Welcome to the Olympics!
February 19, 2006
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Weíre beginning a two-part sermon series this morning called ďWelcome to the Olympics!Ē We have some interesting things to learn from the Olympics. Have you watched any of events? Did you enjoy the Olympics? I do. I enjoy the skating. Itís really beautiful, so graceful. The skiing is terrific. What do you like best about the Olympics?
[Pastor Tony asks each person to find a partner, not someone he or she came to church with, learn that personís name, and find out something that he or she enjoyed about the Olympics.]
When I watch the Olympics, I am amazed at the utter grace of the competitors. I wonder what makes them do it. Have you listened to any of the interviews? They talk about the feeling of listening to the crowds, of being up on the platform, of watching the flag go up. The triumphant feeling is why many of them do it.
Let me ask you this: secretly, deep inside, have you ever wished you were there? Have you ever wished you were one of them? Iíll let you in on a secret. I do! I wish I could skate like that, so gracefully. I wish I could feel the feeling of skiing into the air and flying and landing perfectly. Thereís part of me that looks at them and says, ďI wish I could be there. I wish I could do that.Ē (I could do without the competition, though.)
Maybe itís so for you, too. Well, my friends, this morning Iíve got good news, and Iíve got better news. The good news is that you are, or you can be, in an Olympic event. You are in the Olympics Ė Godís Olympics. And the better news is that you arenít competing with anybody except yourself.
The Bible points out how that is true. In 1Corinthians 9, verse 25, St. Paul is aware of the Olympic-type event. He says, ďEvery athlete in training submits to strict discipline to be crowned with a wreath that will not last. But we do it for one that will last forever, and that is why I run straight for the finish line.Ē
Thereís another verse in the Bible that Iíd like to point out to you. In Philippians 3:12-14, St. Paul says, ďI do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfect. I keep striving to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won me to Himself. Of course, my brothers, I do not think that I have already won it. This one thing I do, however. The one thing I do is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize which is Godís call through Jesus Christ to the life above.Ē Welcome, welcome to the Olympics, my friend.
If you decide to watch the Olympics tonight or any night, I invite you to say a prayer, to say ďThank you, God, that I am in the Olympics, too.Ē You are in an Olympic event that is more important than any event you see in Turin, because you are in the Olympic event whose goal is the development of you.
You see, Almighty God has a picture in His mind, a beautiful picture. What is the picture of? Itís a picture of you. Itís a picture of what God intends you to be. Itís a picture that God has painted first, but Heís given us a choice, to run the race or not, to develop the picture or not. You see, weíre all like a Polaroid photo. At first, the picture is hazy and blurry and weíre not sure what itís going to be. But as time goes on, it develops into a crisp, sharp picture. Thatís the way it is for you. God has that picture in His mind, a remarkable set of potentials that is you. And our job, as St. Paul would say, is to run the race toward the development of the picture that is you.
There are three areas, I believe, that we are challenged to run in. This Olympics is a triathlon. Weíre going to study the first one this week and the other two events next week. The first Olympic event that God is inviting us to run in is called ďThe Mind.Ē God has given you a wonderful, beautiful, fantastic mind. I look out on this congregation and I think about your potential, some of the things you do, your areas of expertise, and I am awestruck and humbled. This is a gathering of absolutely awesome mind power. The question is, how much of that mind power have we developed? God has put all that potential in you. Wonít you run the race? Wonít you go for the gold? Wonít you participate in the most important Olympic event of all? The first race is your mind.
Some folks were sitting around a table having a meal together. A young boy was eating, and his aunt said to him, ďOh, bless you, youíre such a wonderful growing boy. I stopped growing a long time ago.Ē And the boy said, ďNo you havenít. You may have stopped growing in your body, but you didnít stop growing in your mind, because youíre learning, and the more you learn the more you grow. You will grow your whole life.Ē Isnít that beautiful? And itís true. Itís true for you. Itís Godís gift. Itís Godís vision for you. Wonít you live into it? Wonít you live up to it? Take care of that beautiful mind God has given you.
