The modern summer Olympic Games began in 1896 and have been held every four years since then, except during war time. The winter games were added in 1924. The mission and goals are lofty and inspiring:

“Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.

“The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

The Olympic logo is well-known:

The Olympic flag has a white background, with five interlaced rings in the center: blue, yellow, black, green and red. This design is symbolic; it represents the five continents of the world, united by the Olympic spirit, while those six colors (the rings plus white) are the colors that appear on all the national flags of the world at the present time. The idea behind the interlocking circles is that the participating athletes are coming together in spite of their ethnic, linguistic and nationality separateness.

Here’s another symbol that’s becoming increasingly recognizable:

This is a version of the rainbow image embraced by LGBT people and their friends. The concept is comparable to what is symbolized in the Olympic logo – people may express themselves in a variety of ways, but we share a common humanity.

Recently, members of the USA Olympic Committee have pointed out that the USA winter Olympics team was too predictably white and unaccepting of openly gay athletes. Fox News executive vice president John Moody responded to the concern with what he thought was a clever observation: “The motto of the Olympics, since 1894, has been ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger.’ It appears the Committee would like to change that to ‘Darker, Gayer, Different.’” Fox received so much negative reaction to his statement that they removed it from their site. People seemed to feel that it expressed a divisive spirit that was contrary to the inclusiveness of the Olympics.

Those who watched the opening ceremony last Wednesday were confronted with a radical picture of unity, when the torch used to light the Olympic fire was carried by two athletes together, one from South Korea and the other from North Korea. This image of unity was strikingly different from the belligerence that rules in the world politics involving the two countries. The Olympics was an opportunity for them to express their oneness.

In last Sunday’s sermon, I focused on two Bible passages, one near the end and one near the beginning. The first is the story of the Tower of Babel, describing how the human race became fragmented into tiny, alienated pieces (Genesis 11:1-9). The second is the Apostle John’s vision of the ultimate, dramatic coming together of humanity through the overcoming power of Christ’s salvation (Revelation 7:9-17). I pointed out that in the ages between those two Biblical events, humanity has been caught in a tension between the tearing apart force and the drawing together force.

Each of us lives in that tug-of-war, and how we act toward others will contribute either to chaos and confusion or to understanding and harmony. I sit in front of my TV and rejoice in the individual achievement of an obscure woman from Kazakhstan who won a bronze medal in a skiing event. Then I focus on the total team medal count to date and discover the USA is in fifth place, behind The Netherlands, Norway, Germany and Canada. I find myself joining the partisan chant, “USA! USA! USA!” Guess I’m not ready for heaven.

— Pastor George Van Alstine

Korea image Sean M. Haffey/AFP/Getty Images