Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 5-13; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23
Football Wanna Be’s
Next Sunday, we will celebrate yet another huge holiday, a feast day of sorts in American culture, a day some folks wear the colors of their favorite sports team. It is a day to indulge in festive foods: nachos, hot wings, potato chips, and Lord only knows what else. Next Sunday, is Super Bowl XLIV (54) and the San Francisco 49ers will battle the Kansas City Chiefs for the National Title. As football fans, we will indulge in this great winter sport, but we have to remember that we are mere fans and football wanna be’s. We will not once pick up a ball, put on a uniform, or step even one foot out on a football field. We will watch the spectacular event from the sidelines.
I was a football wannabe as a kid and on Sunday afternoons (after church and Sunday dinner of course) I spent time watching football. One Christmas I asked for one of the vibrating metal football fields where you set up all the little plastic players, turned on the switch and they all moved across the field. This game was a football fan’s obsession long before Madden Football was available on X Box.
As much as I loved the game, as much as I dreamed of catching the winning touchdown, I never once stepped out on the field, put on ahelmet and pads nor practiced with a team. Not once did I in the heat of the game toss the ball, block a tackle, nor experience the glory of getting on the field. I was merely fan, a sideline “wanna be.” I was a wannabe lacking in self-confidence and looking for guidance.”2
I can only imagine what kind of player I could have been, had I followed a caring coach, a loving mentor, or if I had been given a chance by a risk-taking scout. What if there had been someone to help me get past my fears, to show me how easy it was to try, and to help me get out on the field and play the game that I loved.
Jesus, Discipleship Scout
Many years ago, a great scout of sorts, a young rabbi was out looking for prospects to join his first-string team. The mission on which, he engaged required a special team of players. He did not go out to the best colleges (synagogues) and pick the first-round draft choices, nor did he visit the great centers of power/government and choose the social elite.
No, he went down to the shore, down to where he could find the working-class folk of the time, and sought out just regular people, and then, he invited them to hang out with him, and to watch how he played the game. “And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (Matthew 4:12-23 NRSV)
What has always intrigued me about this story in Matthew’s gospel in which ,Jesus calls the disciples is that these guys who were obviously working in the family business and possibly doing it well, but they just dropped what they were doing, left it all behind, and followed this rabbi guy. Talk about being risk-takers. Can you imagine what it was about Jesus, in that brief encounter that was so compelling, so persuasive so, undeniably attractive? I mean it would be like us walking off a job site or an office meeting, or a project and saying, “See ya, I’m following Jesus.”
I wonder if it had something to do with the fact that for these overlooked fishermen, someone finally believed in them, saw something promising in them and thus, invited them to get out on the field of mission. I wonder if it was because someone finally asked them to risk failure, to dream about what might be possible, challenged them to face their fears, and invited them to follow the one, who calls each one of us to a new way of life. Maybe they dropped what they were doing and followed, because Jesus confidently declared, “You can do this!” Jesus calls us to Gridiron Discipleship.
Jesus believes in us
See the great thing about “Gridiron Discipleship” is that Jesus is not looking for us to be perfect, to do it right all the time, or to avoid failure. The fact is, “Gridiron Discipleship”, this Life in Christ we strive for means, we do not get it right a lot of the time. Folks, Jesus followers drop the ball, miss the tackle, step out of bounds, and sometimes we fail to show up for practice. Even so, the fundamental requirement to be a student, apprentice, disciple of Jesus, is that we must be willing to take the risk and try. We really do not have to worry about getting it right, because we first have to get over our “wanna be” mentality and just get out on the field, take the leap to follow Jesus, and do it not simply on Sundays, but every day of the week.
Furthermore, “Gridiron Disciples” do not believe that Sunday is our only big game day. Sunday is merely our practice time and it is when we learn how to play game, when we learn from one another and encourage each another. Sunday morning is where we are fed and prepared and sent out. The real, big event, the true “Gridiron Disciple” playing field is out there in our workplaces, in our homes, with our closest friends, and with folks with whom we engage every single day.
“Consider the work you do to make a living. This is one of the clearest ways possible of focusing upon apprenticeship to Jesus.”1 How you interact and treat co-workers, how you make decisions about difficult issues, how you serve customers and clients are all opportunities “to be learning from Jesus how to do your job as Jesus himself would do it.” A young woman worked in a very competitive, high-energy office where cut-throat tactics abounded. Sometimes her faith seemed to come in conflict with the corporate culture in which she found herself. She resolved at one point that she would begin her day with this prayer, which she said each day sitting in the parking garage, “Lord, when I am confused guide me. When I am burned out infuse me with the light of the Holy Spirit. May the work that I do and the way I do it bring faith, joy, and a smile to all that I come in contact with today.”
This simple prayer focused this “Gridiron Disciple” and reminded her that she had been given the opportunity to bring joy and grace into a place of darkness and stress. She learned that by simply changing her mindset, looking at things differently, she was able to step out on the field, take a risk, and get into the game playing on Jesus’ team. When we are at work, at home, or at any place we find ourselves engaging with others, we should pray, “put me in coach,” and then, the Master does just that and by the way, the Spirit gives us the power to take the ball and run with it.
“THE FINAL step in becoming a “Gridiron Disciple” is to make a decision to play the game and become a life student of Jesus. Remember the seashore scouting trip where Jesus said, to his prospects, “Follow me,” and they dropped what they were doing and did just that. Notice that they did not drift into following Jesus, like “well maybe I could do this on Thursdays at 4:00 pm or Saturday mornings early before golf. “ No, they made a conscious decision to risk it all and give it a go. Now being a disciple does not mean you have to go off to seminary and become a professional Christian, nor does it mean that you have to move to Calcutta, or join a monastic community, nor does it mean you have to sign up for every ministry leadership position in this parish. Being a disciple begins when we simply decide to be one, and then we practice, and play the game. Here is how to start practicing:
(1) Spend some time studying the stories of how Jesus played the game. Scripture gives us the playbook of how Jesus engaged people in everyday life and how he brought peace, joy, love, grace, and restoration to all with whom he encountered.
(2) Spend a little time with Jesus each day. Prayer gives us the opportunity to receive Jesus’ coaching, mentoring, and strength, and power.
(3) Spend a little time with other Christians sharing each other’s journeys and struggles. Fellowship with others provides the opportunity to learn from each other, to share each other’s burdens, and to encourage each other along the way.
(4) Spend a little time each week serving someone who needs God’s grace, which has been poured into you. Serving others was at the center of Jesus’ ministry and so, there is no better way to play as Jesus played, but to love as Jesus loved.
Being a “Gridiron Disciple” of Jesus really is not that difficult my friends, but it requires us to do it and know we do not do it alone. We have a great coach who believes in us, sees great promise in us, invites us to risk failure, dream what is possible, and challenges us to face our fears. So, the invitation is there, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” The team is forming, and practice happens right here in this place every Saturday night and Sunday morning. However, remember to mark your calendars because the real big game starts on Monday morning and does not end until the Master returns. Our Lord believes in us and declares for all to hear, “You all can do this!” The question for us is this, “Are we ready to step on the field?”