A Gentle Savior As Our Guide
Galatians 5:22-23, Matthew 11:28-30
First Baptist Church Laurens
July 30, 2017

The winningest coach in the history of college football was not named Bear Bryant, Woody Hayes or Bobby Bowden. No, the winningest coach in college football history was named John Gagliardi who retired in 2012 as the Head Coach of little St. Johns College in Minnesota. It was at St. Johns that that Gagliardi ended his career at the age of 85 and after 59 seasons as Head Coach with 489 career wins to his credit.

What made Gagliardi just as famous was his unorthodox style. John Gagliardi used the phrase that he “won with ‘nos’ “. He said this because he got rid of so many normal aspects of football coaching. His “nos” included several interesting thoughts: no one could call him coach; they all just called him John, no practice lasted longer than 90 minutes, no players were cut from the team; everyone who tried out got to be a member, there was no running or tackling in practice and no yelling or screaming.

Amazing, Gagliardi’s teams not only won games, they won championships too including 4 National and 27 Conference Championships. Not long before he retired, Gagliardi was asked where all of his unusual ideas came from. He said they came from his very first year as a coach back in 1943 at Trinidad High School in Colorado. He was in school at the time and the captain of the team. That season, their coach was drafted into the war and the school wanted to suspend the football season. The players, however, begged for that not to happen. Instead, they suggested that the school let one of the players also serve as their coach and John Gagliardi was chosen since he was captain. Not knowing any better, Gagliaridi and the rest of the team got together and decided that whatever their coaches had asked them to do that they didn’t like, they would quit doing. So, they quit running, quit tackling in practice, quit yelling and screaming and they won. In turn, Gagliardi decided that if such unorthodox decisions worked at Trinidad High, they might just work anywhere and he was right. (“John Gagliardi” at wikipedia.com and Q & A with John Gagliardi on leagueoffans.com).

There are two things that I want to lift from Gagliardi’s story for our short time together this morning focused on the Fruit of the Spirit called Gentleness. First, Gagliardi’s unconventional ways were a result of not asking the question “what does everyone do” but rather of asking the question, “what do others respond to best”. Second, one of the things that Gaglardi realized that players responded well to among other things was not a coach who screamed or yelled but rather one who kept the same tone of voice. Again it was unconventional but from Gagliardi’s perspective it worked.

We live in a world that is brash, in your face, intense and at times full of screaming and yelling. This, the world thinks, is how we motivate one another. This is what works, gets people’s attention and shows our authority.

And, without question, occasionally raising our voice or exhibiting authority is the only way that we do get attention. After all, Jesus was not always meek and mild as we know and as we see in particular during the gospel story where Jesus throws the money changers out of the temple.

Yet, by and large, Jesus seems to have been in control, a person of patience, someone who likely didn’t raise his voice a lot nor was he someone who led by fear. Rather, his approach, much of the time, was one of gentleness, lowliness and measured words. And, believe it or not, this led not to people walking all over him or dismissing him. Instead it lead to people being inspired by him. Yes, Jesus is the Lion of Judah and the King of Kings but he is also remembered as the Lamb of God, the Prince of Peace and the Savior who came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.

In truth, Jesus occasionally changed the world through a strong word but much more often he seems to have transformed lives through a life that taught the world that he had come to be a savior of humility and gentleness. Like John Gagliardi, he came as one of us, he was a player/coach, thus he knew well that to which we would respond best. We respond to a gentle Savior and other we can rest assured that others will respond to our gentle approach much of the time, too.

The story is told of a tour in an automotive plant that was shown a very powerful piece of machinery that was used to flatten pieces of steel. As they looked on the tourists were amazed at the amount of force the device could exhibit as it pulverized the steel. After a moment, the same machine was re-calibrated, the steel was removed and a walnut was put in its place. Unexpectedly, the same machine broke the shell without damaging the walnut inside. What the tourist had seen and learned through the demonstration was that power, and force, under control can be just as effective and perhaps even more amazing. Amen.