Who do You Play For?
“When you pull on that jersey, the name on the front is a heck of a lot more important than the one on the back.”
Coach Herb Brooks, US Olympic Hockey Team 1980
Anyone who has watched the film “Miracle,” is very familiar with those near iconic words, and can picture the scene, the circumstances they were uttered.
Quick spoiler alert – the team is playing overseas; part of a goodwill exhibition event. The national team they played could be one they’d face in the Olympics. But Team USA really isn’t focused on playing. They are essentially ‘phoning it in,’ instead of showing they came to play. Their lackluster performance failed to reflect well on the team, or “USA.” Ergo “name on the front” statement!
If perchance you haven’t seen the movie, it is well worth the time, as it is a story about hope, belief, dreams, hard work, and yes, a miracle – but not just in the mere mortal sense of an unlikely group of college kids defeating the greatest hockey team ever to play in the Olympics. I’ll leave it to you to discover the inspirations layered in the movie.
Getting back to Brooks’ quote….the coach was reminding his players their responsibility, just who they were playing for…Team USA…”the name on the front. “
And for anyone who has played on a team – sports, music, theatrical, religious, academic, or other similar endeavor, Brooks’ words resonate profoundly. Sports are a microcosm, and metaphor for life….
The success of the group, the endeavor, the one or ones you represent is more important than any one person. Peter knew that. Paul knew that. And they planned accordingly. They developed a line of succession – men and women who could be elders and leaders in the church to pass on the Name and story of Jesus. They reminded the early Christian followers that the Holy Spirit imbued each person with special gifts and talents. Each to be used to the glory of God, in service for and remembrance of our Savior, Jesus Christ. The Disciples, the Apostles, Timothy, Silas, Lydia, Dorcas and so many other leaders in the church, right up into modern times where our churches have been led by inspiring, devoted women and men, who also tried to never lose sight of the fact….
“….the Name on the front is more important than the one on the back”
No matter what we do, we ultimately work for God. Whether we are wearing a “Team Winthrop” (the university hospital I worked for many years in New York), or Team CCUMC, or Team Interfaith Ministry, or Team name a company, or sport, “….the name on the front is more important than the one on the back” The hospital remains with a profoundly important mission to heal the sick, comfort the scared, and do research to help find better treatments for future patients, regardless of whether my friends, colleagues and I are still on staff.
I remember the first time the captain handed me my crew T shirt as ship’s doctor for a race boat, and how proudly I wore it as we competed against some amazing sailboats. After one race, other crews were invited on a competitor’s boat – a rarity (probably because it belonged at one time to George Patton). It was with a sense of humility and pride when folks came up to me because of ”the name on the front. “
Our boat had a storied reputation over the years, and frankly Brooks’ words were right! My teammates and I represented a heritage that transcended our individual names. Captains and crews come and go, but the legacy lives on if we have been good stewards, and representatives, passing blessings of the past and present on to the next generation.
Isn’t that a lot like being a Christian? The Name of our Savior on the Cross we wear is a heck of a lot more important than the name of the one who wears it.
I can remember the moment I became a full-fledged member of “Team Jesus.” It was as an adult being baptized. To be sure I’ve been a Christian most of my life. But the adult driven sacrament of initiation is where one truly becomes a member, and more importantly, becomes aware of the heady responsibility, the privilege, the richness of sailing with Jesus on His team.
Yet how often do we hear people talk about being Christian, and then behave in ways that don’t reflect His teachings, His Love? Are they, are we in fact good stewards, and representatives of “Team Jesus,” passing along the blessings we enjoy now as followers of our Risen Christ, so that the next generation will proudly wear the T Shirt, knowing they represent something, Someone extraordinary, transformative, enduring, and good?!
We, you and me, if we profess being a Christian, a member of “Team Jesus,” have to remember ….the Name on the front is more important than the one on the back”
And if we wear it, we have to own it!
It has been said that who you truly are is how you behave when you think no one is watching. That horn unnecessarily honked, that curt answer to someone who was rude, the criticism of others for differing in their political, personal, or theological beliefs, and the list of behaviors that our Savior might not be too thrilled about can go on and on.
