Football Coach Jesus by Russell Rathbun

Posted by Melvin Bray on April 22nd, 2008 filed in Village Half-Wit

One of the greatest joys of Revelations’ brief time in the pastorate was the treasure of finding he was not alone. There was a certain joy in finding receptive hearers. However, it was all together rapturous to run into like-minded doers who too thought deeply about how better to live and to communicate what it means to be a follower of God in the way of Jesus.

One such friend was the Rev. Richard Lamblove of St. Paul, MN. He was the “preaching pastor” (as opposed to “senior pastor”) of a mega-congregation, and his was the type of church Revelations’ flock longed to become (explore Lamblove’s story at Post-Rapture).

As has been said before, it wasn’t often but every once and a while, Revelations’ pulpit would be graced by another master storyteller. Lamblove was one of the few people to have the distinction of gracing that pulpit more than once. This is the substance of one such occasion…

The preacher walks up to the platform, walks past the pulpit placed on the stage left side, on to the band on stage right, and takes the mic from the singer’s stand and moves back near the center, though still decidedly right. Placing the mic close to his mouth, head down, Phil Donahue-like, he breathes into it loudly and begins.

Now great multitudes accompanied him; and he turned around and faced them and said,

“Unless you hate your own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even your own life, you cannot be my disciple.

Unless you pick up your own cross and follow me you cannot be my disciple.

Unless you renounce all that you have, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-34).

Now those are pretty harsh words. Those words are hard to hear. You’re thinking to yourself, “That doesn’t seem like Jesus! That’s not the Jesus I am used to. I thought Jesus was kind and loving and nice. I thought it was wrong to hate. It must really say something else.”

So, you rub your eyes and read it again, “Unless you…hate!”

Oh, yes, it does say hate.

It doesn’t seem like Jesus? It doesn’t seem very nice? Well get used to it, because extreme situations call for extreme measures. And friends, this is an extreme situation.

CONTINUE READING Football Coach Jesus>>>

Jesus is on his way to do a job that only one man can do. He is on his way to Jerusalem where he is going to be arrested, suffer, and die so others might live.

This is an extreme situation.

Now, that is not the end of the story. Jesus’ death is not the end. Because God raised Jesus from the dead. And even though Jesus was the only one that could do that job, he knew even while he was talking to that great multitude that after his resurrection it was going to be their turn. Your turn. There was going to be a job for us to do. And he wanted to make sure we were ready.

He wanted us to prepare for the Job.

And he wanted us to know; it was not going to be easy. No it was not always going to be nice. Because there are serious things at stake here.

The most serious thing is at stake here, and if you aren’t prepared to go all the way, don’t even start the trip.

Let’s read the book. Jesus goes on to tell a couple of stories to make the point, he says,

Which of you, if you’re going to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and count the cost to see if you have enough money to complete the job? Otherwise, you’ve laid the foundation and you’re not able to finish what you started.

Get this: then he goes on to say,

All those who saw that unfinished tower began to mock that builder, saying, ‘this man began to build and was not able to finish. What king going into battle will not first sit down and figure out whether he is able with ten thousand to win that battle against twenty thousand? And if he figures he is not he sends out his ambassador and asks for terms of peace. So, therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that you have you cannot be my disciple.

This is an extreme situation and it calls for extreme disciples.

Jesus wants to make sure we understand. Not because he is being mean. Come on, Jesus is doing this out of love–love for us, because he wants us to understand what it is going to take. Extreme situations call for extreme love—tough love.

And this is an extreme situation. Not just the situation in Jesus’ time, but today. We are in extreme situation.

There are things at stake; the whole game is at stake. It’s like Jesus is a football coach in the locker room at half time. It’s a close game and it’s now or never. Coach Jesus is getting his team up for the second half—he is talking, not just to that great multitude, but also to all of us on his team. He’s saying:

What’s it going to take to win this one? It’s going to take everything you have. Your family, your mother and father, your kids, everything. This is job one. Are you willing to give it all? Well, decide now.

Count the cost. El Quanto Costus in the original Latin. Which literally means “count the cost.”

