were winning. All of a sudden pride and hope flowed from everywhere and many of the critics were silenced. Then even more medals, especially golds! And now we’re on the brink of winning more golds than any other country ever in a winter games!
Sure we didn’t get some medals in the beginning where we were expected to get some, but there were the surprises that came up in events where we might not have expected to win any medals.
Like who knew we had one women’s bobsleigh team, much less two, who were world class teams!?
This is the beauty of the Olympic games, stories of inspiration, athletes who have had to overcome personal tragedies to compete. How can you not feel emotional watching Joannie Rochette skate? She lost her mother just days before her event and put on a dazzling routine at a time when no one would have thought bad of her had she decided to walk away from the competition to mourn.
These athletes are passionate about what they do. They have to be! Almost all of them live far below the poverty line. They give up family, they give up social lives, they give up riches, all for the love of their sport. No doubt they watched their friends get married, buy houses, have children, begin careers, they often wondered if it was really worth it. Was it worth all the hard work and sacrifice?
You might wonder the same thing about them. You see all they go through as they get ready for competition. The early morning practices, the time spent away from home, family and friends.
But I tell you, if you’ve never stood on top of a podium, you can’t quite understand what it’s like. I’ve had the privilege of being there, getting the medal around your neck… it makes it all worth it. Now I never made it to the Olympics, but I have been to provincial competitions. To be recognized as the top in your sport is a powerful moment. It makes all those weekends you gave up worth it. All those parties with friends you missed, it’s worth it.
To be successful in anything, and sports especially, you have to make it your primary focus. You have to live and breathe your sport.
This is no different with faith.
In our reading this morning, we hear a threat being made to Jesus. Herod wants to kill him.
But Jesus is unfazed. He tells Herod he’s too busy to be killed right now. For the next couple of days, he’s got people to heal, stuff to do. So he’s going to have to wait his turn.
Imagine… Jesus is so focused on doing his work, the threat of death has no effect on his plans. He is going to continue doing his work, no matter what people think.
Jesus has spent three years travelling around the region teaching and healing. He’s faced many challenges and threats to his life. He’s left his family and his home, he’s given up so much to do what he is most passionate about.
Doing the will of God.
Jesus calls Herod a fox. Typically what does a fox do? There’s the saying, “sly as a fox.” Foxes are stereotyped as tricksters, taking opportunities where they present themselves for food. Sneaking in unexpected to catch a meal.
Which then makes it interesting when Jesus describes himself as a mother hen. As he approaches the city of Jerusalem, the city where he knows he will die, Jesus wishes to protect the people of Jerusalem as a mother hen protects her chicks. From who? Foxes and other predators of course!
Jesus wants to protect us. In the grand scheme of God’s plan for the world, love is at the top. Love of all people. Saving us from the destructive behaviours we have in our lives. Saving us from those who wish to bring us down and hurt us.
Jesus comes to bring us all together under him, so that we too can help others. So we can grow and mature in faith so we can help others grow and mature as well.
Helping us to understand our own part of God’s plan for the world and how we are to be active in this plan.
Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians how we are one with Christ. He tells us to watch out for those who put their gods in other places. Places like their own needs, their “bellies” he says. How they set their mind on earthly things and end up as enemies of Jesus Christ and the work that we do as followers of him.
Paul tells us that it is through Jesus we are transformed from the humiliation of being one of these people into being conformed into his glory.
We just need to be sure of our focus.
Jesus was sure when he was threatened. He said “no!” He told people around him he was too busy to talk to Herod. If Herod wanted to kill him, he was going to have to take a number and wait his turn because Jesus still has a lot of work to do.
People warned Jesus that if he continued on his current path, Herod would get to him. But Jesus was not worried. Jesus knew what he was doing, he knew what he was supposed to do. He knew it would cost him his life, yet he continued doing it.
Jesus put his mind on the end goal. To be obedient to God’s call and to live his life to wherever it would lead.
Would you consider doing the same?
If someone warned you that if you continue to follow Jesus Christ and do the work we are all called to do, you would be hurt or even die as a result, what would you do?
Would you tell them to take a number and wait their turn because you are too busy doing God’s work to deal with them now?
Would you be able to keep so focused on God you would ignore all other distractions?
With the example of the elite athletes at the Olympic games, could you continue to train under the tutelage of Jesus Christ to become the best follower you can be? Could you make your relationship with God your top priority over all other things?
Joannie Rochette left home at the age of 13 to pursue her dream of figure skating. She gave up a lot in hopes of achieving what she the other night. Every athlete who goes to the Olympics has made great personal sacrifices in order to pursue their dream of being an elite athlete in the world. These are full-time jobs for them. They train all day long, they manage what they take into their bodies so they can be at their peak, they eat, sleep and dream about what they want to achieve in their sport.
This is how, when they have a big setback, like Joannie had, they are still able to compete.
In an interview this past week I heard Joannie say that when she took the ice, and the music started, she went into her bubble. She seperated the athlete from the person and her body just took over. She was so well trained she didn’t even have to think about what she was doing, it just did it for her automatically.
The bodies and minds of athletes are conditioned to react automatically to situations, no matter what is happening around them.
If you are able to do the same, if you are focused enough on God to resist the temptation to turn away from Him, you have a chance to be on the podium. There’s no podium of medals here on earth for us, but when we enter into God’s glorious kingdom, there is a great celebration waiting for us.
Jesus knew how to react. Nothing anyone ever said to him distracted him from his mission. When times were tough, he relied on his training.
In this season of Lent, this is the perfect time to work on our own training. To exercise our spiritual bodies so that we cannot be distracted from what God is calling us to do and be in the world.
The difference between Lent and Advent is that this tends to be a less busy time of year. There’s no parties and social gatherings, there’s no shopping to be done, there’s just less pressure on us. So it allows us the opportunity to focus more on the season. The walk with Jesus towards the cross, realizing what his death and resurrection mean to us.
It’s a time when we can grow our spiritual bodies. To work on becoming stronger in our faith.
The training is really not that hard. The training is to read scripture and reflect on its meaning. To spend time in prayer, but not just talking, but also listening to see if God has anything to say to us in these times.
Lent is an opportunity to become closer to God. A time to reflect on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus who came to earth to show God’s love to all people. And when people challenged him, as we too will be challenged in our faith, he still carried on his work, letting them know if they wanted to see him, they might as well take a number and wait their turn.
May we be wise enough to do the same, relying on our own training in times of doubt and struggle.