I have been throughly enjoying watching the Olympics. One of the things that both fascinates me and worries me at the same time is the sheer single mindedness of the competitors. The simple truth is that if you want to be in with a chance to win an olympic gold medal you pretty much have to dedicate your whole life to it. There have been many a story this past week interviewing the family of winning swimmers who have pretty much been supporting their charges from the age of 5 upwards. And that might just get you up to the kind of level of competing you need to be at. After which there’s the whole 4 year cycle of leading up to a games, the training designed to bring you to peak performance at the games themselves. And that just puts you in with a chance - you are still hostage to a rogue bit of water shunting your canoe, a flat tyre on your bike, a slippery diving board, or even worse coming up against a once in a generation kind of talent like Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps where your basically competing for the silver medal. (I’m now picturing Roger Black trailing behind Michael Johnson…)
It’s such a tortuous road and such a challenging one - which makes actually winning all the more special. But there are no short cuts - you dedicate your life to it and maybe just maybe you will have a chance.
The worry for me comes afterwards - the writer Tal Ben-Sharar, himself an international squash player describes vividly the enormous ‘low’ many athletes experience after winning :
‘After the night of celebration, I retired to my room. I sat on my bed and wanted to savour, for the last time before going to sleep, the feeling of supreme happiness. Suddenly, without warning the bliss that came from having attained in real life what had for so long been my most cherished and exalted fantasy disappeared, and my feeling of emptiness returned. I was befuddled and afraid. The tears of joy shed only hours earlier turned to tears of pain and helplessness. For if I was not happy now, when everything seemed to have worked out perfectly, what prospects did i have of attaining lasting happiness?
Spiritually speaking this is quite unremarkable for the single minded devotion needed to win an olympic gold medal comes very close to and often i actually is, idolatry. The christian writer Tim Keller sums up idolatry well :
‘An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘if I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value; then I’ll feel significant and secure…If anything other than God becomes more fundamental to your happiness, meaning in life, and identity, then it is an idol.’
I hope you can see by that definition how dangerous it might be to our souls to pursue Olympic Gold. Fortunately most of us are either not gifted enough or young enough to have that particular temptation - but idolatry is no less a challenge for us - as the world is full of competing things that offer us the illusion of happiness but then disappoint. As we enter the month of August. where historically we slow down a little and even take holidays, it is a great opportunity to do some idol spotting in our own life - what are the things that have crept up on us in this weirdest of years and subtly drawn us away from the one and only source of life. As ever the prescription when spotted is not to double down on our resolve and willpower to definitely not do those things again - but rather the very simple treatment of coming to Jesus - Jesus who never shows you something to address without at the same time helping you. Tomorrow in our service we will be seeing how Jesus cuts through the chaff and complexity of our lives with a simple call to believe. And later in August at our weekly meditations we will be listening to a reading of the first part of Philip Yancey’s book, ‘The Jesus I never Knew’.
I am on holiday for the next two weeks and then have my annual retreat immediately afterwards so will be back on 24th. If you have any urgent administrative, pastoral or parish matter do please contact Jon, Brenda or Tammy respectively.
In the meantime I have recorded a number of services, reflections and other things to appear at the usual times - don’t be confused when they appear - I am on holiday its just the miracle of modern technology. During August we are in the church building on the 1st, 15th and 29th (the firtst, third and fifth Sundays) and there will be an online recorded offering on the 8th and 22nd. Both the 8th and 22nd have been pre recoded and have some space for an extended peaceful mediation as part of the service.
All the usual other things will be at the usual times, again pre recorded.
The one thing I haven’t prepared in advance is my weekly update which i hope you won’t mind doing without for a few weeks - I will post a reminder place holder - perhaps when you see those you can pray for me and the family having a break!
Following PCC this week our tentative plans to come together in September (as per a previous update) are all still in place and we have begun thinking through practicalities and I will brief everyone of those at the end of the month. We will continue to keep an eye on the numbers which at present are down a little to 836 per 100 000 but still very much higher than the national average - and do please continue to pray for parishioners currently with Covid or isolating.
Hopefully I’ll see some of you in church tomorrow and on screen as we think together about Jesus being the ‘Bread of life’. Failing that I’ll see you later in the month.
August Services/ Events / Postings
Sunday 1st 1030am Sunday Worship (online and in person)
Tuesday 3rd 9am Reflection
Thursday 5th 9pm Compline
Saturday 7th 8am+ Mini Messy Story
Sunday 8th 1030am Sunday Worship (recorded online)
Tuesday 10th 9am Reflection
Thursday 12th 9pm Compline
Sunday 15th 1030am Sunday Worship (online and in person)
Tuesday 17th 9am Reflection
Thursday 19th 9pm Compline
Sunday 22nd 1030am Sunday Worship (recorded online)
Tuesday 24th 9am Reflection
Thursday 27th 9pm Compline