Good morning, I'm the Rev'd Steven Page from St Patrick's Anglican Church. This month, with the Olympics going strong in London, England, I'm using some past Olympic moments to inspire and illustrate our daily devotions.
Today, let's go back to the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, held in Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States. That year was the first time that women's football, or soccer, was a full medal event.
When the final game arrived, it was between the host US team and a strong team from China. The two squads had met in the Group stage, and played to a nil-nil draw. But for the gold-medal game, the teams were pumped, and the stands were packed with more than 76,000 screaming fans.
After some initial back-and-forth, the Americans scored the first goal in the game's 19th minute. Mia Hamm, who has had a storied soccer career and has appeared in more than 250 international games playing for the US national team, she drilled a shot on goal. Chinese keeper Gao Hong dove but it was beyond her grasp. But the ball bounced off the left post of the net and stayed out. Fortunately, the bounce went to Shannon MacMillan, one of the leading goal scorers of the Olympic tournament, and she knocked it into the net. 1-0 USA!
But the lead did not hold up. In the 32nd minute of the match, the American goalkeeper Briana Scurry made a mistake and found herself out of position. Scurry could not scurry back into play quickly enough, and midfielder Sun Wen of China netted the equalizer. The teams were tied 1-1 at the half.
In the 68th minute, about midway through the second half, Mia Hamm again figured in a scoring play. She worked a give-and-go pass play that opened up some room for defender Joy Fawcett, who found forward Tiffeny Milbrett in close, and she put it by the Chinese keeper. Goal! 2-1 USA!
The teams played a clean game the rest of the way, even as the Chinese pressed for the equalizer. But in the 89th minute,with the game nearly over, Mia Hamm was hurt. A slip of the foot hurt her ankle, and coach Tony DiCicco sent in Carin Gabarra to take Hamm's place for the final minutes.
The clock reached full time, the Norwegian referee blew the whistle, and the Americans claimed the first women's soccer gold medal. The fans in the packed stadium celebrated; the players on the field celebrated. Mia Hamm celebrated, too. The team doctor and one of the trainers carried her out to the centre of the field, where she, with her teammates, could revel in what they had achieved.
Hamm, despite a great game, had a slip of the foot, and suffered an injury. But when she most needed it, she was helped by others. Her teammates played a great game. One teammate came into the game late and took Hamm's place, giving her a break and a chance to heal. And for the big celebration, a couple other people stepped and made sure that Hamm was rightly included in the festivities.
Sometimes we try to stand firm in life. We think that we have the strength and the balance we need to stand on our own two feet and face all that life throws at us. But there are times that our foot slips. Our grip on the precarious ledge of our life weakens. We fall, maybe just on our rump, or maybe in a way that causes a lot of emotional and spiritual pain.
But in the midst of life's slips, remember that God is there. Listen to the Psalmist, who wrote, “When I said, 'My foot is slipping,' your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” (94:18-19) God surrounds us with divine love, especially in our tough times. It may come as we sit and pray, or as we read the Bible. It may come through the love and care of another person, someone close to us who can pick us up and carry us forward, emotionally, spiritually, maybe even physically. Trust in God, make room in your life for God, and notice that when life beats us up and we slip, when we call out, God is there, supporting us and surrounding us with others.... For St Patrick's Church, I'm Steven Page.