By Matt HoranPole Vault

The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ longest recorded teaching, and it does nothing short of turn the world upside down.  The beatitudes teach that the poor will be rich, that the meek will be in charge, that the humble will be lifted up.  He praises those who make peace—not those who live off of political partisanship.  He praises the persecuted, the mourning, the pure, and the merciful.  He casts vision for the Kingdom of God, and to the chagrin of the political players of the day, it looks nothing like the visions that they were casting for their own cause.

After the beatitudes, Jesus addresses some the Ten Commandments—the foremost of the Jewish Law.  As the Jews bickered about what it took to be acceptable, as they argued back and forth for their own gain about who the authority on Judaism should be, Jesus continued to cast a new vision.  They were intended to create a community of love and sharing and compassion and respect and honor.  They were not intended to be legalistic hoops to jump through—they were to be the symptoms of a people whose heart belonged to God.  But that’s not what they’d become by the time Jesus arrived.

Now they were a collection of bare minimums.  “What does it take to be holy enough?”  “What do I have to do to be socially or politically acceptable?”  “How can I maintain my membership in Judaism?”  Religion had actually become a business—outside the temple people were selling things that could then be taken in to be sacrificed.  People were profiting off of the sins that needed atonement. No wonder Jesus drove them out of the Temple in disgust!

Listen to how refreshing the voice of Jesus is.  He says to us, don’t ask, “What is necessary?”  Ask, “What is possible?”  How might I obey God more fully?  How might I be more a part of God’s Kingdom?  Don’t murder?  Don’t steal?  Don’t lie?  Go to church for an hour on Sunday?  I have friends who will tell me, “Well, I went to a wedding this weekend.  That counts as church, right?”  There is something so wrong about a heart that asks, What is the bare minimum that I have to do? And that is the heart that Jesus addresses in the Sermon on the Mount.

For those of you who might not be familiar, the pole-vault is an athletic track and field competition where someone holds a long pole, runs down a long runway, plants the end of the pole in the ground and then uses their momentum and the pole to lift themselves up over a stick suspended up in the air.  Whoever jumps the highest is the winner.

We aren’t sure where the event originated, but there are centuries old traditions of people using this pole-vaulting action to traverse difficult, or perhaps marshy terrain that’s hard to walk through.  It began appearing as a competitive sport back in the middle of the 1800s, and today it is a regular part of track and field competitions from junior high to the Olympics.

There is a now-retired pole-vaulter by the name of Sergei Bubka.  He is from the Ukraine, but he first began competing in major competitions in 1981, while the Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union.  The world record for the pole vault at that time was 5.8 meters, or a little over 19 feet.  So imagine trying to get yourself 19 feet into the air with nothing to aid you but a long pole.  No ladder, no friends to give you a boost, no helicopter or airplane or trampoline of any kind.  Just you and your pole.  This was the craft of Sergei Bubka.  A daunting task, but by 1984, Sergei broke the world record by vaulting 5.85 meters into the air.  He stood at the pinnacle of his sport—there was no one better.

Nowadays Olympic athletes who have that kind of success retire so that they can take payments from being on talk shows or Wheaties boxes, but Sergei continued.  Though he was the world record holder, he continued to train, he continued to vault.  By the end of 1984, he’d broken his own record three more times.  He got as high as 5.94 meters, and when he did, people in the sport began to wonder what was possible.  The six-meter mark was considered unattainable to most, but Sergei got people wondering if it might be possible.  Already the world record holder, he pressed on to see what else was possible, and on June 13th, 1985, he vaulted over a bar six meters in the air—about 19 feet, six inches.  He was now not only the champion in his sport, he was a legend.  A pioneer.  What greater height was there?

But Sergei kept training, and he kept vaulting.  He broke his own record again in 1985, again in 1986, again in 1987, and again in 1988.  He kept on training, and kept on vaulting, and kept on raising the bar over and over and over again.  In 1989 and 1990, he, he failed to break the record, and people wondered if perhaps his skills were beginning to decline, so he came back and broke it four times in 1991 and three more times in 1992, getting up to 6.12 meters—over 20 feet.  Finally, in 1993, he stopped breaking his record, and commentators began again to talk about his decline.  So in 1994 at age 31, he broke the record one more time, and to this day the world record in the pole-vault is held by Sergei Bubka at 6.14 meters, or 20 feet, 2 inches.  He broke the world record in 1984, and was at the pinnacle of his sport.  But rather than taking satisfaction in that, he broke the record 16 more times.

So where are we today?  Are we as far along in our journey with Jesus Christ as we need to be.  Are we too busy, too young, too old, too much of something to think about what else is possible?  What is our motivating question?  Do we ask, “What do I have to do?”  Am I just doing enough to avoid guilt.  Just enough to avoid standing out?  Or do I ask, “Hmmm… what else is possible?”  The bare minimum is not the kind of thinking that belongs in the Kingdom of God.  That’s not where Jesus tends to hang out.  The question that Jesus asks is, “What else is possible?”  May that be the question that each of us asks as well.


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