This is my favorite time of year. No, not the end of summer or the start of the school year. No, this is the beginning of football season. I love football, and since I was a child, I have loved the Green Bay Packers. Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, they were the men I dreamed of on Sunday night after the game. But the best guy of all was Vince Lombardi, coach of the Packers.
Lombardi had arrived as the Packers’ coach in early 1959. The team hadn’t had a winning season since 1947, and the year before Lombardi’s arrival their record was one win, ten losses and one tie. That summer of 1959, when the Packers reported for training camp, Lombardi challenged his players in every way possible. He led practices – inspiring, training, motivating the players. But one day, in the middle of a practice, Lombardi got so frustrated with what was going on with the players that he blew his whistle. “Everybody stop and gather around,” he said. Then he knelt down, picked up the pigskin, and said, “Let’s start at the beginning. Gentlemen, this is a football. These are the yard markers. I’m the coach. You are the players.” He went on, in the most elementary way, to explain the basics of football.
After that year, he began every subsequent season with the same speech, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” He never took for granted that his players knew the basics. In fact, many of them said that the genius of his coaching was his ability to break down the game into its simplest elements and teach them again and again. By focusing on the basics, by repeating them over and over again, Lombardi instilled them into his players so that doing the basics became second nature. They were never too experienced to go back to the basics and review them again.
In the kingdom of God, we, too, need to revisit periodically the basic questions of our faith. Why do I need Jesus Christ? How do I live out my commitment to God in my daily life? Why do I bother to get up every Sunday morning to go to church? What difference does church make in my life? The answers you gave ten years ago or five years ago or even last year may no longer accurately reflect your faith understanding. The world around us changes; our lives change; we change. And as we change, our relationship to God changes and adapts to the current circumstances in our life. So we must regularly reexamine ourselves, our relationship with God and how we are living out our faith.
As American Christians move toward the start of a new program year, with a new pastor and new classes for all ages, consider how you might revisit the basic elements of your faith. Consider Sunday School classes, bible studies or other ways of intentionally returning to the foundations on which your faith is built. Engage in dialogue with fellow Christians to recall the basics and how they figure in your life today. And consider how your congregation is being called to be church in the world today.
Prayer: Gracious God, remind me always of the basics of my faith in you. Let me never lose sight of the cross of Christ or your abiding love for me. May that foundation strengthen my faith and lead me into the world to serve you and your people. For I ask it in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.