Here in the Vancouver area, we are in the midst of this amazing, once-in-a-lifetime season called the Olympics. The able-bodied Games ended a couple of weeks ago and last Friday, the Paralympic Games began. And the whole world is watching. An estimated 3.5 billion people watched the able-bodied Games on television. By Feb 26, 33.1 million or 99 percent of the Canadian population had viewed some television coverage of the Games. On Feb 28, the last day of the Games, 26.5 million Canadians, about 80 percent of the population of the whole country, watched at least part of the Gold Medal Men’s Hockey Game. I was at the Abbotsford Airport during the game and there was a fully booked Westjet plane sitting on the tarmac and they couldn’t load it because everybody wanted to stay and watch the game. And I heard on the news this past week that the same thing happened at YVR with an Air Canada flight. And what we wanted to see as we watched the various events was for our team, our athletes, to win the gold medal. And every other country wanted gold medal winning performances for their athletes too. Steve Yzerman, the general manager of the Canadian Men’s Hockey Team, responded to questions about whether there was too much pressure being put on the Canadian team to win gold by saying, “It’s the same with every team, they all want to win gold. Do you think that the Russians will have a parade for their team if they win silver?” And this drive for gold was perhaps best illustrated by Canadian Chris del Bosco in the Men’s Skicross Final. He had a bronze medal locked up, but he decided to push for the gold. He fell, and as a result, ended up with no medal at all. “I wasn’t content,” he said after the race. “Third, I guess it’s all right for some people, but I wanted to give 100 per cent for my sport and my country.”
There is within each one of us a desire to go for the gold. In the Soul Cravings Prequel, Erwin McManus writes,
“Whether it’s striving for success or longing for significance, whether it’s trying to create a better world or become a better person, there is a drive within us all. We are designed with a need to move forward. Without it our lives become only shadows of what they could have been. You can live without pursuing a dream, you can function without passion, but with each passing moment, your soul will become more and more anemic.
Your soul longs to become, and you can try to ignore it, but soon you will find yourself hating your life and despising everyone who refuses to give up on his or her dreams.”
All of us crave destiny, all of us want to write a life story that is far better than the one that we are living now. And, over time, our desire for destiny usually leads to a crisis. For a few of us, there is a crisis of success. We actually achieve our goals, we actually get to the top of whichever ladder we are climbing and when we get there we find that the trappings of our success are so empty. But for many of us the crisis is one of frustration as we compare the dream in our hearts with reality around us and see a huge, unbridgeable gap between what is and what we long to be. And that’s what happens in this video clip from the movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
Sometimes things don’t work out like we hope that they would. So we have this desire for destiny but that desire so often feels unfulfilled.
During this Lenten season, I am reading through the portions of the Bible that record the last week of Jesus’ life before he died. And as I read through those portions of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, I am struck by how much content of those books is dedicated to those last seven days. I know of no other biographical writings that do that. And though each of those four books has their different nuances and emphases, in all of them there is this inevitable march towards the cross. There is the jubilant welcome into Jerusalem. But then there is conflict with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the leaders of Jesus’ own religion, Judaism. There is the moment when Judas, one of Jesus’ close followers, goes to those religious leaders to make arrangements to betray him.
And then there is the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. One senses that there is a great fork in the road at this point in Jesus’ life. If he chooses one way, he will get the gold medal that he has been striving for all of his life. He will achieve the desires of his heart. His life mission will be complete. If he chooses the other way, which is the easy way, he will fail in all that he set out to achieve.
And to get the gold medal, Jesus has to go the hard way, he has to go to the cross. And when he gets there, the people in charge will not invite him to stand on a podium, so they can put flowers in his hand and sing his favourite song. No, they will force him to lay down on that cross so they can put nails in his hands and feet and shout words of derision to him. And the suffering will be worse than any suffering any other human being has ever had to endure in the whole history of humanity. Because it won’t be just the physical suffering that Jesus will experience. This Jesus, this kind, loving human being who never did anything wrong, this Son of God who never in all eternity had ever experienced any distance or estrangement in his relationship with God the Father, this innocent God-human will experience the infinite pain of having his Father turn his back on him because of human sin, our sin.
There in the Garden, Jesus knew what lay ahead, and yet he chose to go to the cross because he wanted to win the gold that was on the other side of the cross. And so he made his decision, and the die was cast. And a whole series of events began to quickly unfold. Jesus was arrested, beaten, condemned, flogged, nailed to a cross to suffer and die, and then was buried.
