(My journal for January 1996 records this message as the one I preached on Super Bowl Sunday, January 28. After reading these notes, you may be interested in the post scripts. Every pastor will understand the final one…and will shake his head in amazement at the littleness of some people in church…in every church, let us emphasize.)
Title: THE GOSPEL FOR SPORTS-AHOLICS
Text: Hebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Today is Super Bowl Sunday, national day of worship for a country crazy about sports. I’m a sports fan too, altho’ a bigger baseball fan than anything else. For one thing, you can carry on a nice conversation with your neighbor and they don’t have cheerleaders and there is very little rowdiness.
Margaret and I have been amazed to see that the second word our grandson (Grant) learned was ‘ball.’ I’ve said to his mother Julie that if he grows up to be involved in all kinds of sports, don’t be surprised, that apparently he came to us that way.
It will interest you to know that much of the world has always been sports-crazy. We know about the Olympic Games–which were started in 776 B.C.! The rest, as they say, is history.
The Apostle Paul knew about sports and apparently loved them as most men do. Tonight we will look at I Corinthians 9 where he talks about sports as illustrating some spiritual points.
Here in Hebrews 12:1-2, a great sporting event is going on. This one is the Super Bowl to end all Super Bowls. And you and I are playing in it. I want you to see 5 things….
I. THE CROWD. “Spectators”
You walk into the stadium and the crowd roars. This is your home field. They are on your side. You are excited.
Jim Mora and Don Shula will tell you the fans are the worst part of football. So fickle…often ignorant of the finer points of the game….impatient…critical…
But good news! These fans are not just spectators; they are veterans. They’ve been in the arena and now, they’ve taken their scars and bruises and sat down. Their day has passed and they have served well. It’s your day and mine, and they’re on our side, cheering for us.
They know what it feels like to be you. There’s not a perfect one in the bunch. (In the Super Bowl today, there will be no receivers who haven’t dropped the ball at least once, no linemen who haven’t jumped off sides, no player who hasn’t committed a foul.)
The problem: Some of us are playing to the wrong crowd. We’re trying to please the world. “Men pleasers.” Sad mistake. The world does not know this game, understand its rules, or appreciate our coach. Give it up.
II. CONTESTANTS. “us”
We are the players on the field. Some day we too shall lay aside our equipment and sit in the stadium to cheer on the young folks. But today for a brief shining moment, the spotlight is on us. This is our battle.
We are all on the same team. Contestants with each other, not in competition.
III. THE CONDITIONING.
If we are to win this battle, run this race, we must–
a) Lay aside every weight. A neutral word meaning anything that holds you back or slows you down.
b) Lay aside every sin which easily entangles us. These are bad things that can destroy you.
Mickey Mantle watched as Nolan Ryan took care of his body, trained in the off season, and played on into his mid-40s. Mantle had goofed off, abused his body, missed his rest, defiled God’s temple, and had to retire in his 30s.
IV. THE CONTEST
“The race” — This is the word Paul uses in 2 Timothy 4:7 for “fight.” An athletic contest. Could be a fight, a race, etc.
“The race set before us”– We do not choose our games. The coach does. We face whatever foe he decides.
“Run with patience.” — The idea is steadfastness, persistence, endurance.
We’ve seen coaches hold out good players until the other team is tired, then run in “fresh horses” and defeat them. Napoleon used to do this with his troops.
Boxers sometimes go for a quick knockout, use up all their energy in early rounds. The opponent conserves his strength and is still strong in the late rounds.
Some of us are fighting the wrong battles, those of our choosing. Even if the fight is against abortion, pornography, sin, etc., etc., if it’s not God’s battle for you, it’s a mistake.
V. THE COACH
“Looking unto Jesus.” “Fixing our eyes on Jesus.”
He is the coach and owner and general manager. Our all in all.
Saturday morning, Coach Mike Ditka was asked what a player goes through to prepare for a Super Bowl. “Oh, he has it easy. All he’s got to think about is himself. The coach is the one with the hard job–he has all the responsibility for the whole thing.”
I want you to remember this. Jesus is your coach and the responsibility for the game you’re in is His. So, look to Him.
Yesterday, watching our school’s girls in a basketball game, I noticed something odd. When the coach would yell at them on the court to get their attention, to try to suggest something, or to move one over, as soon as he started yelling, the girls would yell back, defending what they were doing or had just done. That’s a mistake. He’s trying to help you. Be quiet and listen.
This “Coach” knows whereof He speaks….
–He endured the cross. –HE endured hostility of sinners against Himself. –But He succeeded. He is now at the right hand of God.
So, hear Him. Consider Him. So that you may not lose heart and quit.
–Keep in mind that these are notes written the night before the sermon was preached. Jotting these down helped me firm up the thoughts.
–If indeed the sermon was preached this way, I can see numerous omissions and areas which needed work. But, since we’re not in a preaching class here, there is no point in dissecting it. But I merely want to point out to young preachers this is not a perfect sermon in any way.
–Now, my notes for the next day, written Sunday night, include the following:
- Some visitor was impressed by the way my wife and I taught the Sunday School lesson in the sanctuary to the Auditorium Bible class. (We sat on stools holding two microphones and went back and forth.) The guest said, “Do you rehearse it?” We laughed and said, “No.” We love it.
- After church deacon Clyde Ethridge came up and said to Ken (minister of music) and me, “My Sunday School class really got into it this morning.” What was the issue? (Thinking it was a scripture or a doctrine.) He said, “You,” looking at me. I answered, “Thank you for telling me. But I don’t need to know any more.” However, before leaving, he said a little group of men–who are permanently disgruntled in my estimation–had said all I am interested in is numbers. That is so amazing. I am the least that way of any pastor they’ve had in 30 years. Clyde, Ken, and I discussed how these men needed the message of today’s sermon–that if you don’t like who you are teamed up with, don’t criticize! Tell it to the Coach. He’s in charge. — I feel like announcing, “I’m 55 years old. I have no intentions of leaving until I retire in ten years. So either get with the program or find yourself another church.” In truth, I thank the Lord–seriously–that this stuff is not bothering me. I feel good knowing that God is up to something here.
That’s it from my journal, January 1996. I suspect this stuff was bothering me more than I let on in those notes. But as any preacher will testify, some days it hurts and sometimes it just stings and you laugh it off. In any case, I remained as pastor there until the Spring of 2004 when the Lord made me Director of Missions for the SBC churches of metro New Orleans. I retired from that in 2009, and still belong to the wonderful First Baptist Church of Kenner (across the street from the New Orleans airport). In my 26th year of membership in this church, I’ve have seen it change enormously over these three decades. I pray for Pastor Mike Miller and take considerable pleasure when he tells me the deacons are his best friends, that he loves this church and hopes the Lord lets him remain here for the duration of his ministry. God bless him, and bless His church. Amen.