What do we do to run this race? You need to feed your mind; you need to defend it; you need to use it. Iíll bet those athletes eat pretty carefully. I doubt they live on Burger King and stuff like that. I bet they watch what they put into themselves. What do we put into our minds? Wouldnít it be honoring God and reaching for excellence if we were particular about what we put into our minds, about the books we read and the movies we watch, the thoughts we allow ourselves to think? Do we really need to put images of violence in our minds? Do we really need that? Isnít there a book youíd rather reach for about some area of excellence, some biography, something about the Lord that is inspiring? How are you going to feed that Olympic-powered mind of yours? What movies will you watch? What people will you hang around with? What conversations will you allow yourself to have? Go for the gold, friends. Reach for the excellence. Donít settle for anything less. God created a masterpiece when He created you. Heís got that picture; help Him develop it. Feed your mind well.
One writer said that the only difference between us today and us five years from now is the books we read and the people we meet. Fascinating. What will you do to feed that excellent mind? Youíve got to feed it.
Second, youíve got to defend it. Iíll bet those athletes in the Olympics come up against all kinds of problems, all kinds of challenges. Iíll bet that subtle remarks and competition and pressure challenge them, but they stay straight for the gold. Donít let the Lilliputians get you down. In Gulliverís Travels, Gulliver goes to the land of the Lilliputians, where he is like a giant compared to them, and they try to tie him down. Down let the Lilliputians get you down, because theyíre going to try. And the enemy has the tendency to put down powerful ideas. I heard a wonderful quote from Francis Bacon: ďThere will be strong shadows where there is great light.Ē Youíve got great light within you. Donít let the Lilliputians tie you down. You can rise above it. You can pluck those strings. You can make choices about what influences there will be in your life. Youíve got a powerhouse mind; defend it.
And use it. Know that there are people here who are going to go into the week and do beautiful things for the world, for people. And thatís you. Use your mind. Develop it. Let new ideas come in. Let new ideas be sparked within you. Keep it active. Keep it supple. Do crossword puzzles. Let your mind be active and used. Let it run like athletes run, and you will be in the greatest Olympics of all. Itís a triathlon that begins with your mind.
Now, you may wonder why Iím not talking about emotions. Iím not talking about emotions because emotions go along with thought. For instance, if I were going to tell you a very sad story right now, youíd probably feel very sad. Iím not going to tell you a sad story. Iím going to ask you to think about something very happy. Iím going to ask you to think about one of the most triumphant moments in your life. Do you remember a moment that was so powerful for you that you felt unstoppable? Do you remember a moment when you heard the crowd cheer, or perhaps it was just one special person cheering? Do you remember when you felt so safe and secure and successful that it just filled your being with light?
Hereís what I want you to do: make a fist with a thumbs up. When you think about that wonderful moment, make a neutral sound, ďpahĒ. Now do it again, but make the ďpahĒ brighter, richer. Think about it one more time and do it again.
I remember one time, I think it was in 1997, when I was very honored and blessed by the annual conference and was given something called the Denman Award. Itís given to one clergy and one layperson every year. Itís sort of a clergy of the year award. It was a wonderful moment. I think about that. What is it for you? Think about that moment and hold onto it. How does it feel for you? Doesnít it feel wonderful? When youíre feeling down, you might just make a fist and give a ďpahĒ as you recall that particular moment in your mind. You see, the thoughts bring the emotions with them.
Take care of that mind. Feed it, defend it, use it well. You will wind the gold. Let me just tell you that winning the gold doesnít mean being perfect. St. Paul says so himself. ďI have not yet achieved perfection,Ē he says. ďBut I press on, leaving what is behind, behind, and doing my best to reach what is ahead.Ē So just do your best, and Jesus Christ will do the rest. Go for the gold; youíre in the Olympics. Welcome!
God loves you. I do, too. Amen. More next week.
© 2006 Anthony J. Godlefski