Are you going to be able to finish the game? Because if you can’t, don’t even start. Because if you can’t, what is going to happen? People will mock you, laugh at you, and make fun of you.

If you tell people you are a disciple of Jesus and you can’t go all the way, you know what you’ll be? An extreme loser.

So, decide now.

Jesus says out of love—oh yes, and it is tough love—decide now because if you can’t go all the way it gets worse than having people laugh at you.

Verse 34 says: Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? How shall it be restored?

Ask any scientist and he’ll tell you: once sodium has lost its saltiness, it is a fact of chemistry that it is impossible for it to be restored. Jesus goes on, “then that salt is fit neither for the land nor the dung heap.”

There is a phrase I like: Souled Out.

You know what that means? Souled Out. It means that you have given everything, sold everything to follow Jesus. It means that you have given all that you have, your entire soul—not just part of it, not three quarters of it, but your entire soul—to follow Jesus. It means you’re an extreme disciple. It means you’re going to finish the job.

Jesus says going all the way is the only way to be my disciple.

Let’s be extreme disciples—let’s get out there—we have a job to do!

The Preacher puts the mic back in the stand and walks back across the platform, slows at the communion table as if going to the communion table at the end of the sermon. He then moves on to the pulpit on the left side of the stage, arranges his notes on the pulpit, takes a minute—deflates—and begins, a different character now.

Man, I would like to kill that Jesus. I would like to kill that football coach Jesus. I would like to kill that football coach God. I would like to kill that football coach preacher.

But it is very hard. They live inside of me. Even now when I read the Bible, the first voice I hear is that football coach preacher and his football coach Jesus. After hearing that all my life, after hearing those sermons and interpretation of the texts by so many different teachers and preachers, after using them myself so many times, it is very hard to kill them off.

But they have to die.

They have to be gotten rid of–if I ever want to figure this stuff out–if I ever want to know how to follow Jesus.

That football coach Jesus is just too easy—too easy to believe and too easy to dismiss.

It’s too easy to believe because it echoes the culture I was raised in, that I live in: Finish what you started. If you’re going to do something, do it right. Try harder. You can do anything if you just try hard enough. And if you don’t accomplish the things you want to, you didn’t try hard enough. Jesus wants you to try harder; Jesus wants you to pull yourself up by your own bootstrap.

This Jesus never considers the fact that you might not even have any boots. Never takes into account that you might be trying really, really hard and still not be able to make it.

What if I count the cost and I really, really believe I have what it takes? I really am willing to give everything, to go all the way—but then along the way I find out I don’t. I don’t give everything, I take something back, I screw up? I lose my saltiness and there is no way to get it back. How shall it be restored? It’s dung heap time, I get slaughtered by the opposing army, I am laughed at for not being able to finish the job.

Football coach Jesus is this weird mix of a motivational speaker and a mean dad shaming me for being lazy. You have to go all the way, give up everything, finish what you started. Mean dad football coach Jesus makes me want to cry and give up.

It is too easy to believe because it echoes the culture I live in.

But it is also too easy to dismiss. Jesus wants me to hate my mom and dad? Well, there’s a good reason not to believe in Jesus.

All I have to do is use my brain to figure out that the football coach sermon is ridiculous. If I can imagine a God who is more loving and intelligent than the one I find in the Bible, then it is obviously time to get a new God.

Such a flat and unforgiving God is too easy and it is a lie. You mix a little truth with lies and you put them in the mouth of a competent public speaker and you say it over and over again and you guarantee that there will always be enough work for the therapists.

Now, you know what is hard? What is hard is to actually use my brain and passion (my soul?), and try to figure out what this really says. Because I can’t believe it the way he says it [gestures to the point where football coach preacher was standing] and I desperately do not want to dismiss it, because I believe there is good news and I believe it can be found in our sacred texts.

So I rub my eyes and I read it again. Not with the sense that hard work and perseverance will elicit the meaning that I want. Not simply to explain away my own horror. But I give myself to it completely with trust that it is the book of the God that knows me and loves me. It is the book that our people have found this great good news in for thousands of years.

And, I try to remind myself that this text is not about me. It is about Jesus.

