People who know me well are well aware that I’m a huge sports fan. I live and die with the performance of the Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball team, and I quickly have come to appreciate the emphasis put on the Nebraska Cornhuskers football program. My love for the Kansas City Royals and Dallas Cowboys extends even further back into my childhood.
But every four years, I pause to marvel at the many talents on display during the summer Olympics. When I was younger, every four years we would see the winter Olympics and summer Olympics in the same calendar year, but now we get to see the best athletes on snow and ice one year, pause for a year and then see the best athletes in summer events the next.
So, every two years, we see people compete in events that, frankly, many Americans don’t think much of until we hear that iconic theme song and see the parade of national flags.
Or in the summer, how about rhythmic gymnastics or the 10-meter platform diving? One I watch for the grace of the athlete and the other for the courage.
What inspires me most is the competitive nature in these events. In one of the many swimming events of the past week, a young woman from Jamaica, Alia Atkinson, stepped to the starting platform for the 100 meter breastroke in a semifinal race. When the race was over, the camera panned to the winner and then switched to the second-place finisher. The camera captured a brief shot of Atkinson, who was clearly not happy with her finish, but a few moments later, after the last heat, the cameras caught a glance of her when she realized she still had qualified for the event’s final race.
The elation on her face shows the passion with which these athletes compete. She had one more chance to compete and win a medal, one more chance to show the world that she belongs on such a grand stage.
Another component in the Olympic Games is pride. How many times have you caught yourself smiling when you saw an American athlete win a gold medal? My guess is the folks in the aquatic center are tired of hearing the U.S. national anthem. As I write this the morning of Aug. 10, the U.S. swim team has won 18 medals by itself, with seven of them gold. For perspective, in the overall medal count – all events – the U.S. swim team has won more medals than every other country (China is second behind the United States with 17 total medals).
I think one of the coolest parts about the swimming victories has been the reactions of the swimmers’ family members in the stands. You can tell the athletes are filled with joy not just at their accomplishment but that their families care enough to be there. And you can see the pure joy those families feel as their children fulfill their Olympic dreams. Gold, silver or bronze, you easily can see the pride in their faces.
That expands to us the fans, too. Our chests swell just a bit when we see the American flag raised and hear the “Star Spangled Banner” start to play. And U.S. dominance is a topic of discussion around water coolers in offices across the country. We can’t wait to talk to our friends and co-workers about the wonders of performance we witnessed on television.
So, why don’t we, as Christians, speak with that much pride and passion about the Savior who died for our sins? I know I’m guilty of talking a lot more about Michael Phelps’ conquests in the pool than about Jesus’ conquest over sin and death.
The Gospel of Matthew reminds us in Chapter 6, verse 24, that we have to set priorities, and God expects, rightfully so, to be No. 1: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
Psalms 46:10 reminds us that God expects His majesty to be proclaimed throughout our world: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth!”
How will He be exalted? God wants us to proclaim his divine grace to others. Remember the great commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Let that sink in for just a moment. Our job is to make disciples and to teach the things that Jesus taught us. That’s our Olympic-style task: to show the world who Jesus is.
And just like athletes have their parents there to root them on, Jesus promises to be with us all along our journey. That’s a pretty inspiring rooting section!
So go ahead. Enjoy the Olympic Games. Root on the athletes. Marvel at the talent on display. Talk to your friends about what you’ve seen on television.
But save up some of that enthusiasm and proclaim not just the talent of our nation’s athletes but also the love and grace of our risen Savior.
With that in mind, which anthem do you envision playing as the Christian flag is raised in the arena of mankind? Share your ideas from the hymnal or contemporary music in the comments.
Todd Seifert is communications director for the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church. He can be reached via phone at 402-464-5994, ext. 113, or via email at email@example.com. Opinions expressed are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Great Plains Annual Conference or the United Methodist Church.