HOLY LOCKER ROOM SPEECHES – TAKE!
January 28, 2018
It was known at the “Miracle on Ice” – voted by Sports Illustrated as the top sports moment of the entire 20th century. The 1980 Olympic hockey game between the Soviet Union and the United States.
The decades-long Cold War was still in effect. The Soviet Union’s hockey team was the most vaunted and feared sports team in modern history. Comprised of hardened professional veterans, they had captured five gold medals in the previous six Winter Olympic Games. They played the game with military precision and toughness, intimidating and beating down opponents unmercifully.
The US hockey team consisted of mostly college players. The average age was 21. Some were barely able to shave. Talk about a David vs. Goliath matchup!
And yet, the one asset the Americans had in their corner was the presence of their crusty, fiery coach, Herb Brooks. A master motivator, he pushed his players relentlessly, making sure they were in tip-top physical and mental condition. They believed that with his guidance they could defeat any team in the world.
In his famous locker room speech before the Olympic game with the Russians, he inspired them with these words, “You were born to be a player! You were meant to be here! This moment is yours!”
And those kids exploded out of the locker room, took the fight to the Soviets, clawed back from behind with two goals in the 3rd period, and prevailed 4-3. It was undoubtedly the greatest upset in modern sports history!
In the postgame celebration, Herb Brooks sprinted to the locker room. Alone, he fell to his knees and cried with overwhelming joy. The players later joined him there, and together they broke into a spontaneous chorus of God Bless America!
It was truly one of the purest and proudest moments in our nation’s sports history!
2,000 years ago the disciples of Jesus are gathered in a different sort of locker room. It is an upper room, a place where they are sharing a most somber Passover meal with their Lord.
It is an evening filled with tension, with anxiety, with darkness, as they listen to Jesus speak of his impending crucifixion and their own eventual persecutions. Jesus pulls no punches. Friday is coming. And it’s not going to be good.
And yet, we hear Jesus concluding his speech to his followers with these assuring words: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world!” Take heart!
What do we make of our Lord’s Holy Locker Room Speech?
First of all, Jesus promises us the possibility of peace.
We often think of peace as being simply the absence or avoidance of conflict, be it between nations or individuals. We quit the fighting.
But the peace Jesus describes is so much more. It is defined by an inward confident assurance that no matter whatever comes, we have the resources, the capability, the strength to deal with it.
Now, what are you saying, Burch? Jesus turns his disciples and us into Superheroes?
When I was a kid, there was the afternoon TV showing of Superman. “Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!”
One day I was so inspired I went and dug a red towel out of the drawer, tied it around my neck like a cape, climbed up on my neighbor’s shed, took a running leap and tried to fly!” That didn’t turn out so well. Fortunately, I landed in a mud puddle and didn’t break any bones.
No, Jesus doesn’t indwell us with invincibility. That peace of confident assurance doesn’t come easily.
In fact, Jesus is the first to recognize that…
OUR WORLD IS OFTEN INVADED BY TRIBULATION
Yes, in this world, Jesus tells us, you will have tribulation– tribulation that makes peace difficult to come by.
Such peace is often distanced by sin.
We step outside of God’s will and instead seek to be God. We hurt others and ourselves through actions and attitudes that are contrary to God’s love.
A few years ago I served on the board of directors for a children’s advocacy agency in Augusta County. Every meeting was filled with contention mainly due to Linda. Linda was one of the most miserable individuals I’d ever met. Never a smile. Never a positive word.
Always agitated. Always blaming. Always running down every proposal made by the other board members.
Linda was especially hostile toward me…always warning me to leave the God stuff out of the agency’s work. We did not get along.
One morning I saw Linda’s name splashed across the headlines of the Staunton News-Leader. This employee in the children’s section of the Staunton Public Library had been charged with embezzling nearly $15,000 from the library. She felt it was owed her since she hadn’t gotten a raise in 2 years.
No wonder Linda never seemed at peace with anything. Sin will distance you from peace. It’s a part of the tribulation that invades our world.
Peace is also disrupted by suffering.
There are many here this morning who know what I’m talking about. Some of us must struggle daily with chronic pain and handicaps. Some of it is caused by disease. Most comes from simply growing older.
Someone once commented, “As you get older, work seems a lot less fun, and fun seems to involve a lot more work.”
My friend Dave just got back from South Carolina. He and his wife were taking care of their preschool-aged grandkids while their daughter and son-in-law went on a trip.
Ol’ Dave was moving mighty slow. Could barely get out of his truck. He said Gabe and Haley about killed him trying to keep up with them for a week!
Yes, we can control many things in this world, but we cannot halt the passage of time. All of us are getting older, and with the aging process comes aches and pains.
