Sunday, August 10, 2008

Olympian Focus

Matthew 14:22-33

So, the Olympics started Friday night. I am a great fan of the Olympics, and not just rooting for the American team. I love all stories that come out, and I have to say that I do believe in the Olympic ideal. The Olympics to me are one of those examples where people can come together for a common goal, become one in the sense of being one human race, and still maintain their distinctiveness--They are Olympians, but they are still Costa Rican, they are still Korean, they are still Zimbabwean. And being American is something to be proud of within a context of other countries being worthy of pride, too.

I feel proud for Park Tae-Hwan, who was a swimmer for South Korea last night. Four years ago in Athens, he mistakenly fell into the pool off the starting platform, and he was disqualified for false start. He was only there for one race, and a mistake he made caused him to miss the race. But four years later, he is back, and won the gold medal last night. That's focus. That's seeing yourself as a swimmer fist, and doing what it is that swimmers do. Swimmers practice. They push themselves, they eat properly for their goals, and they go to the Olympics. That's just what they do. That's focus.

I am looking forward to hearing stories from many countries, many athletes who will have overcome great odds to be able to be in Beijing. What they will all have is focus. Not just an ability to shut out distraction for the duration of their event, whether it be 50 seconds in a 50 meter freestyle swimming race, 2 hours for a marathon, or three or four days as you go through the events of a decathlon or the gymnastics all around.

No, there is a deeper focus, one that carries you from day to day, the focus that is the maintenance of your self-image. It's seeing yourself as what you want to be, and becoming that, over time.

Our passage of Scripture today is about a guy who lost focus, and one who didn't. Peter, who is probably my favorite Disciple because he is so inconsistent and so promising, all together in one package, is here with Jesus, walking toward him. The thing is, he's walking toward him on the water. The other people on the boat, Disciples and others, are totally freaked out by this vision, this suspension of reality. This miracle. Peter, he of the great potential, gets a clue, however, and says "Jesus, if it is you, command me to come to you out there." Jesus does so, and Peter gets out of the boat. He starts walking on the water, too. But then something distracts him, and he realizes where he is, what he is doing, and loses focus, and begins to sink.

He had a moment of realizing that he shouldn't be out there on the water, this is messiah territory, and he begins to sink. He's not ready yet, but he eventually does become who God intends, at Pentecost and after. Peter becomes what he wants to be, through several disappointments, several setbacks, and a few successes.

Athletes have this same focus--not on who they are, but on who they want to be. It's a matter of seeing yourself as who you want to be. If you want to be a singer, you sing. You learn music. You find a way to get vocal lessons. You find people who are where you want to be, and you be with them. You begin to think of yourself as one of them, and eventually, you become one of them. It takes time, and it is a struggle to maintain focus, but it eventually comes. It takes a lot to maintain faith in who you think God wants you to be. There are times when you do doubt, and a thoughtful review of what you want, who you want to be is expected. That's not what Peter's doing out there on the water. I can almost hear what he's thinking as h begins to look down at his feet:

"OK, there's Jesus, he wants me to come to him, and I am. But wait, that wind is pretty strong. Why is it so strong? It's because we're out on the water, wind is always stronger out on the water. We're out on the water. I'm out on the water. The boat is behind me. THE BOAT IS BEHIND ME. What am I doing! I'm standing on water! So's Jesus, does that mean I am like Jesus? Whoa, I don't think I want that."

And down he sinks. What gave Peter the power was the faith that he had in Jesus, and his willingness to follow Jesus, anywhere, even those places that seem impossible. Who would Peter have become had he walked all the way over to Jesus and just stood there? How would we have seen him then? We'll never know. But his faith in Jesus would have gotten him there.

We all have ambitions. We all have goals. Many of us have tucked them away because of circumstance, or because we doubt their value, or doubt our ability to reach them. Sometimes it's as simple as perfecting the recipe for a blueberry pie. Sometimes it is the goal of becoming a doctor. Sometimes they are hobbies, and sometimes they are the actual leadings of God into the life we are called to lead. But either way, it calls for focus. If you want to be a certain kind of person, begin to act like that person. If you find value in praying three times a day, then set your watch or your alarm clock and carry the prayers with you for when that happens. Make ways to have that occur. If you want to learn an instrument, you have to make time to practice it, and find ways to play it.

Jesus knew who he was. Jesus was the Messiah, and realized that as long as he relied on God, he could do a lot. If others would concentrate on God, have faith in God, they could do a lot, too. There were times, Scripture tells us, that he could not heal people because they or the people around them did not have enough faith. On the other hand, as long as Peter stayed focused on Jesus, he was walking on water.

As long as we stayed focused on God, and let ourselves be changed by the consequences of our commitments, we can become who we are called to be. We can become an Olympic Athlete. We can become a doctor. We can become a singer. We can be all that God has built us to be.

If we maintain an Olympian focus, we can walk on water, too.

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