I am not naturally sporting or indeed competitive, and as the London Olympics approached I frankly viewed the prospect with dread at the faucet-like gush that was to be expected in the media, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. In this I was not exactly disappointed, the effect being aggravated by having to come back from holiday early. On the other hand, the Olympics did at least free us from the sporting monoculture that pervades for most of the rest of the year. More than that, they comprised a wide variety of sports: yes I was able to see something that actually interested me and yes, it was indeed quite inspiring. Forget for a moment the obsequious interviews and the insipid replies they elicited, and look at the sheer variety of activities, for not everyone excels at team games, ball games or athletics. Some may still have horrific memories of school sports in which square pegs were either to be forced into round holes, with maximum of humiliation or abuse, or they were to be ignored altogether. As Miss Jean Brodie had said in her prime: she stood for educating – ie leading-out, (e and duco) not intrusion – ie thrusting-in (in and trudo).
And how different this is from the body of Christ, where variety is as much a feature of its life as are the organs of the human body. Without the full complement of organs the body cannot function properly – and may not even live. Perhaps this is the clue: the body is driven by life, and not function or success. And that life is to be life in its fullness, joy to that will be complete, the portion that is given in full measure, shaken together and overflowing: limited only be our capacity to receive and not by the desire of the Lord to give. The freedom that Jesus leads us into is the freedom to find ourselves fulfilled in Him. If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed, and having loved His own, He loved them to the end.
There are two aspects to entering this kind of freedom. First, it is by losing our selves, and letting go of our claims on life and on one another, so that we may find ourselves identified and given new purpose in Jesus and not apart from Him. This letting-go is a letting-go of self, and learning how to relax. Just as swimmers entrust themselves to the buoyancy of their bodies in the water, so we also may let go and trust that having taken our hands, the Lord will not let go. It is when they have done this that swimmers can then exert themselves to speed in the water. Sailors do the same thing in relation to the wind: only by spreading their sails can they catch the wind, and only then can they trim their sails to gain movement.
But the second aspect is about our relationships with one another: that is to say, our expectations of each other and our criticisms when the reality does not match those expectations. Here the point is that our expectations may say more about our needs and inadequacies that the potential of our fellow believers in meeting them. Are we trying to force one another into moulds of our own making and not of the kind intended by the Lord? It is when we can hang loose of our own expectations that we can also be much freer in forgiving and understanding each other.
It is very easy for the church to reproduce what it sees in the world and not what it sees in the scriptures. If the world is hierarchical, then so is the church. If it is democratic, then so is the church. If it likes to play political games, to trade on guilt, or to be taken up with manoeuvres and manipulations then so is the church. But none of this is of God, and none of it can bring life into the body of Christ.
The better way is that of St Paul: the love that abides and endures beyond all else, the love that Jesus demanded of us for Himself (total and unconditional: with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength), and for one another in the fellowship of faith (Love one another as I have loved you). In loving our neighbours, we are to love them as we love ourselves. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we shall see face to face. Now we know in part, but then we shall know even as we are known.