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 world of Sports.
I turned 40 last year. I have never been much of an athlete, so outside of a few humorous birthday cards, I have not been called over-the-hill much. But I know that I am now older than 99% of the pro athletes. So I chuckle when I hear 36-year-old Derek Jeter called a fossil, for example.
But athlete skills definitely fade with age. The prime years might be in the late 20s, and after that it's a gradual, sometimes steep decline. It works that way for the great ones. Even The Great One, Wayne Gretzky himself, saw his speed and accuracy and stamina and other skills diminish as he aged.
As Gretzky's career wound down, he spent the 1996-97 season with the New York Rangers. With skilled but aging teammates like Mark Messier, Esa Tikkanen, and Luc Robitaille, Gretzky and the Rangers made the playoffs. There, they met the Florida Panthers, at the time the defending Stanley Cup champs.
The teams split the first two games in Florida. Gretzky was a non-factor in the opener, perhaps showing his age, but played a much stronger game 2, even scoring the winning goal. The series then moved north for games 3 and 4. Because of a scheduling conflict with another event at Madison Square Garden, those games would be played on two consecutive nights, rather than having the usual night off in between.
Experts figured that would be it for the Gretzky and the Rangers, that they were too old to play well on consecutive nights. But in Game 3, Robitaille's late goal sent the game to overtime, during which Tikkanen knocked home the winner. Then the next night, Gretzky's play reminded people of his younger years.
With the Rangers trailing in the second period, Gretzky scored to tie the game. Then a couple shifts later, he blasted a rocket that again beat the Panthers' goalie, John Vanbiesbrouck, putting the Rangers ahead. His longtime teammate from back in the Oiler days, Mark Messier, famously whispered to the Great One, “Keep sniffing,” urging him to look for goal #3.
And sure enough, later in the game, Gretzky scored a fancy goal that evoked his heyday. Bringing the puck out, he put a fake on the Panthers' goalie and banked the puck off far post and into the net. The goal produced the 58th hat-trick of Gretzky's storied career, and led the Rangers to the win, and a 3-1 lead in the series. For one glorious night, Gretzky seemed 10 years younger!
Every athlete faces a drop in skill, speed and strength as he or she ages. We non-athletes do, too. Bones begin to creak. Joints get stiff. Eye-sight and hearing fade. Memory fails. It's a fact of our limited, finite, human life.
Our great God, on the other hand, never diminishes in his glory and power. God is the one that the book of Revelation describes as “the one who is, and who was, and who is to come,” reminding us of God's eternal and unchanging nature. Isaiah 40 verse 8 reminds us that “the word of our God stands forever.” And Isaiah 40 verses 28-31 spell this out in even more detail, and reminds us that when God is our source of strength we can do amazing things. Listen to the prophet's words: “The Lord is the everlasting God... He will not grow tired or weary, ... Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah is obviously not promising that Gretzky could draw on God to play in the NHL until was 95; But rather, that God is an immense source of strength and support when we need it most. Thanks be to God, the one who was, who is, and who is to come! Amen.
For St Patrick's Church, I'm Steve Page.