Good morning, I'm the Rev Steve Page from St Patrick's Anglican Church, and you're listening to the Daily Devotional moment, sponsored by the Hudson Bay Ministerial.
This month, I'm drawing our images of Christian faith and spirituality from the wonderful and sometimes weird world of Sports.
This July and August, the Summer Olympics will be played in London, England. Some 10,000 athletes from more than 140 nations will gather and compete in more than 300 events, vying for the glory of Olympic gold.
20 years ago, the 1992 Summer Olympics were held in Barcelona, Spain. Two American athletes were heavily favoured in the Decathlon. That's a 2-day competition involving 10 different sports: 100 metre sprint; long jump; shot put; pole vault; high jump and 5 other track-and-field events.
The Americans were named Dan O'Brien and Dave Johnson. They were so highly regarded that the sneaker company that sponsored them ran ads asking, “Dan or Dave?” Who is better?
Dan and Dave went head-to-head in the Olympic qualifying trials. After 7 of the 10 events, Dan was doing very well. In fact, he was on a pace to break the world record for the Decathlon.
Event #8 was the pole vault. Dan was very confident. After all, he was the American record-holder for the pole vault. He declined to attempt the first 4 heights, saving his energy for a higher setting. His competition attempted the lower heights, and some succeeded while others were eliminated.
With the bar set at 15' 9” Dan made his run. He missed the first try, but that was ok. You get 3 cracks at it. On his second jump, he got up and over the bar, but bumped it off on the way down, and it fell to the ground. That left one more attempt. On his third and final attempt, Dan didn't get the height he needed and wound up passing under the bar. 3 faults meant he was out, and since he had not tried any lower heights, he wound up with a score of 0 for the event.
Because of that 0, he finished the Decathlon in 11th place and did not qualify for the Olympics! Had he cleared the pole vault, he would have had enough points to finish first! Had he cleared a lower height, he would have finished no worse than 3rd. But as it was, his pole vault failure led to disaster. His arch-rival Dave Johnson went to Barcelona and won Olympic bronze, while Dan O'Brien stayed home.
The pole vault failure surprised Dan O'Brien and the track-and-field world. It was a painful experience for him.
Maybe you are experiencing some strange, surprising, and painful twists and turns in your own life. Maybe things outside your control are threatening to bowl you over. Maybe some bad choices you have made are coming back to haunt you. Maybe, despite your best efforts, things are not working out and you feel like a failure.
No matter their cause, they cannot separate us from God. Our loving God knows what we are going through. Jesus, who promised in Matthew 28 to be with us always, is indeed right there beside us as we face our challenges, our failures, our times of darkness. “Even though I walk through the deepest, darkest valley” says the Psalmist, the valley of the shadow of death, “I know you, O God, are with me.”
Or think of 2 Corinthians, where God promises to Paul that “my grace (God's grace) is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in (your) weakness.” Our God promises to walk with us through the tough times of life, and to bring us through them.
There is a happy ending for poor Dan O'Brien. He qualified for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and that time he won the gold medal. May God lead you through your challenges, and may you have the strength of faith and perseverance to win the prize, the gold medal of life and faith.
For St Patrick's Church, I'm Steve Page.