As preached, in part, at Rye Lane last week.
I’ve signed up to run a half-marathon. This is madness. It’s three times longer than I’ve ever run before. It is unnatural, it strikes me, to run that far.
Thankfully, I have 3 months to prepare. I have downloaded a training programme from the internet and pencilled it into my diary – “3 miles low intensity”, “30 mins cross training”, and the sly increases of a long run increasing by a mile a week. Ha. As though they think I don’t notice.
This awful training schedule has a point to it. It is (I fondly believe) purposeful.
If I got to the end of the three months and then shrugged my shoulders and said – oh well, I’m not going to bother running the actual race – I would have missed the point, somewhat. The training is for a purpose.
I’ve been thinking about this a little bit as we’ve just entered Lent. We can give up things, or take up things for Lent, and those are good decisions –we follow Jesus into the wilderness and fast, and that is a good thing. But if we are following Jesus into the wilderness, we follow him for a purpose. Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days to fast in order to PREPARE for something.
After wrestling temptations, he is filled “with the power of the Spirit”. He heads to a synagogue and stands up to read. Taking one of the scrolls of the prophet Isaiah, he reads barely over one verse.
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
Not much of a reading today, think some of the crowd.
And then he preaches the most electrifying eight word sermon ever heard.
in your hearing.”
Goosebumps rise around the synagogue. A weighty silence follows.
Jesus’ preparation is for a purpose, something incredible. A world-changing, good-news-bringing, freedom-proclaiming, sight-bringing, oppression-destroying ministry.
If we follow Jesus into the wilderness, we don’t just follow him for the preparation part – we follow him for the purpose part as well. A share in his purpose.
I’ve only just noticed that even in eight words, Jesus manages to include in his sermon something which sounds a little bit like an invitation and a little bit like a challenge. “In your hearing”, he says. No abstraction here. No thinking “Oh yes, that’s jolly good, glad to hear about that fulfilment happening. Somewhere else.”
Instead: “you’re in on it”, Jesus says. Your choice to decide what to do with that – but no doubting the fact that you were here to hear this. Today. In your hearing.
How to prepare for a share in this joyful, epic, freedom-bringing life?
That is a question forty days can only start to answer.