I try to remember that every word of judgment is not about eternal life in hell, but is simply a word of judgment, and wrong actions are judged all the time.

I do have to continually fight off football coach Jesus, but it is the good fight.

Luke tells a story about Jesus on the way to Jerusalem with his disciples, a broad term used to describe anyone who chose to follow him—his Twelve Apostles, Pharisees, the curious, the outsiders and the unclean. The story is framed beautifully: everything from chapter 9 to chapter 19 takes place as they travel to Jerusalem. Luke repeats [the phrases] on the way and the way to emphasize that Jesus is teaching his followers what it means to follow in the way, to go with Jesus.

In the beginning of Chapter 14, it is the Sabbath, and as he does many times, Jesus attends the synagogue in the town he is is passing through on his way to Jerusalem. He is invited to the synagogue leader’s house for a meal afterward and some of his disciples, Pharisees among them, come with him.

Among his disciples, only Pharisees can eat with other Pharisees because they are a sect dedicated to ritual purity. In their understanding, one maintains a right relationship with God by remaining pure, and one remains pure by keeping company only with others who are pure. In Mediterranean culture in general at the time, there are strict rules that divide people. One’s place in society is defined by those with whom one associates. The primary unit is the extended family, and it is seen as a whole. If a member achieves greatness, the family achieves greatness. If one of them is humiliated, all of them are humiliated.

Meals are the clearest reflection of your associations: you are who you eat with. Further, mealtime politics define one’s relative position within the group. The closer you sit to the host, the greater your position of honor.

Jesus teaches at the meal, which is the custom in these situations. First he tells a story about how one should take the position of least honor at a meal. Then he tells a story about how a great meal was given and none of the right people (the pure association) came. Instead, the host goes out and invites all the impure people (everyone from all the lower classes and all the foreigners), and he eats with them.

Jesus is teaching his disciples what it means to follow the way of the new kingdom, which reorders society from one of exclusion to one of inclusion. The way is about continually widening the circle.

After the meal he leaves and his disciples follow him. And he turns to them and says, “Unless you hate your own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even your own life, you cannot be my disciple.”

Now after all that explanation, these words do not sound less harsh, less hard to hear. In fact, they are even more extreme. Because they are not simply talking about having a bad relationship with your family, they are about abandoning the foundation of the culture. Jesus says you will have to give up the associations that define who you are. And you will have to count the cost. He is saying, if you follow me according to the old calculus you will bring disgrace and dishonor to your family because you will be on the way with the impure, the lower classes, even foreigners. You will give up your family to be with one who will be executed as a criminal and a traitor. In the end you have to be willing to give up your own life, because there is a very real chance that if they kill me they will kill you too.

This is much more than hating your family. This is transforming the culture you were raised in, that you live in. He wants them to know what it really means to go with him on the way.

Now here is the beauty of Luke’s structure: It starts with Jesus being followed by Pharisees. In the middle, disciples are following him and he tells them what that will mean for them. Now at the end, they are following him and who joins the group? In chapter 15, verses 1 and 2: Their mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters don’t join them, other Pharisees don’t join them, but tax collectors and sinners join them. This is exactly the situation that Jesus explained to them. Here is what the reoriented world, the Kingdom of God, looks like. They have to count the cost and determine if they can go this far, if they can be on the way with the other, the impure.

And they say, “Look at this, he receives sinners and eats with them.”

Well, yes, of course he does. And he receives you and eats with you too, and in the New Kingdom, you will all eat together. That is the point of chapter 14.

But they are not ready to go this far yet. So what does Jesus do? He keeps teaching them, through the next couple of chapters. Same lesson different approach.

Now it gets harder. What does this all mean? How am I supposed to follow Jesus?

I know that it is not about the old calculus of the football coach Jesus who defines a right relationship with God as being pure, who defines purity and impurity by my ability to go all the way and never screw up. That is contrary to the text.

If the new calculus is about reorienting my world, what does that mean? What is the foundation of my culture that needs to be upended? And how is that accomplished by following this God whose journey ends in death at the hands of the ones God loves?

-an excerpt from the book Post Rapture Radio

Leave a Comment