Willard Scott was listing the 100-year-old birthdays of the Today Show. One 102-year-old gentleman wrote it, “Willard, if I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself! My mind is slipping too—I’m still interested in women but I can’t remember why!”
I’m sure many of us share that sentiment. Some of us are struggling with afflictions that constantly nag us and get us down—like Martha Pack, one of our dear members who is dealing with pinched nerve and disc problem in her back. Simple trips, like an outing to the supermarket, are an ordeal of agony for her.
Just as peace is distanced by sin, it is also disrupted by suffering.
Peace can be destroyed by sorrow.
We find ourselves in the shock of dealing with the death of a loved one. Sometimes that loss seems to come quite naturally and we can come to terms with it more easily, as in the case of my wife’s grandmother passing away at the age of 96.
Other times, though, the loss comes tragically and suddenly, knocking the breath out of us and collapsing our sails.
There are two tiny books I highly recommend for your reading: Harold Kushner’s best-seller When Bad Things Happen to Good People and The Will of God by the British pastor and theologian Leslie Weatherhead. Of all the volumes of theology I have read, these offer by far the most comforting and compelling explanations for the “Why” of struggles and sorrow.
And yet, there are times when explanations do not offer any comfort to a tragic situation.
On a September night some years ago, I received a phone call that buckled my knees. Matt Flick, a young man in his early 20’s who had recently professed his faith and had been baptized in my church, a young man who had put so much energy into coaching my son’s baseball team and had given him so much encouragement, a young man just full of zest and joy and life, was dead.
“What in the world happened,” I screamed into the phone at his mother-in-law Phyllis. I knew Matt had been battling pneumonia for several weeks, and that the treatments had been tricky due to a kidney disease he had. I had visited him the previous day in the hospital, and he was making good progress. But evidently the strong steroids he had been taking for the pneumonia had triggered some unforeseen, catastrophic failure of his kidneys and heart.
I had never felt so inadequate as I faced that group of grieving family members and friends in a stuffy nurse’s lounge at UVA that night. All I could do was sit and hold their hands and listen to their tears of grief being poured out by the bucketload. And all the while I was hurting too, for I loved that kid.
I remember the long ride home that night over Afton Mountain, pounding on the steering wheel, being so mad at God—how could this have happened? How was I going to break the news to Tyler? It was so unfair—Matt was just getting started in his faith and his life and his marriage to his wife Cassie.
Yes, as Jesus reminds us, our world is often invaded by tribulation. The peace, the confident assurance, that he desires for us can be distanced by sin, disrupted by suffering or destroyed by sorrow.
Our world is often invaded by tribulation….
BUT WE CAN BE INDWELLED WITH COURAGE!
“Take heart!” Jesus says. “I have overcome the world!”
Yes, the central affirmation of our faith is this:
Because Christ lives, we shall live also!” - John 14:19
We do not proclaim that Jesus Christ was merely an historical figure of the past; we proclaim he is a living reality of the present! And he is the hinge upon which the door to all faith and life ultimately turns.
Without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ there is no hope and life ultimately has no meaning. All we have left is a feel-good fable about an itinerant, somewhat eccentric teacher and faith healer.
But if Christ be risen from the grave, then we who trust in him have the promise of life also, in this world and in the world to come. We can truly live…we can rise above sin, suffering and sorrow. We can truly risk ourselves in serving others…we can even bravely lay down our lives sacrificially, because we know that nothing will separate us from Christ’s eternal love. We can step out on a limb and live, not simply exist!
Listen to this: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
Jesus is the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith! He is the Source and the Sustainer of courage!
One of the major triumphs in our formative years is learning how to ride a bicycle. It’s not easy.
I’ve been watching with a lot of nostalgia a neighbor of ours teaching his daughter to ride her little pink Barbie bike. She gets this look of sheer terror on her face when she hops on the seat and starts to take off all wobbly down the gently inclined hill of their front yard.
But panic turns to smiles as she glances up and finds her dad running right alongside her, ready to help her if she should suddenly veer toward a tree or a parked car. She has now improved to the point she can ride solo, but early on having the assurance of her dad by her side gave her the confidence to overcome her fears.
The Spirit of the living Christ dwelling within us and beside us gives us unique courage to overcome tribulation in our lives. We are given the resiliency to conquer, not cower. We can do all things through him who strengthens us. We can pedal forward toward tomorrow securely with hope.
Our Lord sends us out of the locker room and into the game of life: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world!” Yes, take heart!
I close today with the words of the Serenity Prayer. It was originally composed by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in 1934. However, you may not have encountered the extended version of this prayer.
It is a fitting conclusion to this message:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world As it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that You will make all things right If I surrender to Your Will; So that I may be reasonably happy in this life And supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.