Welcome to the Olympics!

Part Two

February 26, 2006

The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor

Montgomery United Methodist Church


Philippians 3:12-14

ďI do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfectÖ the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what lies ahead. So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize; this is Godís upward call through Jesus Christ.Ē



Brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Weíre talking about Godís Olympics. Welcome to the Olympics, Part Two! I wonder if youíve caught any of the Olympic events this week. Did you? I caught a little bit here and there. Theyíre remarkable events, and they offer remarkable things to be learned from the Olympics.


St. Paul saw something like the Olympics, and he was obviously fascinated by it, because of his references to races and the winning of laurel wreaths and crowns in his scripture writings.


I was fascinated by the comradery that the Olympics represent. Did you see the wonderful skating event when Shizuka Arakawa of Japan won the gold medal? Everyone was cheering for her and celebrating her excellence. I thought, Wow! It wasnít so long ago that major nations of the world were fighting with each other. But now, here we are in forgiveness and mutual admiration, celebrating each otherís accomplishments. Itís a wonderful thing, to see the nations of the world competing in a friendly way. In a sense, theyíre playing together. Isnít that what weíre doing? Itís thrilling and exciting to see that happen, to see our world becoming more filled with peace, to see that which is inspired by the Prince of Peace. Itís a wonderful thing, and something to learn from.


There are things about the Olympics that I continue not to understand. Maybe somebody can explain to me about the Skeleton. Thereís a man going down a hill headfirst at 77 miles per hour. That looks dangerous. Would you let your child do that? I wouldnít. Another event I donít understand is curling, where they brush brooms along the ice. But they seem to be having fun.


Thereís much to be learned from the Olympics, much to be learned according to St. Paul. Letís take a look at the scripture, shall we? Letís see what the apostle is writing to the people at Philippi about advice for living.


ďI do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfectÖ the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what lies ahead. So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize; this is Godís upward call through Jesus Christ.Ē


If there are two words Iíd like you to take home from this morningís sermon itís these: press on! Press on! Thatís the thing St. Paul is urging us to do, press on toward the prize. The image thatís used in the Greek is that of a runner striving toward the finishing tape.


The other thing I want you to take home is the definition of the word Ďperfect.í St. Paul says, ďI do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfect.Ē The notion of perfection to the Christian is a troubling one. Itís written in another point in scripture, ďBe ye perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.Ē Thatís been a stumbling block to many. We ask, how can I be perfect? Iím not perfect. How can I even try to be perfect?


Well, try this on for size, my friend. When the Bible talks about perfect, from all the context itís used in, perfect means excellent. Perfect means excellent. What youíre pressing on toward is not some kind of abstract fastidious perfection. What youíre pressing on toward is excellence. Donít you want to be excellent? I do. What are the Olympics all about? The Olympics are all about the pursuit of excellence. Yes, I have a little trouble with the idea of people competing against people and a winner being declared over the difference of one one-hundredth of a second. But thatís another story for another day. Those athletes are all excellent.


How about us? Wouldnít you like to strive for Olympic excellence? I would. And we can, because we are all in Godís Olympics. Our Olympics with God is a triathlon. There are three events which we are invited to pursue. The mind, development of the mind, is the first event. The development of the body is the second event. And the development of the spirit, the third event, crowns it all. Those are the three events you have, personally designed for yourself, in Godís Olympics for your life.


Last week, we looked at the Olympics of the Mind. Isnít it true that God has put such a spectacular mind into each of us? What percentage of it do we really use? Wouldnít it be great to strive to use more of it? Donít let the gremlins and the Lilliputians get you down. Feed your mind the right kind of literature, the right kind of ideas. Use your mind for the betterment of yourself and others in the world. Oh, youíve got miles to go. Iíve got miles to go. We are filled with potential. And itís one of the things we ought to set our minds to. When we are tempted to be distracted by little things, when we are tempted to go around in circles and feel tight feelings, say ďNo, Iím not going to do that. Iím going to strive for excellence. The Bible calls me to be excellent. Iím going to put aside all the other stuff and strive for excellence of the mind.Ē


One of the most beautiful lessons that came to me through the Olympics was in the experience of Lindsey Jacobellis. She is the snowboarding expert who was so far ahead of her competitors, in the lead for the gold, that she looked back. I donít whether she was overconfident or what; I donít blame her. She made a youthful mistake, maybe made a bit of a showboat move, and she lost her balance and fell. She came in for the silver. I was so glad she did get the medal, and so was she. It was a classic lesson of the tortoise and the hare. She taught us that slow and steady does win the race. Iím grateful for her resilience.


