Pastor’s Perspective. . .
I truly believed that if I worked hard enough, then I too could become an Olympic athlete. I would go outside and practice on the rings of my backyard playground and mimic the turns and lifts of the Olympic gymnasts. I would dream of driving the lane as the point guard of the USA basketball team. Heck, during the Winter Games I even spent some time practicing cross country skiing while carrying an air rifle. I never considered that I could not be the best.
While I am long past the age when any credible trainer or physician would consider me a likely candidate for even the least arduous of Olympic events (will lawn darts be a part of the 2020 games?), I still watch the Games with a sense of possibility. I love the youthful expectation that each athlete brings to the Games. And I am lifted up with the confidence that this new generation of athletes will cause the next generation to pick up a javelin, try out the balance beam, or get up an hour early to run in the park.
The 2016 Olympic Games gave us plenty of new heroes to emulate. On the cover of the August 22, 2016 edition of Sports Illustrated we are treated to the cream of the American crop of Olympic gold medalists: Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, and Simone Biles. The blazing headline, “The Greatests.” Within the pages of the magazine, they not only spoke of their achievements but actively posited if they were indeed the best Olympic team ever.
It is, of course, nearly impossible to compare generational talents, in some ways due to technological advances (imagine Bolt running in the literal shoes of Eric Liddell). What is sometimes overlooked, however, is how achievement births expectation. When Roger Bannister ran a four minute mile in 1954, it was not only a new world record, but it was considered an unachievable feat. Within the span of months, both Bannister and John Landy broke the unbreakable barrier. There is just something about knowing that it can be done that opens the floodgates of achievement. In other words the success of Simone Biles will likely inspire another little girl to one day eclipse her achievements.
I recently took a trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame with my Uncle Gerard and some of our boys. My Uncle and I grew up together (he is one month older than I am) and continue to share a remarkable amount of common ground and shared passions: football being one of them. It was wonderful to walk through this glorious shrine to the legends of the past; each of them memorialized with bronzed busts depicting them like Roman Emperors or Greek Gods. We walked through the “cathedral” remembering our past, reliving the glorious plays and excitedly sharing these memories with our children.
We had a great time. Two fifty-year-old Dad’s bonding with their sons, discussing the glory days and the heroes of the past, but our day was not yet complete. The best was yet to come.
As you leave the Hall of Fame you pass by a miniature football field erected near the parking lot. Inspired by all that we had seen, we grabbed a football out of the car and began to play on the field. The kids went out for passes, going long, challenging each other and looking to make the great catch. Soon we were joined by others, a bus load of kids from Baltimore and a few college guys eager for a race against my sons John and James. Gerard and I tried to keep up with them, we ran and played and once again our old bodies felt new. Being in the presence of champions has a way of rubbing off on you. That is why they put the field there, for the Hall of Fame was established not only to remember the past but to promote the future of the sport.
This is the true and noble purpose of memory. This is why we have heroes. We are not given memory in order to live in the past, we are gifted with our memories in order to guide our future. Our memories and our past creates both inspiration and warnings. We can learn from the past, we can see what is possible and what has been accomplished. History is a great tool, a yardstick for achievement and a guide for individuals and culture, but heaven forbid if we try to live in it. To live in memory or yesterday’s achievement removes from us the joys of living today. To live in the memories of other people’s achievement is to ignore or abandon our own moments, our own dreams.
The Church needs to renew our capacity to dream. We need a new generation of heroes. Men and women who will become more than fans, who will transcend appreciation and move their faithfulness beyond the work of the spectator. We must move beyond an appreciation of the past and become inspired by it. The scriptures tell us that in order to be truly Christian, we must be followers of Jesus Christ. To be a follower means that we must walk with Him and live like Him. Jesus told us that we could do what He did, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and indeed His early followers did.
Furthermore, we have a great company of witnesses that have walked before us. Let us do more than appreciate the work that they have done. Let us be motivated to follow their lead and learn to walk with Jesus in the 21st Century. True faithfulness moves us to action. As we read in James 1:22, “but be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
It is the task of the Church to follow the example of Jesus Christ and His Church in our lives. I think this is why Jesus wanted us to be like children at heart. Children love to imitate and try new things. When a child watches the Olympics they respond by learning how to use a bow, or to dive or tumble. They get off the couch and run around the house and dream of the day that they can receive the prize. When a child hears the call of God they believe that they can answer that call. They run the bases after a ball game and dream of coming to bat in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded. They BELIEVE.
God is calling the Church (both young and old) to believe again and, more importantly, to put our faith into action. Our Churches should never be museums erected to honor the past, but should always promote the future. We tell the old stories, not to relive old glories, but to inspire new lives in Christ. It is alright to have monuments to your glory days, it is natural for us to remember what God has done, but we also need to create new fields so that the young in Christ can learn how to dream and play the game of life.
I am proud of what the Church has accomplished. I am happy that God has chosen the Church to share the love of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ with the world, but I am concerned that too many of us have turned our sanctuaries into museums. It is time for us to let go of what has been and to prepare for a new generation of faithful followers. Tell them the story of Jesus Christ. Show them your medals and teach them to strive to break your records. In Jesus Christ, the best is always yet to come.
Join with me as we renew our strength, learn to dream and seek to inspire a new generation of Church leadership.