Blue Coat School 25/6/2003
1 Corinthians 9.24-27
In sport, it doesn't take long to change your life. It took just two hours and 24 minutes for Ivo Karlovic to find himself transformed from being a complete unknown in the tennis world, to the name on everybody's lips.
Two hours and 24 minutes and the 6ft. 10in. Croat, ranked 203rd in the world became part of Wimbledon folklore after beating defending champion and No.1 seed Lleyton Hewitt to record arguably the greatest shock in Wimbledon history.
Hardly anyone had heard of Karlovic before yesterday. Only one other player has ever defeated a defending champion in the first round at Wimbledon.
Karlovic said afterwards: "I'm very excited to have beaten Lleyton. In the first set I was completely scared but after I saw that I could beat him I began to play better. I saw him play last week and he didn't play anything special. I was prepared to win. I began to believe I could win in the third set."
Now there's a thing to notice. Sport and belief go together. Sport develops our capacity to believe. To believe in others and to believe in ourselves. Put some effort into training and you know you'll grow in strength and skill. And in self-belief. Give your support to an individual or a team and you begin to believe in their ability, even the lesser achievers. And the thrills that accompany our belief, are immense.
And all of this is good. Sport, in its purest form, is inspirational. That's why Christianity celebrates it. St Paul wrote about the life of faith in sporting terms: 'let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us', 'Run in such a way as to get the prize', and so on.
Like us today, the New Testament writers lived in a sporting culture - remember where and when the Olympics began. They encourage us that, just as we share in the aspirations and achievements of sportsmen and women, so we can share in the aspirations and achievements of our God.
I doubt the New Testament writers had in mind some of the excesses caused by sporting competitiveness - violence, drugs cheating, obscene financial transactions. Sadly, our religions are equally degraded when believers lose their proper perspective and go all out to 'win' - to win every argument; to prove that they're always right, to condemn people who are different from them. That's not what faith is meant to be about. That's where faith can learn from good sport.
The innocent thrill of getting out into the tennis court, batting the ball around pretending to be Karlovic or Serena Williams, knowing your own strengths and playing to them, working on your weaknesses - these are all pure and wonderful things to do.
Believers know that our relationship with God is getting somewhere when that provides us thrills in just the same way - the thrill of 'going the second mile' for someone, the excitement of seeing your prayers answered, the wonder of realising that your thoughtfulness has helped to enrich someone else's life...