Jesus and Kelly Holmes


Selected from a collection of sermons by


Dr. David Clarke



As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.

Night is coming when no-one can work. John 9: 4




She was very strong and determined.  She never missed a training session, that was why she won an Olympic gold.’  The words are those of Dave Arnold, an athletics coach at Tonbridge in Kent, and he was speaking about Kelly Holmes, the athlete he coached for almost two decades.  The details of her life and her Olympic triumphs are widely known.



Born in Kent, the daughter of a Jamaican-born car fitter who went AWOL soon after her birth, she grew up with two ambitions - to join the Army and to compete in the Olympics.  Although she showed considerable promise as a teenager, athletics took second place when she joined the Army, becoming a physical fitness instructor.  Then in 1992, watching the Barcelona Olympics, she spotted a competitor whom she had trounced during school championships.  She thought to herself, ‘If she can do it, so can I’.  And so the steep ascent to Olympic glory began, with injury in Atlanta in 1996, a bronze medal in Sydney in 2000, and sporting immortality winning a gold medal in Athens in 2004.



Her determination and tenacity are what I hold before you today.  Success in anything demands application and discipline.  As someone said, ‘The dictionary is the only place where success comes before work’.  Kelly never missed a training session, as all her energies were concentrated on that one goal - Olympic victory.  With the apostle Paul, she would have said, This one thing I do.  Jesus displayed the same single-minded purpose in the incident from which we take our text, As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.  Night is coming when no-one can work.



The disciples saw a man blind from birth and believing as they did that all suffering resulted from sin, they saw only two explanations - either this man had sinned or his parents.  Jesus saw a third possibility which challenged their belief.  In some way, God would use this man as a case demonstration of divine healing power.  Healing was to be carried out while there was opportunity.  The night, signifying death, would come soon enough, but until then work must be untiring.  As one of the great reformers wrote on this passage, ‘The hatred, opposition, and persecution of the world, and the failures and infirmities of professing Christians must not make us give way to despondency.  Like our Master, we must work on’. We have to ‘fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run’.



Before we press on, note these preliminary truths.  First, success does not come by chance.  A person cannot drop a goal at rugby like Johnny Wilkinson, or rip a drive like golfer Tiger Woods, or launch a service ace like Roger Federer without hours of painstaking practice.  Such skills cannot be extemporised.  The performance in the heat of competition simply reveals the skills which have been perfected in solitude.  Their genius is, as Edison remarked, one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.  Immense labour lies behind it.



Second, success is not governed by moods.  We must not think that the great painters or musicians or writers produced a masterpiece just because they felt particularly inspired one morning.  No, the great performers are not governed by moods; they master their moods.  One writer said, ‘I write when I am inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning’.  The prolific novelist, Sir Walter Scott, once recorded in his diary, ‘I woke this morning with a most hypocondriacal spirit; I worked therefore and endured all this forenoon’.  It was calculated that Scott once covered 120 pages without stopping for food or rest!  When the masters created something unforgettable, they were simply plying the craft by which they earned their living.  The musician Hadyn was once asked why he had never written a quintet, and he answered, ‘Because I was never asked to write a quintet!’



Jesus would say, firstly, that we must do God’s work - even when we do not feel like it.  There were times when Kelly Holmes didn’t feel like applying herself to the rigours of athletics any more.  She ended the Atlanta Games of 1996 nursing a hairline fracture of her left leg.  She said, ‘I had a leg that was killing me, a stomach that felt as if it was being ripped apart and a heart that was broken’.  She dropped her spikes into an Atlanta dustbin and didn’t go near a racing track for two months.  I hated the sport, hated everything about it’ she confessed.  But back she came, even when she didn’t feel like it, displaying true professionalism.  That’s how the late Alistair Cooke described a true professional - someone who does his best, even when he doesn’t feel like it.



We human beings are such a combination of elements - body and mind interact on one another.  Heredity sometimes helps and sometimes hinders, outside circumstances impact upon us, so that while on some days we feel on top of the world, there are other days when we are down in the dumps.  Many a day we face the world with confidence, - while other days we drag ourselves to duty, putting on a face ‘to meet the faces that we meet’.



