Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Olympic Torch and The Olympic Spirit

1 Corinthians 9.24-27
Genesis 18.1-8

Did anyone see the torch? It went past the very place where my wife Helen works, so she saw the torch. It was being carried by the son of Jane Tomlinson, the woman who raised nearly two millions pounds for charity by undertaking a series of sporting challenges. But I only saw it on television. The nearest I got to it in person was sitting next to a young woman, at a meeting on Friday, who carried it when it came to Sheffield. 

Perhaps the most memorable moment on the torch’s visit to Yorkshire was when disabled soldier Ben Parkinson, who was wounded in Afghanistan, carried the torch in Doncaster. It took him 26 minutes to carry it 300 metres, and afterwards he said he was so proud to have done it.

The torch coming to Yorkshire seemed to get people really excited. The young woman who said she carried the torch in Sheffield took it to work with her next day and everyone wanted to be photographed with it. Wherever it went it really seemed to bring out the Olympic Spirit.

But what is the Olympic Spirit? The modern Olympics were invented in the Nineteenth Century. Various people tried to invoke the ancient Olympic Spirit and get it going again, but the man who started the international Olympics that we know today was called Pierre de Coubertin. Does anyone know how he described the Olympic Spirit? He said, ‘The important thing is not to win, but to take part.’

It’s a very good principle, yet it’s not the official Olympic Spirit, because the Olympic movement has its own vision statement, which says: "The Spirit of the Olympics is to build a peaceful and better world, and to inspire and motivate the young people of the world to be the best they can be, and to promote tolerance and understanding in these increasingly troubled time in which we live, to make our world a more peaceful place."

There was a 90 something year-old man on the television news on Friday who took part in the Olympics the last time they were in England, in 1948. He said he had tried to live by the Olympic Spirit his whole life long.

Paul said in our Bible reading that taking part is not enough. He felt we should all play to win and be the best that we can be. But he would have approved of the Olympic Spirit - building a peaceful and better world, and promoting tolerance and understanding to make our world a more peaceful place.

There is another bit to the Olympic Spirit which I didn’t read out before. I think it’s the reason why our Old Testament story was chosen to be read in services about the Olympics. The bit I missed out before says: “The Olympic Spirit aims to instill and develop the values and ideals of Olympism in those who visit.”

I don’t like the ugly word Olympism. But the point of this part of the Olympic vision is that it talks about those who visit - in other words people visiting from around the world to take part in or to watch the Games. The Olympic Spirit isn’t just about taking part or even playing to win. It’s about coming together from around the world. And its about people in Britain giving a welcome to all our visitors.

The reading is about strangers being made welcome. The Bible says that when we welcome strangers we meet God.

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