Good morning, I'm the Rev'd Steven Page for St Patrick's Anglican Church. This month, our devotional thoughts are inspired by notable moments in the world of sports.
Since this is a Summer Olympics year, let's go back to the 1936 Summer Olympic games in Berlin, Germany. This year, the Men's Long Jump medal round will be held Saturday, Aug 4th.
In 1936, the world long jump record was held by a man named Jesse Owens. As the event drew closer, Owens noticed someone he didn't know taking practice jumps. It was a German named Luz Long. What drew Owens' attention to this stranger were the long jumps the long jumper Long was making. They were only practice jumps, but they were very close to Owens' own world record!
Owens thought he'd better do one final tune-up practice jump, just to make sure he was ready. Maybe he also wanted to send a message to his opponent that he still had what it took. So he ran down the track, took off, and made a nice landing, a pretty decent if unspectacular practice distance.
The problem was that, even though Owens was still wearing his warm-up pants and top, the long jump officials counted the jump as an official leap for the competition!
Neither Owens nor his coach could convince the officials otherwise, so the jump counted. All that distraction and worry caused Owens to foul his 2nd attempt by stepping over the take-off line. In the Long Jump, each contestant gets three jumps, and the longest one counts toward advancing to the next round. Well, with a practice jump and a foul on his first two, Owens was down to his final leap, and was under a lot of pressure. Would the world champ be eliminated before the medal round?
But Long could see what was happening. While other competitors were taking their final jumps, Long came up to Owens and introduced himself. His chat helped calm Owens down. Long even suggested that Owens draw a pretend foul line a few inches before the real one, to be sure to avoid a foul on his final jump. Owens did, and his final jump got him into the medal round, but just barely.
Well, spurred on by the new friendship and by his friend's intense level of competition, Owens showed his true abilities in the finals. His first jump set a new Olympic record, a leap of almost 25-1/2 feet. His second was even better. And Owens' third and final jump was just a hair shy of 26-1/2 feet, shattering the old record. The win was Owens' 4th gold medal, while Long won silver for Germany.
Long's act of friendship and of calming Owens when he was rattled was a very unselfish act, a radically unselfish act. He could have watched gleefully from a distance as his main rival fouled out. By helping Owens, Long ultimately lost the gold medal. But he won a close friend for life.
Owens and Long kept in touch and built on their friendship in the coming years. After Long was killed in the 2nd world war, Owens kept writing Long's family, reminding them of his good friend.
Jesus calls us, as his followers, to live lives of radical unselfishness. Jesus calls us to treat others as we want them to treat us (Mt 7:12, Lk 6:31). OK, that's not too hard. But he also wants us to love our neighbour (Lk 10:25-28). Jesus even wants us to love our enemies, those people we just can't stand, that we don't get along with, Jesus says to show them God's radically unselfish love (Mt 7:43-44). Now that's getting a little harder!
And Jesus says, in John 15:13, Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. That is the ultimate act of unselfish love. And it's what Jesus did for us. Jesus willingly surrendered himself to suffering and even to death, for us, his friends. By dying on the cross, Jesus has shown us how much God loves us. It shows us how far God will go to draw us back to Him. And once we receive this unselfish love of God, we are then able to, in turn, share it with those around us.
May you experience God's love today, and share it with those you meet today. For St Patrick's church, I'm Steven Page.