That moment. That moment in time where everything that has gone before on your way there is now just a memory. Whether planned for, trained for, thrust there against your will or just somehow you’re there: that moment has arrived-and you are staring it in the face.
On the 30th October 1974, boxing legend Muhammad Ali was fighting the Brash young and fit bull of a man in George Foreman for the World Championship. Because of Ali’s ageing body compared to the brute force of Forman’s-not only was he the rank underdog, those close to Ali, including his trainers feared greatly for his health. Winning the title was not the concern, Ali making it out of the ring-was their concern.
Ali himself knew his chances, and so on the first ring of the bell, he unleashed everything he had. He knew his best, maybe only chance was to take Foreman by surprise and knock him out in the first round. It did not work, after getting over the initial onslaught by Ali-Foreman unleashed in fury, anger and unrelenting force.
After the first round, Ali staggered back to his corner and slumped in his chair and the trainers knew their fears had arrived.
Ali’s trainer summed up the situation: “Our fear for his safety had materialised. We did not know what to do, but knew he should not go back out there. I looked at Ali, and it was the first time I had ever seen fear in his eyes. Here for the first time, he knew was a boxer he had no answer for. That was better than him. Then I saw a change, it seemed as if he was looking deep within himself, his eyes re-focussed-came alive again and I heard him say to himself ‘this is the moment you have waited for your whole life’”.
In our Gospel, Jesus ’moment has arrived.
Up till now, the tension has been steadily mounting. In chapter 2, verse 4 Jesus had spoken of his coming hour. But now, he has entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and things start to move quickly. It is the time of the Passover festival and the town is a hive of activity with Jews making the journey there from all over Israel and beyond.
Jesus is alerted by Philip and Andrew that some visiting Greeks have asked to speak to him. We are not told whether Jesus spoke to them or not, but he sees the significance-that Jew, Gentile, Greek alike will hear the truth of the Gospel.
His moment has arrived and in verses 23 and 27 he announces his plight.
“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified”,
and “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? Father save me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour”.
Like in the Garden of Gethsemane here we see both Jesus divine and human natures.
In the Garden, Jesus in his humanity asked “is there another way”, and now, he is “troubled and anxious”.
In his divine nature, he knows that the moment of his suffering and death was at hand for the purpose of Glory to the Father in the salvation of the world.
In this we see the paradox’s of Jesus victory.
He must die, so that we can live.
Jesus will shortly be judged, yet he will bring judgement on Satan and overthrow him.
If we were literally there during these times, without the knowledge of what’s ahead-being Jesus resurrection-Jesus’ announcement of what was to come would have been puzzling at best.
So using the picture of a grain of wheat, Jesus shows that death is in some cases necessary for new life. The seed has to be buried in the ground before it can produce ears of wheat containing hundreds of grains. Jesus is saying that his death is necessary before the great harvest of gathering together God’s people can begin.
But as with Jesus, there are two sides to the story. Yes he must die, but that is also true of his disciples, to us.
We must die to grow. Certainly that is the case literally upon our physical death: to be raised to live in eternal life.
But it’s also the here and now- our moment’s here on earth that Jesus talks off.
“Whoever loves his life loses it and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it”.
How does that make you feel? I do have my moments as Robbie Williams sings where“I don’t want to die, but I aint that keen of livin either” But I generally prefer the former.
Our Saviour Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, and that’s how it had to be to re-unite God the Father and humankind.
Here on earth we are both sinners and saints.
Sinners in ourselves, yet saints in Christ.
To “Hate this world” is that part of us-that human part, our sins, our self- serving, greed and so forth.
The part of ourselves we don’t like, where we fight it, yet with not a lot of ground seemingly made.
But saints in Christ-because we hand those sins over to Christ, that he brings forgiveness.
In the defeat of our efforts of self- renewal we throw ourselves in mercy at Jesus feet, and receive the victory-his victory, and in Christ we are renewed.
I mentioned at the start, that when Muhammad Ali was in the ring against George Foreman his boxing moment had arrived. Every bit of practice, the running, the planning, throwing punches in training and receiving them-they had all led to that moment, and through, basically sheer willpower and courage, in his moment he was victorious.
But what of the moments when our courage and our will power are have been long exhausted. Where we’ve come to that moment, and it’s too great for us.
The man Muhammad Ali beat in that boxing title fight, George Foreman, a head strong 26 year old was inconsolable. Ali had won the unwinnable fight, and Foreman had lost the” unlosable” fight. He was broken and crushed. In his own words he was so full of hatred that he wanted to hire a hitman to get back at his enemies-except there were too many of them. The following years he fell into such deep depression that his loved one’s feared he may never recover. They feared for his life.
Should you have been or have known a person that is at the bottom, with no fight left in them, or yourself-you will know it’s a perilous situation, a knife edge, and the outcome, the moment can go either way-it is literally facing death in the face. It’s as if you, they, need a miracle.
George Foreman was on that knife edge. Later he would say that “I was dead, and where I was, was nothingness, just nothing”. This was his moment, because in that nothingness, alone and beaten, he came to know Christ.
In 1977 George became an ordained Christian Minister and in 1994 aged 45, he became the boxing world champion of the world.
Asked of his life he said this: “When I lost that fight to Muhammad Ali in 1974 it was one of the best things that ever happened in my life. It was my chance to have a second chance to live. I found out that the greatest thing in the world—the greatest existence of anything—is that God made us human beings, and that I found out how to love my fellow man. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to truly appreciate human beings’ lives until they’ve found Jesus Christ”.
The apostle Paul, in jail-persecuted and awaiting his own death, wrote I have fought the good fight and run the good race.
As do we, in and with Christ we too are fighting the good fight and running the good race.
Jesus died on the cross so that we can live. That was Jesus moment, and when you came to believe, that was your moment. Live in that moment.
Verses from Ecclesiastes 3:
“No-one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice and to do good in their lives, and also that every person should eat and enjoy the food of their labour-it is the gift of God.
To everything there is a season. A time for every purpose under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant, and time to pluck what is planted.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh.
A time to mourn, and a time to dance”.
Yes, live with passion, cry without guilt, mourn in hope, be yourself, laugh at your shortfalls, take some chances, follow your dreams and be humble in your achievements and pray in sureness, and thank God, that because of Christ we can. Amen.