When You're Just 120 Short

You've felt like this. Just 120 short. No, I don't mean dollars at the gas pump, trying to fill up the SUV these days. I mean on the job, or with your kids. Or with your life's partner. In your battle with feeling depressed, or finally getting your health and strength back, or finding a faith for happy times and hard times alike. So close and yet so far. You feel like after all you've worked for, waited for, been through; all you've hoped and prayed for, it's just not gonna happen. It's enough to make you wanna give in and give up. It's a cruel twist on a Bible affirmation. "It's too high, too much for me. I cannot attain it." Oh yes, I'm sadly confident. Most of us know exactly what I'm talking about. But if there's a soul here who's never known such feelings, let this message serve as a kind of pre-emptive strike. 'See, your days comin'! Most of us have had the need. Some of us do today. Some of us will tomorrow. We have need of a word from Jesus, spoken only hours before his death. And he said amen to it, only hours after his resurrection. Here's what he says. "I will not leave you desolate. I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also."
How's it work? 'Between us and Jesus? 'When we're feelin' just 120 short? Let me tell you a story. A true-life story. Derek Redmond was determined to finish the race. Period. But he was just 120 meters short. Derek had set the British 400 meter record by age nineteen. But an Achilles tendon injury forced him out of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. After that, he went through five separate surgeries. 'Come '92: Olympics in Barcelona. Derek Redmond is absolutely aching to run for a medal. On race day, 65,000 fans stream into the stadium. High in the stands is Jim Redmond, Derek's father. A faithful witness to every one of his son's world competitions. ESPN spots Jim wearing a T-shirt. It says, "Have you hugged your foot today?" The race begins. Derek takes the lead. "Keep it up, keep it up," his father says to himself. But on the backstretch, only 175 meters from the finish line, Derek hears a pop. His right hamstring! He pulls up lame, as if he's been shot. His leg quivering, Derek begins to hop on the other leg. He's determined to get to where he was born to go, the finish line! But he slows down. 'Falls to the track. Medics come running. He sprawls. That moment, 'comes a stir at the top of the stands. Jim Redmond, seeing his son in trouble, races down from the top row. Pushing, sidestepping, bumping others. All he can think about is getting to his son, to help him up. He's absolutely single-minded, unstoppable!

On the track, Derek lies dream-shattered, friendless, parentless and alone. The other runners cross the finish line. Tears pour down Derek's face. All he can think is, "I don't want to take a DNF, did not finish." The medics arrive with a stretcher. Derek tells them, "No way! I'm finishing my race." He lifts himself, slowly carefully, hobbling down the track. The crowd realizes Derek isn't dropping out, limping off in defeat. He's fiercely determined to make the finish line… on one leg! Ever more slowly, painfully he steps. The fans rise to their feet roaring louder and louder.
Right here, Jim Redmond reaches the bottom of the stands, vaults the railing, dodges security, runs to his son – security running after him. "That's my son out there and I'm going to help him."

Jim reaches his son at the final curve, about 120 meters from the finish. "I'm here, son," Jim whispers, hugging his boy. "We'll finish together." Derek puts his arms around his father's shoulders and sobs. Arm in arm, father and son struggle toward the finish line with 65,000 people cheering, clapping, weeping. A few steps from the end, the crowd's in an absolute frenzy. Jim releases his grip so that Derek can cross the finish line by himself. "I'm the proudest father alive," Jim Redmond tells the press afterward, tears in his eyes. "I'm prouder than if he had won the gold. It took a lot of guts for him to do what he did." Together, they kept their promise to each other to finish the race, no matter what.

Ah, God the Father and the Son. "I am in the Father and the Father is in me," Jesus says to his disciples the night before his crucifixion (John 14:10). They were bound together as tightly as Derek and Jim Redmond as they approached the finish line at the cross. Here are the disciples, called to run this race too. Jesus has always been there with them. Jesus has always been their reassurance-in-the-faith. The miracles, the teaching, the leadership. But now he's pulled up, can't go on. It seems the cross means they'll have to finish alone. But Jesus says even after his death he'll still be with them, encourage them, plead with them, pray for them, teach them, though the nature of his presence will change. "In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me," he says (14:19). Christ will be present to them in the form of the Holy Spirit. They won't have to run this race or cross the finish line alone. "I will not leave you orphaned" (14:18). "I am coming to you," he says. At the very moment you pull up lame, even sprawling on the ground in pain. The Spirit, like Jesus, will stand in for them and for us, strengthen us, keep us on track. (14:17)
So, next time you pull up with a hamstring 120 short of the finish, and no one else's coming from the stands to put their arms around you, will you be alone? Defeated? Dead in your tracks? No! The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of life in the Risen Jesus. And the Spirit is coming! "Because I live, you also will live" (14:19). The good news is Christ has conquered the power of sin and death. The same God who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to our bodies through his Spirit-that-dwells-in-us (Romans 8:11). No matter what comes our way, he is coming to our side. Here's an age old question with a right now answer. "What is your only comfort, in life and in death?" That's the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism, a Protestant teaching tool written way back in 1562. The answer is as true today as it was almost 500 years ago: "That I belong – body and soul, in life and in death – not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ."
We know, because he's near to us in the Spirit. He continues to seal his promise at table, now as then. So much of injury on the track comes from poor nutrition. To prevent hurt, Christ gives us the bread of life and the blood of the cup, poured out for us and for many. Forgiveness! Our every muscle is fed. Our spirits are satisfied. He trains us at the table. How to run. And where to look for help – when we're just 120 short. And we know. We can't make it to the end without someone to lean on. Here are the training rules: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." If we can't remember every one, maybe we can remember the very last, best one before the cross. "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." The result? "They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them" (14:21).
Jesus says this is still how he comes to us, crumpled on the track. 120 short. With no other hope in sight. When you're feeling defeated, love one another. When the medical test is disturbing, love one another. When a family member faces a layoff, love one another. When a friend has been rejected, love one another. When there's a death, love one another. When the kids disappoint, or the parents betray, love one another. "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples," says Jesus.
Who here has never come up short? Who here doesn't feel like this right now, about something or someone in their life? Who here wouldn't like Someone, with a capital S? Someone to rouse from the top row. Someone to plunge through the crowded aisles of those who don't know or don't care. Someone to leap the fence, elude every security guard of your-life's-status-quo. And put his mouth to your ear and whisper, "I'm here, son, here daughter. We'll finish this together." Anybody here who, somewhere in life or soul, doesn't need Someone to slip an arm around your waist, get you back on your feet, and walk you arm in arm to the very end? Anybody here like that may not need a Savior, may not need this table of Promise and Presence! But as for the rest of us, well, the table is set, the meal prepared, the nourishment, the training and the saving Spirit are at the ready. So if you know it, as you feel it, 120 short… and in need of salvation: to get where you were born to go, come here. Come to the table. Come to Christ.

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