The Olympic Games are upon us once again. My earliest Olympic memory is of Greg Joy in the high jump, representing Canada at the Montreal Olympics, 1976. He won silver that year and it was a major source of national pride. It was the only medal we won. In those days medal expectations were far lower than today. Indeed, that year Canada became the only host country in summer Olympic history not to produce at least one gold medal winner. Greg Joy was also later named Canadian athlete of the year I believe.
Another memory. It was at the Opening Ceremonies of the 1988 Calgary winter Olympics. My dad and I were the two from our family who were fortunate enough to get tickets for the Ceremonies. My mother was actually in the Ceremonies! As an Olympic Ceremonies Choir member. A brutal, frigid day in February, 1988, we found our seats in the stands about 2 hours prior. We, and all other ticket-holders, were instructed to be there early as we all had coloured placards underneath our seats and had to lift them up on cue, in unison, at different points in the performance.
As I said, it was very cold that day. I had worn boots but my father hadn’t. So there we sat, the cold wind blustering up under our legs from underneath the temporary bleachers. It was virtually impossible to stay warm. After about an hour my father, truly unprepared, made a decision. He’d had enough.
He had to leave, go home, about an hour before the Ceremonies were to begin! So he marched down the stairs to the passageway where he would at least escape the cold wind, perhaps warm-up a bit, make his way to the car, and crank up the heater. But before he left, our eyes met as he turned the corner at the bottom of the steps. I realized the warm scarf he had on was something I could use over the next 4 hours, to fight off the frigid temperatures. So I called after him, “Dad, your scarf?” To which he answered, “Thanks, I got it”, and then disappeared under the bleachers.
If you’re an Olympic fan you will have your own memories – Gaetan Boucher, Nadia Commaneci, Mark Spitz, Clara Hughes, Michael Phelps, Donovan Bailey, Catriona Le May Doan, just to name a few Olympic greats. Of course some athletes were just as impressive outside the competitive arena as in. I heard recently a story about the great Czech runner Emil Zatopek. In 1952 he won three golds at the Helsinki games in the 5000 meter, 10,000 meter, and marathon (that one occasion was the very first marathon he had ever run and it was a last minute decision to enter the race). An incredible athlete and an incredible human being. Over the years he maintained friendships with some of his competitors from 1952. One was an Australian athlete, of course a long distance runner, who would often come to visit Emil and his wife Dana (she herself competed in 1952 Games). On one visit, as they all reminisced, the Australian visitor bemoaned the fact that he had never won a medal. Later at the airport, while saying goodbye, Emil handed the man a small gift-wrapped package. When Emil’s friend opened it on the plane, to his amazement, the gift was one of Emil’s actual 1952 gold medals.
A thought occurred to me recently – most of us will never win a medal of any sort in our lives. Further, we’ll never achieve international renown for some great achievement, never be lauded by the masses, receive widespread acclaim, have a statue erected in our honour, have a street named after us, receive the Order of Canada, make a hit CD, write a popular novel, or be remembered at our funerals by more than 100, perhaps 200, maybe 400 people, depending on how many positive connections we made in life. While hiking Tunnel Mountain recently, having a brief and far too self-centred moment, I realized I’ll probably never have any sermons published, never serve at one of those great cathedral-like churches in downtown Calgary, Montreal, or Toronto, and never be invited as the key-note speaker at some major Church conference.
Those kinds of things are just likely not in the cards for me – or for 95 % of us! Yet, do our lives matter, in the larger picture, in God’s eyes? Scripture tells me, unreservedly, the answer is a resounding yes! I think firstly of how Jesus treated everyone, particularly the lowest of the social stratum. Often without even knowing names, outcasts and lepers, beggars and prostitutes, cripples and criminals, all received not only attention from Jesus, but in some cases affirmation, in some cases healing, renewal, cleansing. Often he said things like, “Go in peace, your faith has made you well” or “the kingdom of heaven is like … (some reference to greatness from lowliness)”. And in all he did and said he proclaimed the inherent value in the life of any person, regardless of worldly accomplishments, awards or successes, value based on God’s estimation of how things are and nothing else.
Our lives matter now, whether they are what we envisioned for ourselves ten or twenty years ago or not, whether we have achieved all our youthful, lofty dreams or not, whether we are acclaimed by many, known by many, or barely acknowledged by most, known by but a few. And every day, no matter where we are in this brief span of life, we have the potential in our ordinary, sometimes too ordinary lives (we think) to kingdom-build or not, to improve the human condition or not, to “shine … you in your small corner, and I in mine” or not.
One of the greatest gifts of the gospel of Christ is the promise that we are loved by God not according to our faithfulness or our earthly fame, but rather by God’s faithfulness to us, based on nothing more than the fact of who we are, right now, warts and all. Our lives have tremendous value in the Creator’s eyes, and tremendous potential. And God calls each of us in some way to be a part of His ongoing creative work for peace, mercy, compassion, justice and love.
In God’s perspective on things, as understood from scripture, from the gospel, there are in fact no “ordinary” lives.
May the peace of Christ be with you!
God of the winners and losers of this world, God of the high achievers and the failures,
Over the next couple of weeks much will be made of the winners, the elite, the dominant.
They will be hailed as world beaters, record holders, and victors.
As we enjoy their exploits and the artistry of athletic perfection,
may we keep in mind the standards by which you Judge and love us.
May we find our own spirits lifted by the grace you give,
the love you unleash, the empowerment you offer,
to people just like us, and to all others.