Iím also grateful for Sasha Cohen. She is an illustration of this scripture. Did you see her skate? Sheís a brilliant skater, so graceful. In her Olympic event, she fell twice. Now, I donít know about you, but if I had all the eyes of the world upon me while I was skating and I fell twice, Iíd have a mighty hard time getting up and doing the rest of the routine. But she didnít. She didnít look behind her. She got up and skated through brilliantly and won the silver. How marvelous!


St. Paul says ďI forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what lies ahead.Ē Can we forget about the two falls? Can we forget about the mistake? Can we forget about the regret, the if-onlys, and the ways we were wrong? Can we put those things behind us and press on to the goals of excellence?  Thatís what Sasha did. That was a great lesson. How about us? Can we do it? Whatever time may seem to be lost or whatever mistakes you seem to have made, put them behind you and reach forward. Press on toward the goal in the Olympics of life.


The second area is the area of the body. God has given us a remarkable, wonderful body. In the book of Psalms it says, ďI am fearfully and wonderfully made.Ē Translation Ė I am awesomely and wonderfully made. Thank God for a boring day, when thereís nothing bothering us, no pain. We are fearfully and wonderfully, awesomely and wonderfully made. God has given us this fantastic, spectacular machine called the body to live out our lives. I think about the medical people in our congregation and how they must behold the awesomeness of God everyday. Consider the awesomeness of birth. Gracious!


Can I get personal with you for a minute? Iíve learned major lessons about this facet of life lately. As most of you know, on October 21st I had a heart attack. Up until then, I guess I thought of my body as a pack animal to carry my mind around on. I didnít much care how I treated it. I thought it was okay to manage my stress by self-medicating on food. It wasnít okay. You know the point it got to? I was at the point where I was mildly annoyed if Dunkiní Donuts didnít have a drive-through.  Can you imagine? Dunkiní Donuts is a friend I used to know.


God gave me another chance at life and nurtured me through that remarkably interesting time, with the awesome love of this magnificent congregation. Your love and your care, your support, your cards, the blanket which is now on my bed, your care through meals and coaching and direction were awesome and helped me get better everyday. Iím feeling stronger every day. I thank God that there is no observable cardiac muscle damage. I was so blessed and so fortunate. All my doctors agree that that is so.


But I learned a lesson about this gift called the body, and what it can do and how delightful it is to move it and exercise it. I used to think that treadmills and walking were gerbil activity. If thatís gerbil activity, then meet a card-carrying gerbil. Itís fun. Thereís a whole good feeling that comes along with it. So I encourage you, my dear friends, who have helped to care for me and love me back to health, to recognize that the blessing of the body is a remarkable gift of God. God has given us a remarkable instrument to move and to feel and to express through. So, we take good care of it and press toward the goal of making it excellent.


And third, of course, is the spirit. There is more to life than meets the eye. Amen? Amen! There is a realm of spirit that we can access that is beyond the ordinary. Jesus calls us to participate in that third event of the triathlon. Iíve committed myself, when I get up in the morning, to read some devotional literature. I have a little stack of Daily Word magazines, Joel Osteenís book, Robert Schullerís work, things from our dear friends at Unity, the work of Eric Butterworth, that I call my inspiration stack. These are the works of inspiring, uplifting literature that I read first thing in the morning. Do you know why? Because when you get up in the morning you have alpha waves going in your head in a way that is unique for the day. Wonít you join me in that? Wonít you make your own stack of favorite devotional literature? And first thing you do in the morning, let your mind be programmed by that. Itís easy to get into the worry rut. You get up in the morning and think, whatís going on here? Is this going to be okay? Read the word of the Lord. Let the Bible permeate your spirit and inspire you and lift you up in those early morning hours, and then go on to your morning run or whatever it is you do.


My friends, life is an Olympic event. Itís Godís Olympics. And itís exciting, because the goal is excellence. The goal is the development of the excellent picture that God has of you. So, dear friends, let us run the race with determination. Let us press on toward the goal of the upward call of God through Jesus Christ. What do you say? Good idea? Shall we go for it? Letís do.


God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.


© 2006 Anthony J. Godlefski