Since our Lord was fully human, there must have been times when he felt precisely the same.  Yet, the New Testament shows little trace of it, for Jesus developed such a rich life of prayer, laying hold of the Father’s resources at all times, that he was able to triumph over the downcast mood.  But the mere fact that he did not succumb to it does not mean that he did not occasionally feel the temptation.  There must have been times when he was exasperated by the snail-like progress of his disciples, his men of little faith.



Marks graphic gospel tells us that he was once angry with the hard-hearted Pharisees, and the word Mark used refers in other literature to the snorting of a horse.  But Jesus overcame the emotions, and in his love for all men, went the way of the Cross, finishing the work He was given to do.



There may be times when we are tempted to say to ourselves, ‘I don't feel like going to church this morning’.  Kelly Holmes didn’t succumb to the ‘I don’t feel like it’ mood, and never missed a training session.  Sir Alex Ferguson was pretty annoyed a few years ago when David Beckham missed a training session because his little son, Brooklyn, was sick.  Sir Alex did not build triple-winning teams with that mentality!  The disciple Thomas was not with the others in the upper room when the risen Christ appeared.  No doubt he could have offered persuasive justification for his absence, but consider how much he missed.  Christ, in his infinite patience, granted him another interview, but what a shame he wasn’t there the first time.



A twentieth century poet conquered the ‘I don’t feel like it syndrome’.  He chose for his epitaph the words, ‘I woke up, and knew that I was tired and continued my journey’.



Jesus would say, secondly, that we ought to continue God’s work - even when the vision is dim.  Visions are wonderful things.  When a person has a dream, work is transformed into pleasure.  Visions come easily at certain times, after a holiday, perhaps, or at the beginning of a new church year.



But how do we respond when the dark days come and the visions fade?  Or when repeated disappointments make us feel that our efforts are wasted or unappreciated.  At such times, the only solution is to go steadily and inflexibly on, pressing along the grey stretches of the road, until the vision returns.  It is an old military maxim, that soldiers obey the last order they have received, and they persist until a different order is received.  It is the equivalent of the footballing adage, ‘Play to the whistle’. Christopher Columbus had his vision.  Leaves and branches washed up on a Portuguese beach convinced him of the existence of a land beyond the western sea where such strange branches must be indigenous.  While he sailed west for weeks, his crew became disillusioned and mutinous, but the ship’s log reveals his tenacity.  Time and time it simply read, ‘Today we sailed on’, until land was sighted and the vision became reality



There was a time when Jesus seemed to lose the vision.  On the Cross he cried, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’  But he didn’t then tell the soldiers that it had all been a purblind prank.  The vision was dim, but he hung and suffered there, and then the light broke, and there burst forth the one great word of victory, Finished.



A century ago, there was a turbulent Roman Catholic priest named George Tyrell.  He had a love/hate relationship with the church, and she with him.  Sometimes’, he said, ‘I wish that one could forget about the whole business of religion, and have done with it once and for all, but then there’s that strange man on his cross who draws you back, again and again’.



Jesus would say, thirdly, that we ought to persevere in God’s work - even though we may never see the work completed.  We are only bit players at most in God’s scheme of things.  Even the towering Paul admitted, I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow’. (1 Corinthians 3: 6).  We each are called to do our little part in the building of his Kingdom, in the knowledge that we may not live to see its fruit.  Many a musician has left an unfinished symphony; many a writer has left an unfinished novel.  So it is in life and faith, for things are not always neatly rounded off.  We need to embrace the truth stated by the great psychologist, William James, ‘the greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it’.  And what better way of spending it than in the service of One whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom?



Henry Twells, author of the hymn which begins, At evening when the sun was set, the sick, 0 Lord, around thee lay, had an experience around a graveside one day which opened his mind to this truth.  The deceased man was a clergyman, someone who had once confided to Twells his sense of personal and professional failure saying, ‘If I have managed to turn one life to the paths of righteousness that knowledge has not been vouchsafed to me’.  He died convinced he had been a failure.  Around the graveside that day was another man, noticeably distressed.  Twells asked him if he had known the deceased.  No’, said the man, ‘I never spoke to him.  But I owe him my soul’.



We do our work, even when we don’t feel like it, even when the vision is dim and even though we may never see it completed and one day, in a clearer light, we will have our joy and our reward.  As President Edman of Wheaton College, Illinois once told his students, ‘It is always too soon to quit’.