That said, if we were to review our last 24 hours, did we act as if “the Name on the front was more important?” Did we behave as rightful members of ‘Team Jesus?’
Because we are in fact watched, from within! When we accepted the Holy Spirit – God dwelling within us – we gave ourselves over to Jesus, and pledged to honor the rules of His team….to love God and to love others. In so doing we have already obeyed the previous, and guiding laws (Mosaic).
But do we?
“….the Name on the front is more important than the one on the back” reminds me of the song “They will know we are Christians by our love (we are one in the spirit)” by Peter Scholtes. Then I wonder, will they? Will people know we are Christians by our love?
If someone met you or me for the first time, would they sense we were part of Someone extraordinary? Would they recognize we are a member of “Team Jesus?” Would they know we are Christian by our countenance? Do we behave as if we truly are wearing the T shirt of “Team Jesus” every day, recognizing “….the Name on the front is more important than the one on the back?”
But sadly some of our fellow Christians mistake their membership in Team Jesus as if, pare passu, God has given them a turn at the judgment seat, to pronounce some people as saints and some as sinners. Trust me, that is way above any of our pay grades!
And some of our coreligionists think it is their job to convert others into their way of believing. Again, way above our pay grades! Jesus, through the Holy Spirit does the transformation. Our job is to reveal what Jesus means for us, does within us, and empowers us to do for others in good, and loving, affirming and positive ways.
Put differently, our job is to put down the stones, and show mercy, not be one of the ones grabbing the rock – physical or metaphorical. There is enough of that already in the world, and has been that way since Jesus first saved the woman from being stoned 2000 years ago.
In the recording of What if I stumble by DC Talk, which is a powerful Christian rock ballad, the band starts off with these words by Brennan Manning, before the song begins. Consider….
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny Him by their actions. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
Thinking about some conversations about religion and faith that I’ve had with various people – some friends, some colleagues, some folks you meet at clients – it strikes me the contrast, the range really, in reactions engendered by the word ”Christian.” Sometimes it reflects their own bias, and other times it reflects actions taken by our coreligionists, who frankly I wish would not tell anyone they were “Christian,” because it was giving us a bad name.
Often I will remind folks, who have for whatever event led them to be less than enthusiastic about Christians, to consider when was the last time they were treated at ‘atheist general hospital,’ or ‘agnostic university medical center?’
I ask them who went into Calcutta treating the untouchables in the midst of a country that is growing in wealth, technology, and education, yet continues to tacitly if not overtly support a caste system of misery? I remind them of Mother Theresa and the thousands of nuns, monks, priests, missionaries and clergy from the fifty shades of Christian – Catholic and Protestant who go to the most inhospitable places to care for the least among us. Or what organization flies into New York City, and across the planet to set up emergency medical centers? Samaritan’s Purse.
Or who provides free clinics, or soup kitchens, or places for the homeless to sleep someplace warm? Virtually all of them have had at least somewhere along the line a Christian, a person of faith, who helped make it happen.
To be sure most Christians try to reflect God’s love, and in various ways small and large try to make the world a better place than they found it. Many remember “….the Name on the front is more important than the one on the back” and understand the awesome responsibility it is to wear Jesus, and the reflect His Love to a weary world in desperate need of it.
It has long been said in public speaking circles that an audience will remember how you made them feel long after they have forgotten the words you have spoken. And it is true.
Been on both sides of the podium for as long as I can remember! The standout speakers are the ones who helped me see the good inside, the opportunities to make things better, who gave me the tools as well as the inspiration to use them for something bigger than me – for a career that can help others, for writing that can inspire, or teaching that empowers others, to simply remembering to smile in a world full of frowns.
But as Christians, every day is a podium – every discussion and interaction is an opportunity to share the feeling of God’s Goodness.
Do you ever ask yourself “did that person see Jesus in me?” I often do. It can be a powerful report card!
“….the Name on the front is more important than the one on the back”
What do Brooks’ words say to you?