St. Paul’s Congregational UCC
Sermon summary: 2/20/2022
Topic - “Going the extra mile”
Scripture: Luke 6:27-38
Today marks the end of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China. In the middle of a pandemic, this Olympic was unlike any before it’s time. The Chinese populous and those attending the Olympic games (including the athletes were kept apart. The hosting country’s local adoring fans and sport enthusiasts who were usually a part of the Olympic experience were kept securely distanced from the athletes and attendees. Although we watched the games electronically, many of us felt like we were right there cheering on our favorite athletes as some experienced the thrill of victory and some the agony of defeat. Today the games will end and many of us will gather to watch the closing ceremony as athletes from the competing countries will gather once again in the stadium with their country flags proudly waving in the air. Some will be wearing medals they have won, while others will celebrate having come this far, and many will be nursing dreams of the next Olympiad where they may once again win or be given the opportunity to bring home gold.
My favorite part of the Olympic games is the lighting of the torch at the very beginning of the opening ceremony. The Olympic torch is “a symbol of peace, friendship, tolerance and hope.” The idea for the Olympic flame was derived from ancient Greece, where a sacred fire was kept burning throughout the celebration of the ancient Olympics. The Olympic flame for the modern Olympic games was first used in 1928 in Amsterdam. The torch relays started at the 1936 Berlin Summer games, where the flame was transported from Olympia in Greece to Berlin, traveling over 3,187 kilometers by 3,331 runners in twelve days and eleven nights. The flame relay continues for each Olympic game making different stops around the world. The Olympic fire is ignited several months before the opening ceremony. During the relays the Olympic flame is usually carried by human runners. However, it has also been transported in some other interesting ways. In 1948, the flame crossed the English Channel on a boat. In 1952, it flew in an airplane to Helsinki, Finland. Perhaps the most interesting method of carrying the flame was used in 1976. That year, the Olympic flame was turned into a radio signal. It was sent from Athens via satellite to Canada. It then triggered a laser beam that was used to relight the flame.
The Olympic torch relay in the host country ends with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony. Over the years, it has become a tradition to let famous athletes, former athletes or athletes with significant achievements be the last runner in the Olympic torch relay. In 1996 in Atlanta, Georgia the “greatest of all time” Mohammed Ali was the torch bearer and in 2002 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan Naomi Osaka was the final torch bearer. When the torch bearer enters the stadium, the final runner usually makes their way to the top of the stadium where their single torch is touched to the edge of the Olympic cauldron and the whole thing bursts into flame. Depending on the country, it may set of a traveling flame line of fire, or fireworks, or numerous torches all around the stadium. As the years have passed the show has gotten more and more spectacular.
In the Olympic stadium we see athletes at the end of years of training. Their lifelong dedication to the sport, their wins, their failures, and their sacrifices make all this possible. We do not see their tears when they at 5 years old and were told they could not join the team, or when all the other kids are going out for ice-cream, and they choose to go to practice instead. We do not see the scraped knees, broken bone, injured muscles, and the need to dig deeper than they ever believe they could. But what makes them do it? What sets them apart?
All of us have had desires and ambitions to do one thing or the next. But most of us will never make the sacrifices these athletes make to accomplish athletic goals. I believe the difference is the place from which their motivation comes. Many people do what we believe is expected of them, what they are told to do, what they believe will make them look good, will please others, make us money, etc. But I suspect that the thing that pushes these athletes out of bed at 4am to get on a river and row through icy waters or take themselves to the edge of injury is much deeper. The motivation come from deep within and many of us will not understand it. It is not a beckoning from outside of themself that can be shrugged off or ignored. It is instead the call, a call from deep inside that only they can hear.
Today’s scripture reading brings these Olympic athletes to my mind. In the Gospel reading we read the words of Christ calling us to go the extra mile; to answer not to the external beckoning of the world and what it will expect of us or tell us to do. But rather to listen to the deeper call from the spirit of God within. Christ calls us to:
love your enemies,
when they take away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
give to those from whom you do not hope to receive
bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
forgive those who speak vilely against you
When we answer this call others may not understand it. Other may not perceive the new thing that God is doing in us. When the opportunity to go the extra mile presents itself, they may give up, but you will know, you will understand that you will need to go the extra mile. You will answer the call and go because of the love of Christ within that calls to you from within. Fall in love with the God that calls to you from the deep and let that propel you to go the extra mile.
Yes, you will get the scratches of not getting it right and falling down, the broken spirit when others speak against you, the disappointments when others do not understand. But do not give up. Keep doing what God’s called you to do. Do good even when it does not make sense. Others will try to deter you from this faithful journey. Other will try to tell you to do differently, but they do have your profession of faith, nor did they enter the waters of your baptism, nor hear the call to “come follow me” from Christ. I encourage you to step out and step up proudly knowing that “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Christ who called you out of the shadows into His marvelous light.
President Theodore Roosevelt wrote:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Like these Olympic torch bearers let us carry the light of God’s love, sharing that light and passing it on along the journey. And, like the final torch bearer. May our light join with the greater light so all may see and experience the love of God all around us.
Finally, “Hold on to what is good, even if it is a handful of earth. Hold on to what you believe even if it is a tree which stands by itself. Hold on to what you must do even if it is a long way from here. Hold on to life even when it is easier letting go. Hold on to my hand even when I have gone away from you.” -Pueblo Blessing