On Never Getting to the Super Bowl
First Baptist Church Laurens
Tonight, when the 50th Super Bowl kicks off at 6:30pm, between 115-120 million US television sets will tune into the game including a majority of those of us sitting in this sanctuary. As we do, we will quickly focus on the big name or marquee players for both teams who will grab the majority of headlines. Without question, at the very top of the list will be the two quarterback – Peyton Manning of the Broncos and Cam Newton of the Panthers.
For those of us in South Carolina, our attention may also go to Josh Norman, Darian Stewart, Brenton Berson or Mike Tolbert. They are the four players, three for Carolina and one for Denver, with ties to South Carolina as they are either from our state, played collegiately for a school in our state or both.
One name that I find to be particularly fascinating may go unnoticed by most. That player is Jared Allen who will start on defense for Carolina. What makes Allen unique? Here is what I like about him. Among the 44 players who will start tonight’s game on either offense or defense for the Panthers or the Broncos, he is the player who will have played in the most games while having never been to Super Bowl before. Tonight will be the 182 game that Allen has started in the NFL and this will be the first of those 182 games on the grandest stage of them all.
Now let me put this into perspective. The average career of an NFL football player is 3.3 seasons. This is Jared Allen’s 13th year in the NFL or four times the average. The Carolina Panthers are the fourth team that Allen has played for, and in fact, he didn’t even start out this season in Charlotte. When the year began, he was on another team. Jared Allen has also had a life of ups and downs. He came into the pros from tiny Idaho State University. He has struggled during his career with alcohol abuse, had contract disputes and even now is trying to get over a broken foot. To say the least, it has been a long and winding road with lots of frustrations. that are lots of reasons along the way for him to have given up – but here’s the thing. He did not. One could say a lot about Jared Allen, but one must say that he has remained committed and tonight is the payoff for his faithfulness.
A life of commitment is a strong character trait for life in general and for the life of faith. As we know, most things don’t happen over night, they don’t come with out sweat and tears and most journeys in life include their fare share of curves where we are tempted to take the exit ramp rather than slowing down to brake and brace ourselves for what may lie ahead.
In this last Sunday of our look at James, this quality of commitment, tenacious faithfulness, and long suffering patience is offered up by this tiny book of the New Testament as an attribute that we should all strive to develop – for when the lights come on, when we are on the stage and when our lives are on display a huge question of those who watch us will be were we willing to stick with and remain committed to those things that we believe in no matter what or did we simply abandon the task at the first sign of trouble?
This resolve to remain committed was a huge issue for first century believers. After all, they were following Christ during a period when most of their family members were not believers and during a time when the Christian faith was seen as a threat not an asset to community life. The stakes and the temptations were high. It was easy to say, I am simply going to walk away from this because it just is not worth it.
In his writing about patience, commitment and faithfulness in our text, James as he does in other places in this short book, lifts up three illustrations – a farmer, the prophets of old and Job. All three, teach collective lessons that we must always be attentive too ourselves as we seek to develop this same qualities and a similar approach to life.
First, as a group, the farmer, the prophets and Job remind us that being a person of patience and having a resolve to stick with the important things of life means never forgetting that there are some things that are simply out of our control. The farmer could plant the crops, tend to the soil and do his best to provide proper irrigation but he had no control over the weather, disease or to a certain degree insects or other pests. The prophets could be faithful to spreading God’s word, to offering compassion and to challenging people to return to faith but ultimately they had no control over people’s response. And Job could resolve to be faithful no matter what but in the end he could not control his family and he had no power over the disease that infected his body.
The point is that most of us don’t like it when life is out of our control. We want to always be at the wheel, calling the shots and deciding things for ourselves. In turn, often times, the places in this life where we are tempted to give up, walk away or throw in the towel are those same moments where life is out of our control. Yet, when it comes to faith and when it comes to simply living life, we must become comfortable with the reality and inevitability that we will not always be in control. And, when we are not, we must not give into the temptation to walk away.
I remember hearing the story of a very successful and well-known figure whose son followed him into the same line of work. Wanting to build a relationship with the father and to impress him, the son’s first boss invited the young man’s father to sit in with them on a meeting one day. He wanted his new hire to know that he recognized his legacy and he wanted the new hire’s famous father to feel respected and to know that any thoughts or ideas he had were always welcome. At some point in the meeting, the new boss recognized that the father had not made any contributions to the conversation in quite some time. Looking over at him, the new boss began to understand why. The father was sitting there with his eyes closed fast asleep.
In his recounting of that experience, the boss said that it suddenly dawned on him that the father just wanted to be a dad – he was glad that the pressure was no longer on him. He was glad for the chance to rest easy knowing that what they were discussing was out of his control.
While frustrating and fearful, the loss of control is also a very good thing. It is good to know that we can’t do everything and we are not responsible for everything. It is good to know that some things are simply up to God or to others. And, it is wonderful to recognize that nothing completely rests on us!
Yes, being faithful for the long haul means overcoming the temptation to give up when things are out of our control, but, it also means embracing the recognition that we cannot do everything. Rather than driving ourselves crazy it is always good to remember that some aspects of any situation are the responsibility of another.
When we are able to do this, I think we are able to transition to the second thing that the trio in James understood about patience.
For, at the same time that the trio of farmer, prophets and Job had the wisdom to recognize and to live with the principle that much was out of their hands they also were freed up to focus on what still remained within their control. At the same time that they did not loose patience and hope in knowing that some things were out of their control, they also were able to continue to maintain faith, focus and longevity by giving themselves completely over to what they could do. The farmer couldn’t control the weather, but, he could tend the soil, irrigate and control the weeds. The prophets couldn’t control the response of the people but they could work hard to hone their message and develop relationships with the people. Job couldn’t control his family’s response, his friends or heal his own body, but he could control his temper, his attitude and remain positive in the face of others.
So often we develop passive aggressive behavior when things don’t go our way. We become so frustrated with those things out of control and that we minimize what is within our control or we begin to act like we are completely powerless.
But, being patient, remaining committed, developing a faithfulness is always finding a way to live in the midst of the tension of letting go of what we cannot control while at the same time remaining committed everyday to what we can control.
I remember the first church I served in Western Kentucky out of seminary. When we moved there, they had just begun a mammoth project. They had committed to renovating the bulk of the Education Building using volunteer labor. The project took between 18 months and two years. And, while it turned out well, a lot of folks got frustrated over time as it was a project that simply would not end and wasn’t nearly as simple as it appeared or had been described in the beginning.
One of my enduring memories of that project was an older gentleman in the church by the name of Johnny Mundy. Johnny was not a carpenter, he wasn’t an engineer and he was limited in terms of his physical abilities. But, he was handy with a broom. His job became keeping the work area neat and tidy. Literally every Thursday afternoon, he came to the church by himself and using a broom, dust pan and a wheel barrow, he tidied up the space for the volunteer crews that came every Thursday night and Saturday. Though he was well beyond retirement, Johnny was a constant in that project from the beginning to the end. He was always there, never wavered and was completely dependable.
Why? Well, I think it was simple – he recognized what he could do and he understood what he could not do and the result of living between the tension of those two was an uncanny faithfulness.
What is it that is overwhelming to you? What are you thinking of giving up on? And, yet, what is it that God keeps begging you to stay with for the long haul? As you wrestle with whatever that thing is ask yourself two questions. Do you recognize what is out of your control and if you do are you comfortable with that? And, at the same time, do you recognize what you can do? And, if so, will you do it? Maybe, as we answer those two questions we can all find the wherewithal to patiently, faithfully and with determination stay the course in the hard places and winding roads of life. I hope and pray that we can. Amen.