SPIRITUAL MATTERS: Athletes’ example for how to treat others

I really enjoying watching the Olympics. Every few years these global events break into the ordinariness of our lives and transport us to another land.
I love to watch the excellent athletes compete and to learn some of their background, too.
I also especially enjoy watching all kinds of sporting events I probably would not usually tune in to. For example, the other day I found myself captivated by mixed doubles curling. They were great with that little broom and all.
We also hear some amazing stories like how there came to be a Nigerian bobsled team. And how about the Geico ad featuring a sumo figure skater ice dancing.
My favorite Olympic story, I learned recently, is only partly true, but its point still stands, and is even more profound than in the original version I saw years ago.
The story goes like this: A number of years ago, at the Special Olympics in Seattle, nine contestants, all physically or mentally challenged, assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash. At the gun, they all started out with a determination and desire to finish and win.
But, as the story goes, one boy stumbled and tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry. The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and looked back. Then, they all turned around and went back … every one of them.
Then, they all linked arms and walked together to the finish line. Everyone in the stadium stood, and went wild cheering for several minutes.
I love this story. It is touching and lifts up the best in people and something about who we hope to be.
Well, here is the rest of the story: According to folks at the Special Olympics Washington office, the incident happened at a 1976 track and field event held in Spokane, Washington not Seattle.
There a contestant did take a tumble, and a number of the other athletes, but not all of them, turned back to help the fallen one and then crossing the finish line together, while the others continued to run the race.
Whether it was all, or just some, of the contestants who set aside their own dreams of going for gold in favor of helping a fallen competitor, I believe the point is clear.
Deep down I think we all sense that life is more than just winning for yourself, and it also involves helping others win, too. And that we do have a choice in how we respond to others around us when they fall.
I really don’t know what I would have done in that race. I like to think I would have gone back to help. More likely I would have finished the race I had trained so hard to run and then maybe gone back to see if I could help.
A more important question is what will I do in life to help others get across the finish line of life and faith together. Recently our Men’s Ministry Group gathered to work through some great material called Just Walk Across the Room.
The premise is not complex, but as simple as just walking across the room to build relationship with someone, to hear their story, and to share your story with them, so that God can use it.
Thank God our lives and our faith are always bigger than us and how we happen to feel on any given day. It always involves inviting those who have fallen or gotten lost along the way to lock arms with us and with Jesus – and move, better together, into the future God has in store for us all.
During the season of Lent at Calvary we will be focusing on how we see “God’s Story in Our Story. How God breaks into the ordinariness of life to transform us to become more concerned about crossing the finish line together – that is, to become more Christ-like.
The Rev. Jonathan Heierman is pastor of Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church

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