So the Thirty-first Olympiad is well underway now, as over ten thousand athletes from hundreds of countries compete for medals and national pride. But for the first time in history South America is hosting the summer games, and the world remains skeptical on whether or not Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is really prepared.
Because in case you haven’t heard, the water isn’t exactly clean for the rowers and sailors and triathlete swimmers, as world health organizations continue to warn the participants of life-long repercussions. Not to mention plenty of athletes refused to take part in the games for fear of the Zika virus. Then there’s the trepidation of terrorist attacks, especially with an under-staffed police force. Never has there been this much drama leading up to the games since the United States and the Soviet Union boycotted each other’s Olympics in the 1980’s. Nevertheless, over ten thousand athletes from all over the world continue to compete in Rio de Janeiro.
I remember the first Olympics I fully appreciated and paid close attention to was the 1996 games in Atlanta. I remember the opening ceremony with Muhammad Ali igniting the cauldron to start the games, in front of all these athletes from all these different nations, unique cultures, all these vastly diverse walks of life, and yet joined together in a passion not just for their own respective nation, but for an entire world that all of them called home. And with each opening ceremony I seriously wonder if this is the closest thing we will ever have in this life to experiencing what the Kingdom of God will truly be like.
Now the Psalm we heard this morning began with, “Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord.” It’s not just in the United States when we read or hear that verse that we automatically think that’s our country and forget about everyone else across the globe; as if God has a preferential treatment for a specific land and people, and every other is secondary, if God cares about them at all. However, the people of Israel thought the same thing long ago in the time of Scripture. After all, God had personally lead them out of slavery into freedom and blessed them with the Promised Land. But soon enough they had to face the reality that this is the God of all the nations. And when Jesus comes along, He lives and dies and rises again not just for the Jews, but for Gentiles throughout the world. And so the Psalm continues, God watches over all humanity. One nation has never and never will have the power to keep God to itself. The Olympics are the closest thing we have to reminding us of that.
No, the games are not meant to be religious in any way whatsoever. The opening ceremony was not a worship service by any stretch of the imagination. But we know full well God can work through anything God desires to throughout history. Through fire God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. So God can most certainly work through a flame yet again to remind a world that peace still comes to life, as men and women from all different nationalities and religions and ethnicities stand side by side in a crowded stadium. God worked through prophets who had no confidence whatsoever in public speaking and fear for their life; so God can most certainly work through athletes, whether they realize it or not, to go places in spite of fear to at least give hope to young people back in their homeland.
No, this is not a God who stays in one nation and sets up shop. This is not a God who only blesses a single country. This is the God whose focus is universal and eternal. This is the God beyond our human comprehension. This is the God who baffles our imagination with a mercy we do not deserve, with a compassion beyond our understanding, with a love we refuse to accept is possible time and time again. I mean is it really possible that God can still love the whole world after what we have done to each other in 2016 alone, not to mention since the beginning of time? Is it possible that God still has faith in what human beings can do for each other, as if God still wants to work through us to instill hope and peace in our communities and in all nations?
Is it even remotely possible as all these athletes and fans gather in Rio de Janeiro in these massive stadiums, that God actually knows all their stories, all their struggles, all of what makes them truly precious in God’s sight? And is it truly possible that God not only knows them, but loves them more than they love themselves? It’s more than beyond our comprehension, even more so than us trying to comprehend how an entire city has to prepare itself for all the mass hysteria that’s about to ensue in the coming weeks. But more importantly what happened with the opening ceremony in Brazil Friday night was a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, when all of God’s children will one day come together in peace; and there will no more fighting, no more war, no more hatred, but only the love of God to unite us all with a joy we cannot even begin to imagine. And for that hope for all of God’s children in the coming weeks and forevermore, we give thanks to God indeed. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon