My 1975 Super Bowl Sermon

I remember that sermon like it was last month. I was one year into pastoring First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi, and as a 34-year-old determined to say something significant on the cultural disease afflicting this country, chose Super Bowl Sunday to address America’s fascination with sport.

How well I did it is another matter.

Last week, a lady who had been in the congregation that morning came across the printed copy of that message and forwarded it to me. “It will give you the giggles,” she said.

After reading it, the only thing I could see that would make her say that was my reference to the New Orleans Saints as losers. Which they were, at that time.

All right. Here’s the printed copy of the sermon. At the conclusion, I’ll share where the sermon came from and what happened afterwards.

Where that sermon came from.

My wife was a subscriber to Psychology Today magazine, a publication given to expounding on controversial subjects with the voice of (ahem) professionals.

As the country prepared for that Super Bowl–still a relatively new phenomenon in this country–their cover article shouted, “Winning Isn’t Everything; It’s Nothing.”

That, you will recall, is a play on the line attributed to Vince Lombardi, that “winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

How much of the content of the sermon was lifted whole or in part from that magazine article, I cannot say. And it grieves me slightly that nowhere in the article did I credit the publication. Sorry about that, editors and advocates of pulpit integrity!

Looking back, I wish I had taken longer to think through the message of that article and my sermon. The burden on my heart then has never gone away, even though I’m a strong supporter of the New Orleans Saints team and a longtime lover of football itself. (If none of my teams are playing and yours are on the tube, I’m good to pull up a chair and enjoy the game just for the game’s sake.)

So, where did the sermon come from:

a. From that magazine article. God can use those things, you know.

b. From a burden the Lord gave me.

c. From Scripture. But listing this last is an admission that the scriptural insights in the sermon are fairly weak.

And what happened as a result of the message?

Two things that I remember to this day.

First, a man in the congregation sent me a letter of several typed pages. The letter was delivered to my desk Monday morning first thing, which made me think he had gone to his office on Sunday afternoon and either dictated it or typed it himself.

He was angry at me.

I was preaching something the Bible does not speak on, was advocating a philosophy that would destroy the soul of America, and was catering to the Communist line.

I was unAmerican.

Now, no preacher likes to get such letters. However, I knew the writer was not a faithful member of the church–he later divorced his godly wife and went off the deep end–and therefore, was not unduly upset over his thoughts. He had no influence with anyone else in the church.

His note did make me think however, that I need to think through very carefully such sermons in the future.

And the other thing.

That Sunday we had a young family visiting the church. He was a lawyer, she a soloist of uncommon ability, and they had two young daughters. Several members had mentioned them to me, adding, “We sure do want them in the church; they are such fine Christians.” No argument from me on that.

After the service, the husband mentioned to someone that this might not be the church for them. “We’re looking for a church where the pastor preaches the Word, not just his latest idea.” Pow. Take that, preacher.

He was on target with one thing: I was out of my comfort zone, out of my element, and also, probably, out of my depth. As Obama said on another subject, “That was beyond my pay grade.”

Can a Bible-preaching pastor preach on such subjects?

Sure. Absolutely. As I said to the friend who forwarded this printed sermon, there’s not a word in it I take back. However, my launching platform was weak.

What I should have done was, after plenty of prayer and reflection on the subject, found the scriptural principle I wanted to expound and preach, and start there.

The sermon is weak on positive solutions. It is strong on the burden troubling me, but that’s not enough to construct an effective sermon.

I was young and immature. And this is a common trait of young, immature preachers: We sound forth on issues we’ve not thought through, give superficial remedies, inadequately bring in relevant Scriptures, and consequently send our people away more frustrated than ministered to.

By the way, the young family joined our church and became strong leaders. We remain friends to this day.

But I have never forgotten that sermon. In particular, when our Saints made their appearance in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago, I rethought the issue.

The sports religion in America is far worse now than then, of course. In 1975, there was no ESPN, no BCS championship series, no billion-dollar contracts for sports broadcasting, and no college coaches pulling down millions of dollars a year in salaries.

Time for this sermon to be preached again. But better and stronger, thought-through and biblically based.

16 thoughts on “My 1975 Super Bowl Sermon

  1. The sermon is weak on positive solutions. It is strong on the burden troubling me, but that’s not enough to construct an effective sermon.

    What a great statement for reflection on all of my sermon writing.

    Awesome Joe. I am going to print this and put it in my Bible. Now I will read the rest of this article just had to stop and post this before I read another word. Adam.

  2. Something else about young preachers (and I did this too much, myself) is the desire to be a little controversial or even scandelous.

    A message like this one would be easier to listen to and take away the right things if preached the week after superbowl Sunday.

    Once someone thinks the pastor is just pouring cold water over something, they stop listening. Sometimes pastors enjoy pouring the cold water too, just for effect. Preaching the week after can take away that temptation and help focus on building up the constructive part.

    I really enjoyed this post, bro Joe.

  3. Isn’t it good that our Lord allows us to grow and mature beyond our early efforts? Perhaps you are being a bit too hard on yourself…the premise is more accurate today than ever! Re-do, revamp, and preach it again! God has blessed you with tremendous insight. Don’t be afraid to share it!

  4. Isn’t it good that our Lord allows us to grow and mature beyond our early efforts? Perhaps you are being a bit too hard on yourself…the premise is more accurate today than ever! Re-do, revamp, and preach it again! God has blessed you with tremendous insight. Don’t be afraid to share it!

  5. So what’s so bad about this sermon? I’m gonna be the contrarian here and say the sermon has value. Put it in the context of a year or five years’ worth of sermons. Don’t judge the whole output from one. The sermon makes a basic point that we still need to hear, and I’m a sports fanatic. (Don’t get me started on Baylor or we’ll be here all night.} I can defend the value of sports as a laboratory for life. So we start planning for next year. Good. Most of the congregation will get up and go to work or school again in the morning. That’s good. But paying professional athletes as much as we do while refusing to pay teachers a solid salary? Priorities is what it’s about. I do think more scripture might help at the beginning, but then I caught a leader of the conservative resurgence on tv delivering a superior sermon on marriage. Only problem was any psychologist could have delivered the message. He did not anchor it in scripture, yet at conventions he was fanatical on Biblical preaching. Again, one sermon. Joe, you could preach essentially the same message, tempered by another 35 years’ insights, and I at least would say Amen.

  6. I agree, too hard on yourself. Application of God’s word in our walk. I have been a coach of soccer, softball, and basketball for my kids and have seen the conduct of other coaches and parents (and grandparents). Sports can be an extension and application of our testimony for Christ. But unfortunately for some (many?)it is a negative influence for Christianity. They do not mirror Christ’s love. IMHO, God does not concern himself with who wins or loses but who is true to the Christian walk in everything that they do in their daily lives.


  7. Joe,

    Always enjoy your notes each week. Highlights the fact that people are listening and do have opinions about what we say. Appreciate your candid and honest reflection and your admonition for us all to focus on scripture as our basis. Pray that God can work through each of us to speak to the hearts of all those we minister in word and deed each week.

    Thanks for your weekly notes, they are an inspiration to me as an Army Chaplain.


  8. Joe: Coaches are not the only ones who use people. Ministers of the Gospel also use people. I have heard it expressed this way, ” I can use you” when seeking leaders for the church or some endeavor they are working toward. Or sometimes a young minister has been advised, “Find the leaders of the church and use them to get the job done”. They follow this and before long the church at large has lost interest and the Minister wonders, “Why?”.

  9. Couple of responses.

    As I think I said, I don’t disagree with anything in the sermon. So, not taking it back! 🙂 Just don’t think it’s finished. Should have been thought through better and fine-tuned, and made stronger toward the end.

    Answering Stephen, I wrote this sermon out myself, as a handout. Didn’t often do this, but apparently felt it was important enough a subject that people ought to take it home with them and reflect on it. Whether anyone did, I couldn’t tell you.

  10. l read the other day about an inspiring topic ( how did God fooled satan on Christ birth) and wonder how can l get it, this is the first time to hear such an approach, be blessed. Thank.

    May the Christ shine upon your face daily.

    Rev. Dr. F. Hammo

  11. As I get ready to preach this Super Bowl Sunday, to a congregation that will include my Eli Manning – loving 8 year old son, I am curious what scriptures and positive solutions you might bring in. (Psalm 147:10-11 keep coming back to me…)And even though I am older, I still make the same mistakes “young” preachers do! I’m trying to repent, though.

    Thanks so much for your post.

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