But on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead. On the third day, the angels cheered. On the third day, he said to his followers, “Do not be afraid (Mt. 28:10), Peace be with you! (Luke 24:36) Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (vv. 38-39) Jesus won the first prize, and that is Good News for everyone. For the gold that Jesus was going for was not his own salvation. He didn’t need it. The gold that Jesus was going for was not a shiny medal, or recognition from his people group, or a huge endorsement contract. No, the gold that Jesus as going for was you, and you, and you, and every one of you who are inside this building and every person who is outside of this building too. The gold that Jesus was going for was the whole wide world. And Jesus died and rose again so that all of us could have a life with him that lasts forever. Jesus went to the cross so that every young woman could know with certainty that all of her sins were forgiven. And Jesus went to the cross so that every old man could know with certainty that one day Jesus will heal and transform their tired old body into a new resurrection body that will never grow, never get sick and never die. And Jesus went to the cross so that every child who has been used or abused or neglected would know with certainty that they have a Saviour who loves them. And this Saviour has been wounded too. But he comes with healing on his wings and he binds up the wounds of the broken-hearted.
There is this idea in religion that if we just do everything right, then God will give us a good life. But that idea is not true. It is a lie that causes pride and self-centredness on the one hand or despair and hopelessness on the other. This idea is part of religious thinking, but it is not part of following Jesus. As we look at 1 Peter chapter one, we can tell by the way that Peter is writing that he is addressing people who are suffering because they follow Jesus. And Peter doesn’t tell them that these things shouldn’t happen to them. He doesn’t tell them that they can turn the situation around if they would just work harder. Instead, he points them towards the gold that Jesus has already won for them. The Message puts it this way:
3What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, 4 including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! 5 God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole. (1 Peter 1:3-5 The Message)
Imagine a tape measure with the measuring tape pulled out to its full length. Now let’s pretend that this tape measure represents the new life with God that Jesus gives to us. It begins with our baptism, when we believe, and it continues forward into eternity forever. Now the part of our life with Jesus that we live in this world is like the first millimetre on this tape measure. And the part of our life that we live in the new heaven and earth is all the rest of the tape measure. In this first millimetre, we will experience suffering, trials and tribulations. But even in this millimetre, Jesus will help us through all of those difficult times. And in faith, we look forward to the future, to the gold that Jesus has already won and put into place for us: life everlasting with no more tears, no more suffering, and no more death. We will have complete wholeness and health, and we will experience perfect fellowship with God and with other human beings. In this life, our faith will be put to the test, but the tests will strengthen our faith so that we make it all the way from the start of the tape to the beginning of the second millimetre, to that next chapter in our lives when we get to see with our own eyes what God promises us in his Word.
And this brings us back to the very beginning. What kind of gold are you and I going to go for? Sandy Miller is an Anglican cleric who used to serve at Holy Trinity Brompton, the church in England where the Alpha program began. He has said that, in a way, there are 3 conversions or steps that we experience in our journey of faith. The first is our conversion to Christ, that moment in time when we begin to believe in Jesus Christ and trust him as our Lord and Saviour. The second conversion is our conversion to the church, that moment when we begin to identify with the Christian Church, see ourselves as part of that body and begin to fulfill our role within that body. The third conversion or step is our conversion to the kingdom. This happens when we begin to see ourselves as servants of God seeking to expand the dominion over which he rules, bringing about his justice and shalom peace and encouraging more and more people to trust him as King of their lives.
When we see the world with kingdom eyes, we see things as they really are. We see a broken and dying world that badly needs a Saviour. With a heart that is captured by God’s kingdom values, we are moved to live and serve in love in whatever ways we can. And when we live our lives for the kingdom, our trials and tribulations fall away. Because we are part of something that is much bigger than ourselves. We are part of God’s work of saving the world. And here’s the thing about the kingdom of God, it advances in both good times and bad as God works through us. In fact, it has been said that the kingdom advance further and faster in tough times than in good times. So even in the midst of tough times, we can praise God and be thankful to him. For we are working together to bring about a prize that’s worth far more than gold, the eternal salvation of people all around the world. Now that’s a destiny worth living for. Amen.
(shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church on 14 March 2010.)
 “The Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games: By the Numbers,” (Internet; available at: http://www.vancouver2010.com/olympic-news/n/news/the-vancouver-2010-olympic-winter-games-by-the-numbers_297556Ko.html; downloaded 13 March 2010).
 “Only 1980 Games Surpasses 2010,” (Internet; available at: http://sports.espn.go.com/olympics/winter/2010/icehockey/news/story?id=4957570; downloaded 13 March 2010).
 “Canada’s Del Bosco falls in skicross final,” (Internet; available at: http://www.cbc.ca/olympics/freestyleskiing/story/2010/02/21/spo-men-skicross-sunday.html; downloaded 13 March 2010).
 Erwin McManus, Soul Cravings Prequel (Power to Change: Langley BC, 2009), 13.