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The Agony of Defeat!

Many of us who grew up in the 1960’s were familiar with ABC’s Wide World of Sports that came on television each Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Jim McKay was the announcer of that wonderful program and he was the author of the opening line that was all too familiar to us. Remember the words we all came to memorize from our childhoods? He told us, with the opening music and the familiar words, “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport…the thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat…the human drama of athletic competition…This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!”

I spoke those words each week with Jim McKay and then watched in horror as the ski jumper fell on his way down the slope and landed in what had to result in horrific bodily damage. Remember that? Yet, we later found out that the skier was not injured in the fall – a wonderful blessing for him, I imagine. The point is that while we sat at home watching these events, real people in the sports world were facing unfathomable challenges seeking glory that sometimes resulted in Victory – and at other times resulted in unimaginable Defeat.

This past Memorial Day weekend in Indianapolis we saw this play out with a front row seat to one of the most remarkable finishes in the history of the Indy 500 Race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This event, which just celebrated its 108th running and is undoubtedly the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, lived up to its reputation as more than 350,000 people watched Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward vie for the title of the 2024 Indy 500 winner.

For those of you who aren’t race fans, I won’t bore you by going into great detail. And those of you who are race fans will already be aware of what happened. To cut to the chase, the last two laps were nail biters with several lead changes that culminated with Newgarden making a last minute pass, on the outside of O’Ward, to win the race .3417 seconds ahead of his friend and competitor. It was unbelievable!

Those of us who live in the metro Indianapolis area are treated to much more content on the news than those fans around the rest of the country. So while the cameras were on Josef Newgarden, his team owners, pit crew and family, celebrating the thrill of Victory, we were also shown somber images of Pato hanging his head on the front of his car, in tears, virtually inconsolable as he became the poster child for the agony of Defeat. If Jim McKay was still alive, I bet that the poor ski jumper would have been replaced by images of Pato O’Ward suffering miserably in the cockpit of his stellar car.

His interview was televised and it was clear that he was filled with hurt at the loss. Monday evening, the traditional Victory Celebration Dinner was held in downtown Indy and was televised locally. Traditionally, each driver is interviewed, the accomplishments made known to the attendees and highlight reels shown of their performance during the race. There is no doubt that this is the greatest race in the world.

What really resonated with me was the pure honesty that Pato displayed during his interview. The agony was palpable. And Pato made no secret of how difficult it was to deal with his defeat. So close, yet so far away… He was equally complimentary of the driving skills of his friend and competitor, Newgarden. Pato didn’t lose the race – there were no mistakes… but Josef drove an unbelievable final several laps to win. He earned that victory…

The prize money also reflected the difference between first and second. Newgarden brought home $4.288 million for his winner’s share and O’Ward earned $1,050,500 for his second place finish. The entire purse was more than $18 million, a new record. And this is the second time that Pato has missed Victory Lane by very small fractions of time.

I’m sure that there are times that all of us feel like Pato O’Ward. I know that there have been days when I just hang my head in disbelief at what is before me. And while I always have hope that things will improve, it is sometimes difficult to realize the challenges we face – especially when we are so close that we can sense victory. But that’s life in this world… Until we enter the glory of heaven, in the presence of God, we will face hurdles in our daily lives.

Our verse for tonight is from the apostle James, the half brother of Jesus. He tells us in James 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

In other words, sometimes we must suffer the agony of defeat before we celebrate the thrill of victory. My encouragement this evening is that God is with us every step of the way and is there to comfort us in times of tribulation. As difficult as that is at times to remember, we must not yield to the dark side. We must persevere. My prayer is that we may grow stronger in our faith and commit to growing even closer to our Father in heaven when we suffer setbacks. Even those that may seem insurmountable at the time. Congratulations, Josef Newgarden  – and Pato, maybe next year is your time to enter Victory Lane, sipping that legendary bottle of milk. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…

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