Gracious Lord, today, as many of us enjoy one of the great American past-times, we'd ask --- as you protect us from the coronavirus, and the other variants from it --- that You protect those who will perform in the Super Bowl today. And as we watch, we know you want us to, and you encourage us to enjoy, sit back for awhile and relax, to be entertained...but let us not become addicted to entertainment and make it the most fulfilling thing in our lives. May we sense a renewed call to service: to your Holy Church, to our neighbors, to strangers in our midst and on our street-corners. For things beyond our control, my we re-learn the powerful means of peaceful prayer...for our beleaguered nation...for our Church leaders...for overseas, especially for the Russian people in this time...these things we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Today is Super Bowl Sunday. Being the son of a Wisconsin high school football coach, I've got memories...
Over and above this, it was simply "excellence in extreme boredom" --- and it thrilled Wisconsin fans. Yes, boring, but precise and perfect. You'd be making a mistake if you didn't give it all you had, your potential, put into action. Play after play, the Packers would mow their opponents down. Although, to some, it was boring, you could hardly expect the Packers to let up or to lose. With Lombardi, a football team wasn't meant to fool you with this "reverse" and that "fake punt". You either did exactly, excuse me, exactly, the way Lombardi told you to maneuver or you sat on the bench.
Even "the Golden Boy" of 50s-60s college and professional football, Paul Hornung who died recently in November, 2020 was benched in a game to his great embarrassment. No player was exempt from playing up to one's potential. You just might have to sit on the bench until, in Lombardi's view, you decided to "play football". Lombardi was tough, but he was completely fair, and very rarely wrong, about his game and his players. He was the ultimate master at the game. Probably more important, he loved his players and he loved their performance. All on the team were convinced of that and played their hearts out for him.
And there was a reason for that.
Let me explain something to you. If a regular person were to shout at you, that would be one thing. If Coach Lombardi were to shout at you, that is, yet, another thing you could not imagine until you'd see some of the old game flicks on television...but note this...
Whether the player was black or white, Lombardi was tough --- and trust me, they wouldn't want him to shout at them, single you out --- but he loved them --- and they implicitly knew that. All players came to believe that they were highly privileged to play for him --- that they were --- and in playing football for him, they learned all they needed to be successful in life as human beings for the rest of their days, at home, and at work.
As an Italian-American raised in Brooklyn, he knew what it felt like to be made fun of, to be overlooked and under-estimated. He suffered it, and hated to see others suffer because of it. Before Green Bay, Wisconsin, that was his lot. Thus, when a player did the job, and lived up to his potential, he was on the team, and became a star. I may be mistaken in this, but Lombardi was the first professional to coach blind to color.
There is something I didn't know about Lombardi.
Vince Lombardi was a genuine Christian from the top of his head to the tip of his toes. He truly loved and respected the Lord Jesus Christ. However, he didn't go to Mass every Sunday. He went to Mass every day. On Super Bowl Sunday, he wouldn't go out on the field until he had received Holy Communion. Dad told me Lombardi should've been canonized as a Roman Catholic Saint. However, the Church claims he never performed two miracles. "That's crazy...", he said. "He performed miracles every Sunday afternoon."
One Sunday when the Packers were playing at home, as usual, Vince Lombardi was in his home church in Green Bay. In those days, during home games, the church was always packed because Lombardi was always worshipping when at home. The priest asked him to tell the congregation the reason for his success. Lombardi got up and told the congregation that one's priorities need to be correct and in order. He continued, "You always need to put God first...Your family second...and the Green Bay Packers third..." The congregation immediately popped up from their pews and cheered...The priest gave the congregation an extra treat, by saying, "...thus endeth the sermon for today..."
Now what does the story about Vince Lombardi have to do with a Sunday message. How could I relate Lombardi's story to the vision and the wisdom of the Scriptures. We can start with the passage in the Bible where Jesus proclaims what the greatest commandment in Holy Scripture is:
"...Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one... love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength..." Deuteronomy 6:4,5
Jesus is asked by the Expert in the Law what the greatest Scripture is in Matthew 22:37: "...love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind..."
Jesus continues with verse 38-40: "...This is the first and greatest commandment...and a second
is like unto it...love your neighbor as yourself...all the Law...and the Prophets hang on these two..."
God came first in Vince Lombardi's life. Family came second for him, and that, we'd have to conclude, included his players. He loved them by pushing them for all they were worth to do their best, and, to do their best consistently. He applied the same wisdom to himself. Nothing fancy=Lombardi.
What if we were to follow that wisdom in the church...[leaving the shouting part out]. You know, there are so many priorities imposed upon folks these days. Christians get caught up in the shuffle. What if we were all...as a team...to put God first in our lives. I mean, really, first. I think you'd agree that being part of a local church family would be greatness, even spectacular...doing nothing more than all we are able do, reaching our potential, for the sake of Christ. Not as a last minute sort of thing,or squeezing time in there, but as a priority...giving God the best we have. Nothing fancy=my church.
That is Vince Lombardi's legacy for the Church of the 21st Century. The game this afternoon will probably be more exciting than prior Super Bowls were, way back then, but the craft of "making excellence in performance seem boring" will never be surpassed in our time. Nor will the depth of love in a coach's heart be more convincing and intense. Yet, Vince Lombardi was far from being a perfect man. Imagine having the coach we have. The Lord Jesus Christ. He doesn't shout, but when we do our very best for Him with all the gifts He's given us, we experience a one time greatness, never again repeated.
Saint Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27: "...don't you know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?...Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training...they do it to get a crown that will not last...but we do it to get a crown that will last forever...therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly...I do not fight like a man beating the air...No, I plummet my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize..."
We are ready, Lord Jesus, to allow you to coach us and guide us to greatness.
We surrender to your guidance. Thank you for loving us as You do. Thank you for shedding your blood that we can be made whole.