Yesterday at Morning Prayer I was surprised when my co-pastor read the name Eric Lidddell as the holy man of the day. He, of course, made reference to Chariots of Fire, the movie made about the 1924 Paris Olympics. Liddell, a favorite in the 100 meter dash, withdrew because the heat was on Sunday and he did not compete on his sabbath. As the movie showed us, Eric went on to win the 400 meter (setting a world record) instead. He also won the bronze in the 200. It is an amazing story of courage, faith and athletic success.
I think what hit me most is that our focus yesterday morning was on a different apsect of Eric. We came at his life from a different angle. We remember him as a missionary in North China, where he served from 1925 until 1943. He was a rugby player and one can assume that his spirituality was shaped by the toughness of his athleticism. His courage as a missionary no doubt reflected that toughness. WWII and the conflict between Japan and China impacted Eric. While his wife and three daughters moved to Canada, he and his brother remained behind to minister. He was eventually put in a concentration camp and died in 1945, just before the camp was liberated.
No movie was made about Eric Liddell the missionary. Yet, I am sure his gold medal meant less to him than preaching the Gospel and ministering to people. I know his life meant less to him than mission work. He was a man of great faith. He was faithful, even unto death.
The prayer yesterday includes these phrases: "God, whose strength bears us up on mighty wings"... "we pray that we also may run with endurance the race set before us..." Endurance is not easy. It is very difficult, day after day, to keep plodding along. Discouragement and frustration can wear us down. We can question, "What is the point?" The Christian faith is openly mocked in our culture. We are tempted to mold our lives around cultural values rather than our rule of life and faith. The faith community, stretching across time and space, is a source of comfort and challenge. The act of remembering heroes from the past can serve to inspire us to greater good. It can remind us that there is a God and Father, revealed in and through His Son Jesus, calling us to be faithful and brave. We cannot all get gold medals in the Olympics, but we can all proclaim the Gospel in word and deed.