Trinity: "The Gospel According to the Olympics"

The Revd Margaret Legg

What an impact the Olympics are having on this country just now!

‘I have postponed my holiday because we managed to get tickets for the Olympics.’

‘My wife, someone told me this week, has taken the whole 3 weeks as holiday and is taking in 4 different competitions simultaneously, via the TV, her computer, the radio and her iphone. I keep getting texts from her with updates, he said, his eyes alight with enthusiasm.’

‘Are you going to see any of the Olympics?’, the Bank cashier asked me this week.

Well no, I’m not, unlike some of my colleagues. Indeed we now have an Olympics list up in the Parish Office to keep track of who is where and when!

The Body of Christ and the Olympics

When Paul writes about building up the body of Christ until all of us come to the unity of faith, we might do well to look at how the London Olympics have been built up so that they achieve this impact on so many. Our reading from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus is the beginning of a series of instructions to the early church about understanding how to grow as the body of Christ. He writes here that there is a mutual dependence on each other in order to grow and thrive as church communities; later he focuses on how they should conduct the running of their households and finally about battles with spiritual forces. There are, 3 similarities between the building of the Olympics and of the body of Christ: unity is one, along with the gifts that we each have and thirdly the importance of speaking the truth in love.

Health warning!

This comes with a health warning! The church and sport have had an uneasy relationship over the centuries and I read with some amusement in the Church Times that the Synod of Exeter in 1287 banned ‘wrestling, dancing and other unseemly sports’ in the churchyard. What would they have made of the women’s volleyball in Horseguards Parade? By the mid 19th century the tables had been turned and the Rev’d Thomas Arnold championed games while headmaster of Rugby School, aiming to form Christian men through what was to be known as ‘muscular Christianity’. There was still conflict though – Eric Liddell in the 1924 Paris Games refused to enter Sunday events and when the Olympic Games came to London in 1948 Sunday was removed from the timetable. How times change. In 2012 the shops have even had Sunday trading hours temporarily increased.


Originally revived, 3000 years ago as a means of uniting the country, the Olympics marked the start of a sacred truce throughout the Greek world, when citizens could travel in safety to Elis, where the qualifying rounds took place, before embarking on the journey to Olympia itself. Paul is writing at a time when the fledgling Christian growth was threatened by disunity between Jew and Gentile followers, and so he speaks of all that unites them: one God and Father, one faith and one baptism. We too as a community are so much stronger when we work together to build the church, the body of Christ in Paddington, internally, encouraging and supporting one another, whether in our volunteering on church rotas, our readiness to chat to new faces and different worshippers and in our wider everyday lives.

Using our gifts

What talented people are competing! How fit, determined, and well trained. But we may well not have the physical gifts of the competitors – I enjoy cycling but couldn’t begin to compare either my inner thigh muscles or my stamina and speed to Gold medallist Bradley Wiggins, nor would I want to!! Of course the competitions lie at the heart of it, they are the raison d’etre, but the success of the Olympic Games as a whole depends on so much more than those competing. There are the volunteers, spotted at tube stations, on the streets, driving buggies around the Olympic Park, helping in the chaplaincy team, manning information desks, as well as security, caterers, transport, technologists and of course the spectators, who do so much to encourage those taking part. How sterile it would be without them. In the same way we are not all called to live out our faith as archbishops, martyrs or top theologians, but we are called to discover our gifts and to use them in tandem with each other, so that the body of Christ/ can grow and spread. Whether we are musicians and singers, as IT experts, gardeners, chefs, or simply have a sense of fun and positive outlook, use them not just for own enjoyment but sharing them, for the good of all. The new Bond girl, as Steve now refers to Her Majesty the Queen, has paved the way with a wonderful example of good humour displayed at the Opening Ceremony!  We may need help and encouragement to uncover them. As a schoolgirl, Lizzie Armitage, who won a silver in the women’s road cycling race, preferred hockey and netball. She had no particular interest in cycling until talent spotters visited her school. ‘If they had gone to another school, or if I had been ill on that day, I’d never even have got on a bike,’ she has said. So if we notice someone has a knack for problem solving, is a good listener, mention it, encourage them to develop it.

Speak the truth in love

A particularly eccentric Cambridge don once asked his College Chaplain what he was going to preach about at the beginning of term. Without waiting for a reply he said, ‘for God’s sake don’t just talk tripe about the truth!’ There is a way of talking about truth that can be a bit too smooth, instead of challenging, too glib to make us sit up and question ourselves and our motives.  Truth has an integrity about it, that invites exploration and when it is told in love, that is, in a way that shows care and affection, it can establish and strengthen relationships. And it doesn’t take much to for trickery and craftiness to emerge. No sooner had 16 year old swimmer Ye Shiwen smashed the world record in the women’s 400m medley and claimed a second gold in the 200m relay than the knives were out: she must have been helped by illegal drugs; the Badminton women’s doubles match between S Korea and China was spoiled as both sides tried to lose, fluffing their shots in order to avoid playing their compatriots before the final. Disqualification was the result. So keep away from deceitful scheming urges Paul. Speak the truth in love to one another. It may be that our gift as a community during these Olympics is for us all to show visitors we encounter genuine friendliness, helpfulness, kindness, because in doing so they may catch a glimpse of how the body of Christ is being built up in Paddington.