Good morning, I'm the Rev'd Steven Page, from St Patrick's Anglican Church. August is a big month for sports. The Canadian Football League is in full swing, while south of the border the American pro and college leagues are in full pre-season training camp mode. Baseball is in full swing, with the pennant races heating up. Golf season is at its peak, and the pros will play one of the Majors mid-month. And oh yeah, the Olympics are in full swing in London, England.
With all this sports activity, our daily devotional moments for August will draw our images and metaphors from the world of sports, with an occasional assist from the book “Devotionals from the World of Sports” by John and Kathy Hillman. If you miss any of these devotionals, we will post them online on our blog at plaideggnog.blogspot.com, and on YouTube.
Now, I don't know about you, but I am spending some of my spare time these days watching the Olympic Games from London. I love the national colours, the excitement, the pride, the best efforts from so many fine athletes.
The Olympics are truly a global time of friendship and competition. This year there are 216 different countries competing in the Olympics, ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. But they have not always been so friendly. Back in 1980, the Games were held in Moscow, in the former USSR. It was the height of the Cold War between the West and the Communist Block. In protest of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, 65 countries boycotted the Moscow Games in 1980, including Canada and the United States.
In response, when the 1984 Olympic Games were held in Los Angeles, California, 14 Eastern Block countries boycotted those Games, including the USSR, Cuba and East Germany.
Well, by 1986, people who were tired of all the political posturing and boycotts organized the Goodwill Games. The events were held in Moscow, and included athletes from 79 nations, from both sides of the previous Olympic boycotts.
One of the notable athletic feats in the Goodwill Games was Jackie Joyner-Kersee's performance in the heptathlon. The Heptathlon is a series of seven events, including the 100m hurdles, the high jump, the shot put, the long jump, the javelin throw, 200m sprint, and the 800m race.
Athletes get points for how well they do in each event. Faster times and farther distances earn more points. Jackie had a great competition. After 6 events, she was in line for the gold medal, and it was also possible that she could set a new world record in the process.
In the final event, the 800m race, she ran an incredible race, scoring enough points to shatter the previous world record. Her performance and personality won over the mainly-Soviet audience. They readily forgave her for being an American, from one of the enemy countries, and for beating their own stars. The fans cheered her with genuine warmth and excitement.
The goodwill and reconciliation between nations and the willingness to forgive one another, both as individuals and as countries, mirrors one of the main teachings of Jesus. His disciples asked, in Matthew 18v21, how often they should forgive someone who wrongs them. Peter suggested maybe 7 times (a Heptathlon of forgiveness!). He likely thought he was being very generous, very kind and forgiving.
Imagine his surprise when Jesus answers, no, don't stop at seven. Forgive them 70 x 7! I don't think Jesus meant to forgive them 490 times. After all, if we're keeping count, we have not really forgiven them at all, have we? We need, Jesus says, to be ready to forgive one another as often as it takes. That's what having the love of God for others in our hearts means. It can be just as hard as the heptathlon. But that's the challenge of love and forgiveness Jesus gives us. ... For St Patrick's church, I'm the Rev'd Steven Page.